Slavery in Florida began under Spanish rule and continued under American and later Confederate rule. It was theoretically abolished by President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, but this had little effect in Florida. Slavery continued until the end of the Civil War and collapse of the Confederacy in the spring of 1865, followed by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. Some of the characteristics of slavery — inability to leave a disagreeable situation — continued under sharecropping, convict leasing, vagrancy laws. In the 20th and 21st centuries, conditions approximating slavery are found among marginal immigrant populations, especially migrant farm workers and involuntary sex workers.
The peninsula of modern-day Florida was under the control of Spain until the mid-1700s when it was briefly owned by the British, only to be returned to Spain a few years later. Prior to the colony being turned over to the British, there was a period in the early 1700s during which Spanish Florida was a hotbed for the raiding natives from the northern Carolina and Georgia areas. Though they were left alone for the most part by one of the original raiding groups, the Westos, Spanish Florida was heavily targeted by the later raiding groups the Yamasee and Creek. These raids, in which villages were destroyed and natives were either captured or killed, drove the natives to the hands of the Spanish, who attempted to protect them as best they could from the invaders. However, the strength of the Spanish dwindled and as the raids continued the Spanish and natives were forced to retreat farther and farther back into the peninsula. The raids were so frequent that there were few natives left to capture, and so the Yamasee and the Creek began bringing fewer and fewer slaves to the Carolina colonies and were unable to effectively continue the trade. The retreat of the Spanish was only ended when the Yamasee and Creek entered what would later be known as the Yamasee War with the Carolina colony.
Since the beginning of the 18th century, Spanish Florida attracted numerous African slaves who had escaped from British slavery in the thirteen colonies. Once the slaves reached Florida, the Spanish freed them if they converted to Roman Catholicism. Most settled in Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, the first settlement of free slaves in North America. Another, smaller group settled along the Apalachicola River in remote northwest Florida, centered on Prospect Bluff, future site of the famous Negro Fort. A store or trading post was set up there about 1800.
The former slaves also found refuge among the Creek and Seminole, Native Americans who had established settlements in Florida at the invitation of the Spanish government. In 1771, Governor John Moultrie wrote to the English Board of Trade, "It has been a practice for a good while past, for negroes to run away from their Masters, and get into the Indian towns, from whence it proved very difficult to get them back." When British government officials pressured the Native Americans to return the fugitive slaves, they replied that they had "merely given hungry people food, and invited the slaveholders to catch the runaways themselves."
After the American Revolution, slaves from the State of Georgia and the South Carolina Low Country escaped to Florida. The U.S. Army led increasingly frequent incursions into Spanish territory, including the 1817–1818 campaign by Andrew Jackson that became known as the First Seminole War. The United States afterwards effectively controlled East Florida. According to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the US had to take action there because Florida had become "a derelict open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them." Spain requested British intervention, but London declined to assist Spain in the negotiations. Some of President James Monroe's cabinet demanded Jackson's immediate dismissal, but Adams realized that it put the U.S. in a favorable diplomatic position, allowing him to negotiate very favorable terms.
As Florida had become a burden to Spain, which could not afford to send settlers or garrisons, the Crown decided to cede the territory to the United States. It accomplished this through the Adams–Onís Treaty, which took effect in 1821.
Florida under American rule
Free negros were unwanted
The free blacks and Indian slaves, Black Seminoles, living near St. Augustine fled to Havana, Cuba, to avoid coming under US control. Some Seminole also abandoned their settlements and moved further south. Hundreds of Black Seminoles and fugitive slaves escaped in the early nineteenth century from Cape Florida to The Bahamas, where they settled on Andros Island.
In 1827 free negros were prohibited from entering Florida, and in 1828 those already there were prohibited from assembling in public.:192–193 In antebellum Florida, "Southerners came to believe that the only successful means of removing the threat of free Negroes was to expel them from the southern states or to change their status from free persons to... slaves.":112 Free Negroes were perceived as "an evil of no ordinary magnitude,":119 undermining the system of slavery. Slaves had to be shown that there was no advantage in being free; thus, free negroes became victims of the slaveholders' fears. Legislation became more forceful; the free negro had to accept his new role or leave the state, as in fact half the black population of Pensacola and St. Augustine immediately did (they left the country).:193 Some citizens of Leon County, Florida, Florida's most populous and wealthiest:140 county, which wealth was because Leon County had more slaves than any other county in Florida, petitioned the General Assembly to have all free negroes removed from the state.:118 Legislation passed in 1847 required all free Negroes to have a white person as legal guardian;:120 in 1855, an act was passed which prevented free Negroes from entering the state.:119 "In 1861, an act was passed requiring all free Negroes in Florida to register with the judge of probate in whose county they resided. The Negro, when registering, had to give his name, age, color, sex, and occupation, and had to pay one dollar to register.... All Negroes over twelve years of age had to have a guardian approved by the probate judge.... The guardian could be sued for any crime committed by the Negro; the Negro could not be sued. Under the new law, any free Negro or mulatto who did not register with the nearest probate judge was classified as a slave and became the lawful property of any white person who claimed possession.":121
The growth of plantations
American settlers began to establish cotton plantations in northern Florida, which required numerous laborers, which they supplied by buying slaves in the domestic market. On March 3, 1845, Florida became a slave state of the United States of America. Almost half the state's population were enslaved African Americans working on large cotton and sugar plantations, between the Apalachicola and Suwannee rivers in the north central part of the state. Like the people who owned them, many slaves had come from the coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas. They were part of the Gullah-Gee Chee culture of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Others were enslaved African Americans from the Upper South who had been sold to traders taking slaves to the Deep South. By 1860, Florida had 140,424 people, of whom 44% were enslaved and fewer than 1,000 free people of color. Their labor accounted for 85 percent of the state's cotton production. The 1860 Census also indicated that in central Leon County (Tallahassee), which was the center both of the Florida slave trade and of Florida’s plantation industry (see Plantations of Leon County), slaves constituted 73% of the population. As elsewhere, their value was greater than all the land of the county. (References in History of Tallahassee, Florida#History of black Tallahassee.)
In January 1861, nearly all delegates in the Florida Legislature approved an ordinance of secession, declaring Florida to be "a sovereign and independent nation"—an apparent reassertion to the preamble in Florida's Constitution of 1838, in which Florida agreed with Congress to be a "Free and Independent State." According to William C. Davis, "protection of slavery" was "the explicit reason" for Florida's declaring of secession, as well as the creation of the Confederacy itself.
Confederate authorities used slaves as teamsters to transport supplies and as laborers in salt works and fisheries. Many Florida slaves working in these coastal industries escaped to the relative safety of Union-controlled enclaves during the American Civil War. Beginning in 1862, Union military activity in East and West Florida encouraged slaves in plantation areas to flee their owners in search of freedom. Some worked on Union ships and, beginning in 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation, more than a thousand enlisted as soldiers and sailors in the United States Colored Troops of the military.
Escaped and freed slaves provided Union commanders with valuable intelligence about Confederate troop movements. They also passed back news of Union advances to the men and women who remained enslaved in Confederate-controlled Florida. Planter fears of slave uprisings increased as the war went on.
In May 1865, Federal control was re-established, and slavery abolished.
Florida has a large agricultural economy and a large immigrant population, which has made it a prime environment for forced labor, particularly in the tomato industry. Concerted efforts have led to the freeing of thousands of slaves in recent years. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported receiving 1,518 calls and emails in 2015 about human trafficking in Florida.
- Ethridge, Robbie Franklyn, and Sheri Marie Shuck-Hall. 2009. Mapping the Mississippian Shatter Zone: The Colonial Indian Slave Trade and Regional Instability in the American South. U of Nebraska Press.
- Miller, E: "St. Augustine's British Years," The Journal of the St. Augustine Historical Society, 2001, p. 38.
- Alexander Deconde, A History of American Foreign Policy (1963) p. 127
- Weeks (2002)
- "''Notices of East Florida: with an account of the Seminole Nation of Indians, 1822'', Open Archive, text available online, p. 42". Archive.org. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
- Mulroy, Kevin. The Seminole Freedmen: A History (Race and Culture in the American West), Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007, p. 26
- Allman, T.D. (2013). Finding Florida The True History of the Sunshine State (First ed.). New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-8021-2076-2.
- Smith, Julia Floyd (1973), Slavery and Plantation Growth in Antebellum Florida 1821-1860, Gainesville: University of Florida Press
- Schafer, Daniel L. (2013). Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. and the Atlantic World. Slave Trader, Plantation Owner, Emancipator. University Press of Florida. ISBN 9780813044620.
- "Florida Population 1840-2000 by County". Exploring Florida (University of South Florida). Retrieved October 27, 2017.
- Rivers, Larry E. (1981), "Slavery in Microcosm: Leon County, Florida, 1824 to 1860", Journal of Negro History, 66 (3): 235–245, at p. 237, JSTOR 2716918
- Tebeau 1999, p. 158
- Tebeau 1999, p. 157
- Davis, William C. (2002). "Men but Not Brothers". Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America. pp. 130–135. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
- Murphree, R. Boyd. "Florida and the Civil War: A Short History" Archived 2010-04-26 at the Wayback Machine, State Archives of Florida. Retrieved on June 5, 2008.
- Murphree (2008)
- Cordner, Sascha (August 22, 2014). "What Might Future Florida Human Trafficking Legislation Look Like For 2015?". Florida State University. WFSU.
- Coonan, Terry S. (2003). "Human Rights in the Sunshine State: A Proposed Florida Law on Human Trafficking". Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 31 (2). Archived from the original on 2014-09-09. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- The Unsavory Story of Industrially Grown Tomatoes
- "United States Report: 1/1/2015 – 12/31/2015" (PDF). National Human Trafficking Resource Center. National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
- Federal Writers' Project (1936–1938). "Florida Slave Narratives". University of South Florida Libraries.
- Dresser, Amos (1836). "Slavery in Florida. Letters dated May 11 and June 6, 1835, from the Ohio Atlas". The narrative of Amos Dresser : with Stone's letters from Natchez, an obituary notice of the writer, and two letters from Tallahassee, relating to the treatment of slaves. (Although Dresser published the letters, their authorship is unknown.).