Francisco Menéndez first encountered slavery at a young age, when he was sent to Carolina plantations to toil and sweat for slaveholders. However, when he saw an opportunity to flee during the Yamasee War, which pitted united Indian tribes and freed slaves against English colonists in Carolina, he fled the plantations amid the firing of rifles and musketeers.
He and his wife Ana Maria de Escobar moved from the plantation to Spanish Florida, where they pitched their tents. He later became a local militia leader and co-founder of the first free community for runaway slaves in what would become the United States.
Other Africans who escaped to Spanish Florida were later sold to Menéndez in 1718. His given name is Francisco Menéndez Márquez, but when he was baptized by the Catholic Church, he dropped the Márquez.
According to The Enslaved, Menéndez is of African descent and may have hailed from Gambia in Western Africa, where he was born in 1700. In 1726, he was appointed as the leader of St. Augustine’s black militia, where he launched offensive attacks against Carolina while also protecting St. Augustine.
When Menéndez learned to read and write, he and 30 others wrote to the new governor of Spanish Florida, demanding their freedom under the religious sanctuary policy. Twelve years later, the governor granted his request, ensuring that it covered all runaway slaves in Florida as well as those fleeing slavery in Carolina. According to historical records, Menéndez traveled to Carolina to fight and rescue a number of slaves from a plantation there.
When he was certain he had the right militia army, he established a community of freed slaves who were under his command and guidance. The city was known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, and it later became the site of a bloody battle in 1740 between British Carolina and Spanish Florida. The militia lost their village but saved St. Augustine.
Following the military expedition by the British Carolina army that razed Fort Mose, where Menéndez became a Spanish corsair, the community of freed slaves moved to St. Augustine. When the English colonialists captured Menéndez’s ship in 1741, he landed in their hands. He was subjected to 200 lashes and placed under severe torture and mistreatment.
His wounds were poked into at some point to aggravate his pain. This was done to him because he fought alongside the Spanish crown against the English at Fort Mose. In the Bahamas, he was sold into slavery once more. When Spain handed over Florida to Britain, Menéndez and his militias sought safe haven in Cuba, along with many St Augustine residents, following the end of the seven-year military campaign in 1763.
They lived in San Agustn de la Nueva Florida Mocha, near Matanzas. Later, he sold his property in this new community and relocated to Havana, where his family received a government pension.