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AfriGeneas Free Persons of Color Forum

Re: FPOC in the census 1790-1860

Hi Valencia:

There may have been several underlying reasons for the decrease in the population in Florida. However the major reason for the decrease in the number of Florida's free people of color were the restrictive laws enacted by its state's legislature before and after it became a Territory and then a U.S. state.

The free people of color in Florida were leaving the state long before the 1850’s and 1860’s. You may remember the AfriGeneas interview with Dr. Jane Landers. As Dr. Jane Landers argues, the free people of Florida (before 1821) knew how to manipulate the government and its laws for their own benefit. So as the governments of France, Spain, England and the US jockeyed/parlayed for lands, the free people of color “worked their present country laws” as best they could. That was until the Americans came in, and as I like to say “ruined the neighborhood.”

The free people of color of St. Augustine and other East Coast towns didn’t “tarry” in Florida after 1821. (When Spain sold Florida to the US and it became a Territory.) They were all too familiar with the racist and rigid laws of the English. They knew that life under Andrew Jackson and his American crew would hardly be a picnic. So they did as their ancestors did during the First Spanish Interlude. They sailed to Cuba with the departing Spanish. Like their ancestors, Spain guaranteed them land and a subsistence to begin again. (See “Black Society in Spanish Florida” by Dr. Jane Landers)

This could be why the numbers for Florida’s free people of color are so low as compared to other states.

Restrictive Laws against Free People of Color:
Please note that these laws were also enacted in neighboring states too.

The free people color of Alabama and Florida were forced to take a "white guardian"... later revised as a "master"

1848 Florida required free persons of color to have a guardian

1858 Florida required free people to select their own masters and become slaves. (Oh Goody! Freedom of Choice")

(The result of the two above-mentioned laws inspired the free Blacks to take the first thing smokin' out of Florida. Perhaps their cousins in Louisiana told them about a less stressful life in Tampico, which is where many of them fled.)

1852 Alabama required free persons of color to have a white guardian.

Referenced Research "Gulf Coast Historical Review Vol 3"


The Louisiana legislature in1859 enacted a law strongly encouraging all free blacks to choose masters and voluntarily reenslave themselves.


Valencia, the above point to historical milestones that influenced free people of color. Florida’s historians view the state as part of the Upper Caribbean therefore innumerable destinations besides Mexico, Cuba and Haiti exist. Florida’s East Coast, for example became a haven for Black Seminoles. (See Roselyn Howard’s compelling study “Black Seminoles in the Bahamas.”

K Wyer Lane

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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