The Cruel Reality of Slavery in Broward County, Florida

In the period of Spanish colonial rule, few enslaved Africans were imported to Florida from Cuba, as they had little to do, neither mines nor plantations. Starting in 1687, slaves who escaped from the English colonies to the north were freed when they arrived in Florida and accepted Catholic baptism. Black slavery in the region was widely established after Florida came under British and later American control. In theory, slavery in Florida was abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 enacted by President Lincoln, although, since the state was then part of the Confederacy, this had little immediate effect.

Broward County, Florida was no exception to the harsh reality of slavery during this period. Most planters put plantation management, purchasing supplies, and supervision in the hands of black drivers and foremen, and at least two-thirds of the slaves worked under the supervision of black drivers. The majority of Florida's population remained concentrated in the northern part of the state until the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842. Beginning in 1862, Union military activity in East and West Florida encouraged slaves in plantation areas to flee from their owners in search of freedom. In January 1861, nearly every delegate to the Florida Legislature passed a secession ordinance, declaring Florida a sovereign and independent nation, an apparent reaffirmation of the preamble to the Florida Constitution of 1838, in which Florida agreed with Congress to be a free and independent state.

In the Caribbean, slaves were held in much larger units, and many plantations housed 150 slaves or more. In comparison to other areas of the country, enslaved people in Broward County were treated similarly. Called “Central Florida”, it centered on the capital city of Tallahassee and included Gadsden, Leon, Jefferson, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton counties, and eventually expanded to Alachua and Marion counties in central Florida. In October 1687, eleven enslaved Africans made their way from Carolina to Florida in a stolen canoe, and Spanish authorities emancipated them.

The 1860 census also indicated that in Leon County, which was the center of both the Florida slave trade and its plantation industry (see Leon County Plantations), slaves made up 73% of the population. After the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in November 1860, the Florida legislature, dominated by the powerful landowners of Central Florida, called for a secession convention in Tallahassee. The Spanish had established outposts in Florida to prevent others from having safe havens to attack Spanish treasure fleets in the Caribbean and in the strait between Florida and the Bahamas. American colonists began to establish cotton plantations in North Florida, requiring numerous workers, who supplied by buying slaves on the domestic market.

In the West Indies, slaves made up between 80 and 90 percent of the population, while in the South only about a third of the population was enslaved. A year later, Commander William Dunlop, a Carolina militia officer, arrived in Florida to seek compensation for the Spanish attacks against Carolina and the return of Africans to their enslaver, Governor Joseph Morton. In Broward County as well as other areas across America during this time period enslaved people were subjected to harsh treatment. They were forced into labor on plantations with little or no pay or recognition for their work.

They were denied basic human rights such as freedom of movement or expression. Slaves were also subject to physical punishment if they disobeyed orders or attempted escape. The cruel reality of slavery during this period was one that was unjust and oppressive. Despite efforts by abolitionists and Union forces to end slavery throughout America it still persisted until 1863 when President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation.

This document declared that all slaves within Confederate states were free but it did not immediately end slavery throughout America. The legacy of slavery still lingers today as many African Americans still face discrimination and inequality due to their ancestry. It is important that we remember this history so that we can learn from it and ensure that such injustices never happen again.

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