Francisco Menendez was born in West Africa. He was enslaved and brought to South Carolina via the infamous “Middle Passage,” the route that brought slaves from Africa to the West Indies, and eventually to the colonies. In the 1720s, Menendez escaped from his owners and went inland, where he joined the Yamasee Indians in their war against the white settlers.
When the Yamasee were finally defeated, Menendez traveled south with a number of them to take refuge at St. Augustine in Spanish Florida.St. Augustine was one of the very few havens for escaped slaves in all of North America. Escaped slaves from the north had begun arriving there as early as 1 687; in 1733, King Philip V of Spain offered freedom to any escaped slave who would embrace Catholicism and serve a four-year term as a servant in St. Augustine.
Menendez arrived at St. Augustine in 1726, where the Spanish governor named him captain of the slave militia. When it became apparent that Britain and Spain were going towar, Governor Manuel de Montiano established the free settlement of Santa Theresa de la Gracia Real de Mose, just two miles north of St. Augustine. Menendez became known as the “chief” of Mose, and the otherfree blacks there werehis subjects.
In 1740, Menendez and his militia helped Montiano successfully defend St. Augustine when it was attacked by British-American troops. Menendez then served under Montiano in the disastrous attack on the Georgia colony. The Spaniards andtheir African allies were repulsed at the battle of St. Simon’s Island.
However, this defeat hardly discouraged Menendez. He obtained a commission to become a privateer and sailed the Atlantic,where he harassed British shipping. He was eventually captured, tortured, and then sold into slavery in the Bahamas. Rather thanaccept this fate, Menendez escaped and made his way back to St. Augustine, where he resumed his command of the militia.
One final act of dispossession awaited this hero. In 1763, Spain yielded Florida to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris. The Spaniards and all their allies, both African and Native American, boarded ships and sailed to Matanzas, Cuba. At the time of the evacuation there were 390 Africans, 87 of them free and 303 slaves.
No one knows what happened to Menendez in Cuba. However, he is remembered as a fearless individual, who overcame the brutality of slavery and triumphed as a brave military hero.