From School Library Journal
Gr 4-8–In the 18th century, some Africans escaped slavery in England's southern colonies to find freedom in the Spanish colony of Florida. As a leader of St. Augustine's community, African-born Francisco Menendez helped establish Fort Mose, the first free black community on North American soil. Turner does an excellent job of explaining how the residents of Fort Mose probably blended African, English, and Spanish traditions to create a unique–and uniquely American–culture. Her careful choice of words and images demonstrates that drawing such conclusions about early American history can be difficult when written records are hard to find and sketchy at best. For instance, a 16th-century sketch of a Florida Timucua Indian village is juxtaposed with a 20th-century photo of a West African village. Captions explain that Menendez “would have been familiar” with the design of these African buildings. The text also elaborates on how Fort Mose buildings probably combined Native American and African architectural elements. An afterword explains that Fort Mose no longer stands, but its site is included in Florida's state-park system. Turner describes her research in an author's note. This is a useful addition to libraries with strong African-American history collections, and for teachers and librarians looking for unique stories about colonial America.Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY
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*Starred Review* This well-researched book introduces Francisco Menendez, a strong, remarkable African man whose struggle for freedom in America predated the Civil War and even the American Revolution. Born in West Africa around 1700, Mendez was captured and sold as a slave in South Carolina. After fighting with the Indians of the southeast in the Yamasee War, in which they rose up against the English colonists, he went to St. Augustine seeking sanctuary and freedom but was enslaved by the Spanish. Eventually, he was granted unconditional freedom and named the leader of Fort Mose, Florida, the first “officially sanctioned free black town in what is now the United States.” Though there are challenges in writing Menendez’s life story when so little is known, particularly about his early life, Turner’s graceful account clearly distinguishes between fact and supposition. The paragraphs discussing the transport of slaves and their treatment at the “pest” house on Sullivan’s Island are particularly vivid and informative. Back matter includes a glossary, source notes for quotes, and an extensive source bibliography. Brightening every page of this large, handsome book are deep-green borders of tropical leaves. Illustrations include period paintings, drawings, maps, and documents. A significant addition to African American history collections for young people. Grades 7-10. --Carolyn Phelan