Florida officially entered the United States as its 27th state on March 3, 1845, as a state that allowed and protected the institution of chattel slavery. Since it became a U.S. territory in 1821, it was settled primarily by members of the planter class from bordering southern states like Georgia and South Carolina. East and West Florida, having been colonized and occupied by the Spanish for centuries, developed their own unique economies. Additionally, the structure of their laws and social customs allowed more space for free Blacks and other forms of social mobility.
Much of the settlement occurred in the fertile region in the northern part of the state between the Apalachicola River in the west and the Suwannee River in the east. The land was ideal for the growth of cotton, the major cash crop of the era, as well as tobacco, rice, and other food stuffs. Enslaved Black people were used to produce these crops, as well as providing skilled labor as domestic workers, laundresses, nurses, blacksmiths, carpenters, and boatsmen.
Slavery in Florida mirrored the reality of slavery in other parts of the South – agricultural labor in the hot fields, an exploitative labor regime, and an existence that depended on the whims and fate of one’s owner. These structures were met with all forms of resistance, from work slowdowns to outright defiance, and in some cases escape.
When emancipation came to Florida in 1865, there were approximately 63,000 Black people in Florida, and all but 1,000 of them were enslaved.