Individuals of African heritage, both free and enslaved, were members of all the early Spanish expeditions in the New World. Spanish Florida offered freedom to runaway slaves who escaped from British colonies. Formerly enslaved Africans could form separate communities, own firearms and property, and choose their own leaders. In 1738, Spanish authorities in St. Augustine allowed free blacks to establish Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosť (Fort Mosť), the first known independent African American community on the continent. In the early nineteenth century, escaped slaves from the southern United States lived in villages in north and central Florida that were loosely affiliated with the Seminole Indians. Even in the antebellum period, small communities of free blacks existed, mostly in urban areas like Savannah.
The Civil War and Reconstruction brought many changes to coastal Georgia and Florida. For a brief period, freedpeople farmed small plots on abandoned plantations, but changes in national Reconstruction policy soon returned the land to white owners. During and after Reconstruction, freed blacks in Georgia and Florida moved quickly to establish schools, often with the assistance of northern philanthropists. Dorchester Academy in Liberty County, Georgia, and Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach are two examples of schools that educated generations of African Americans. Isolated African American communities, such as Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island and Half Moon Bluff on Cumberland Island, still survive, preserving many aspects of traditional culture.