‘They sold human beings:’ St. Augustine’s Old Slave Market

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — If you’ve taken a trip to America’s Oldest City, you’ve most likely seen the Old Slave Market at the east end of the plaza.

However, the realities of what happened there nearly two centuries ago -- are unfamiliar to many.

Action News Jax spoke with David Nolan, a St. Augustine historian.


“I certainly hear it every year -- somebody asserting no slave was ever sold in the slave market. To me that’s just a sign of denial,” Nolan said.

The building is almost 200 years old, with its construction in 1824.

Nolan said newspapers from the 1800s and court records show slaves were sold at the market.

“Zillions of postcards were sold,” Nolan said. “They had an elderly Black man posing as a former slave in front of the slave market in St. Augustine.”

Slave patrols would meet at the market to start their rounds.

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Black people who violated curfew were taken and once captured -- the market was a place to punish them.

“The saddest one I just read from the 1860s is that a Black man laughed at the slave patrol and they took offense, and he was sentenced to 15 lashes,” Nolan said.

One image Nolan showed Action News Jax shows that a someone named Nora August was purchased at the market at the age of 23 in 1860. The last line reads “now a free woman.”

“They sold meat and they sold vegetables -- and on occasion they sold human beings,” Nolan said.

The structure later became a site for rallies and protests -- including the mass protest in 1964 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested.

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“I’ve always felt that we need to have a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of that building, with the inscription “free at last, free at last” - because that will tell the whole story of the building.”

Nolan said there was a proposal in 1964 to rename it “the flower market.”

The market is also where the KKK held regular rallies to intimidate local Blacks.

“There are a lot of layers of history for any old building in St. Augustine,” Nolan said. “You have to consider if this is one of those buildings that only conveys negative things or if it’s part of a heroic story of overcoming those things.”

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