Lighthouse boat builders donate replica of historic boat to Fort Mose


Thanks to the Heritage Boatworks of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, Fort Mose Historical Society can once again exhibit an important part of the local community’s distant past.

At the monthly Fort Mose military muster on Saturday, March 6, the boat builders donated a new barca chata to the museum in the park. The vessel replaces one they had built in 2010 that had fallen into disrepair.

A barca chata was a Spanish flatboat commonly used as a barge for hauling items in the 17th and 18th centuries. It would have seen frequent use in the days when Fort Mose was active. It would help feed the community and help protect the fort.

Boats of this type also played an important role for enslaved African men and women of the time who used them to escape slavery in the Carolinas and make their way to Spanish Florida and freedom.

During the unveiling, archaeologist Chuck Meide told those assembled that the first recorded instance of enslaved Africans using this type of boat to escape the northern British colonies was in 1687. There were eight men, two women and one infant.

“We have a wonderful engraving from 1860 from the Civil War of boats that looked just like this barca chata,” Meide said. “The design didn’t change very much over the years.”

He said that enslaved Africans also used boats like the barca chata in the 19th century to make their way to freedom again, this time to the North.

Jane Mahoney, executive director for the Fort Mose Historical Society, approached the Heritage Boatworks several months ago and asked them to build a new barca chata for Fort Mose State Park. The boat was completed in plenty of time for the historical society’s 25th anniversary celebration, set for June 26.

Mahoney expressed gratitude to the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum’s boat builders for what she called “one of our most valuable interpretive resources.”

“We appreciate their expert craftsmanship and dedication to historical accuracy and detail,” said Charles E. Ellis, president of the Fort Mose Historical Society. “The boat builders have created an important interpretive element for the park, one that will pique the interest of many park visitors and serve as an important resource for telling the Fort Mose story.”

The barca chata unveiled March 6 was the work of Steve McMullen and Gene Veltri. They worked on the boat nine hours a day for three days each week, completing it in about a month.

Veltri said they used the former boat as a guide in creating its replacement. Though these types of boat were common, they weren’t preserved, so it was difficult to do research on their attributes.

“These boats were kind of thrown together and used to pull around, and the bigger ones they’d just build at one end of the river, float it down, tear it up and sell the lumber at the other end,” McMullen said. “So it was a utility boat. It could be any size you wanted it.”

The men built a stand to hold the boat above the ground to preserve it and to make it more easily viewed.

The Heritage Boatworks Program is run by St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum volunteers. It is dedicated to keeping the traditions of boat building alive in the Nation’s Oldest City. The boat builders focus on construction projects to replicate boats common to North Florida waterways in the past.