After visiting Fort Mose in St. Augustine, a history teacher from Idaho said she had never heard the story of the site before.


Dorothy Israel said many people have had the same reaction when visiting the state park over the years.


Even though it’s the site of the first legally sanctioned free black settlement in what became the U.S., some people have never heard of it.


But thanks to the efforts of the Fort Mose Historical Society, the story is getting broader exposure in the world — including recognition by UNESCO as a Slave Route Project Site of Memory.


“We increasingly are doing better at getting the word out,” said Israel, who teaches visitors about the site’s history in addition to being the society secretary.


Educational efforts of the society are one reason why the St. Augustine Historical Society chose the Fort Mose Historical Society as this year’s recipient of the Shepard Award.


Named after a preservation architect who has been influential in St. Augustine, the award recognizes people who have played a major role in preserving St. Augustine’s history.


An award celebration will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on May 28 at the Oldest House Museum, said Magen Wilson, executive director of the Historical Society. The event will be open to the public.


Slaves who fled to Spanish St. Augustine were allowed to stay as free people if they became Catholic and pledged allegiance to the King of Spain.


“The first freedom seekers arrived in 1687,” according to the Fort Mose Historical Society. “This group included eight men, two women and a 3-year-old nursing child.


“By 1738, more than 100 freedom seekers had achieved asylum. In that year, a fortified town named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose was constructed on St. Augustine’s northernmost border."


The Fort Mose Historical society represents a grassroots effort that helped preserve the site itself, which is now a state park, and create educational programs for the public over the years, its award letter said.


Annual events at Fort Mose Historic State Park include Flight to Freedom, which uses re-enactors to help people understand what it was like for slaves who fled to the area from British South Carolina.


People traveled through swamps, contending with hostile wildlife and evading bounty hunters who wanted to take them back to slavery, Israel said.


“Anybody who wants freedom will do anything to get it,” Israel said.


The three-day Flight to Freedom event in February drew more than 3,200 visitors, said Charles Ellis, board president of the Fort Mose Historical Society.


Ellis said he and other members of the group are excited to receive the award.


“It does give the society a lot of credibility on the work that they’ve done,” he said.


The Fort Mose Historical Society wants to add to the experiences available at the park.


There isn’t a structure on the site from its original days as a settlement, so the group wants to build a representation of Fort Mose to help educate people.


Officials are working on raising $500,000 for the project.