|Conditions for African Americans in Florida varied considerably during the war. The 1860 census recorded nearly 63,000 blacks in the state. Of this figure, almost 62,000 were listed as slaves, while less than 1,000 were free blacks. Because of the restrictive laws of the time, even those few who were "free" had only very limited freedom.
The conditions of slavery in Florida often differed by region. In the cotton belt plantations of central north Florida, many enslaved blacks worked under a "gang system" in which large groups of agricultural workers labored from sunup to sundown. In east and west Florida, a "task system" was more common, which provided workers with a daily task quota and could allow some personal time after the tasks were completed. However, in some plantations both systems were used.
As enslaved residents in the Confederate states, most African Americans had little choice but to support the Confederate war effort. Some went to war as servants to white southern officers. Others toiled in hard labor when the Confederate military impressed enslaved blacks for labor projects, such as building fortifications and transportation systems.
Although many enslaved blacks remained on plantations during the war, many others who had an opportunity fled to Union-held areas, such as Jacksonville and Fernandina in northwest Florida, where they lived as refugees. More than a thousand African American men from Florida joined the Union army, filling out the ranks of black regiments.