Fort Matanzas, owned by the National Park Service, sits fourteen miles from the more well-known Castillo de San Marcos fort in St. Augustine, Florida on the Atlantic Coast. After San Marcos was completed in 1695, the town of St. Augustine, a Spanish outpost, was still vulnerable to attack from the rear if vessels could manage to sail up the Matanzas River. Fort Matanzas was completed by 1742 to solve the problem and prevent British attack. Governor James Oglethorpe of the Georgia colony immediately tested the new fort and its guns repelled his twelve ships. That was 1742 and the fort never experienced further battle activity.
Today visitors can only access the fort via a short ferry ride across the Matanzas River. The small fort sits in isolation on Rattlesnake Island surrounded by a beautiful coastal landscape. Built of coquina, a local shellstone, it is only 50 X 50 feet,with a 30 foot high tower which visitors can climb. It’s a fun climb up the ladder to the observation deck. I tried to imagine what life would be like during the one-month tour of duty… talk about a remote location! The normal complement of soldiers was only one officer, four infantrymen and two gunners. What did the soldiers do to fill their time?
The fort seems far from the ocean and the river inlet it was built to protect. Erosion and river deposits have altered the inlet over time and the fort is about a half-mile farther from the open sea.
The fort changed hands several times as this area went to the British then back to the Spanish then to the United States. The U.S. took possession in 1821 but never occupied the fort.
I’m glad that Fort Matanzas is preserved. The much larger Castillo de San Marcos down the road receives the hordes of visitors, but this small fort tells an interesting story.
Do you like historic forts? Do you have a favorite? Please share about it.
A major historic fort is in danger of development. Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia has many layers of history. Read more about it and support the drive to make it a national historic monument.