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About:  1565. The monument's history begins with an incident almost 200 years before the construction of Fort Matanzas - the Spanish massacre of French forces in 1565. It took place near or possibly within the area which now makes up the monument. The incident initiated Spanish control of Florida for 235 years and led to the naming of the Matanzas River.

When King Philip II of Spain learned that the Frenchman Rene de Laudonniére had established Fort Caroline in Florida (1 on map), he was incensed -- the colony sat on land belonging to the Spanish crown. Spanish treasure fleets sailed along the Florida coast on their way to Spain and Fort Caroline provided a perfect base for French attacks. Worst of all to the devoutly Catholic Philip, the settlers were Huguenots (French Protestants). Despite Philip's protests, Jean Ribault sailed from France in May 1565 with more than 600 soldiers and settlers to resupply Fort Caroline.

General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, charged with removing the French, also sailed in May, arriving at the Saint Johns River in August with some 800 people, shortly after Ribault (2 on map). After a brief sea chase, the Spanish retired south to a site they had earlier reconnoitered, a Timucuan village called Seloy. The Spanish came ashore on September 8 and established and named their new village "St. Augustine" (3 on map) because land had first been sighted on the Feast Day of St. Augustine, August 28.

Jean Ribault sailed on September 10 to attack St. Augustine, but a hurricane carried his ships far to the south, wrecking them on the Florida coast between present-day Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral (4 on map).

At the same time, Menéndez led a force to attack Fort Caroline. Since most of the soldiers were absent, Menéndez was easily able to capture the French settlement, killing most of the men in the battle. Some of the inhabitants, including de Laudonniére and the artist Jacques LeMoyne, were able to escape to ships and return to France. Menéndez spared the women and children and sent them by ship to Havana.


He then learned from Timucuan Indians that a group of white men were on the beach a few miles south of St. Augustine. He marched with 70 soldiers to where an inlet had blocked 127 of the shipwrecked Frenchmen trying to get back to Fort Caroline.


With a captured Frenchman as translator, Menéndez described how Fort Caroline had been captured and urged the French to surrender. Rumors to the contrary, he made no promises as to sparing them. Having lost most of their food and weapons in the shipwreck, they did surrender. However, when Menéndez then demanded that they give up their Protestant faith and accept Catholicism, they refused. 111 Frenchmen were killed. Only sixteen were spared - a few who professed being Catholic, some impressed Breton sailors, and four artisans needed at St. Augustine.


Two weeks later the sequence of events was repeated. More French survivors appeared at the inlet, including Jean Ribault. On October 12 Ribault and his men surrendered and met their fate, again refusing to give up their faith. This time 134 were killed. From that time, the inlet was called Matanzas -- meaning "slaughters" in Spanish.


Was this a cruel, cold-hearted act by the Spanish as it is often written? Was Pedro Menéndez blindly following orders to rid Florida of the interlopers? Was it a religious conflict? Or was there even more involved? With food already low and no chance for resupply until spring, would there have been food and shelter for all if the French had been brought back to the new village of St. Augustine? Perhaps, as leader of his people, Menéndez knew that survival of the French in October might have meant the starvation of everyone by May.


1569.  In 1569 a wooden watchtower and a thatched hut were built at Matanzas Inlet to house six soldiers who took turns scanning the horizon. If a ship was sighted, a runner or small boat set out to warn St. Augustine. Watching and warning were the tower's tasks for it lacked any armament. Wooden watchtowers had to be rebuilt or replaced often in Florida's warm, wet climate.


1740.  After the French, the British became the main threat. Beginning with Sir Francis Drake's raid on St. Augustine in 1586, England repeatedly harassed the Spanish colony. Charles Town (Charleston) in the Carolina Colony was established by the English in 1670. The English colony of Georgia was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. Both of these colonies were on land claimed by Spain. Hostilities were inevitable, and the War of Jenkin's Ear between Spain and England gave him an excuse for attacking St. Augustine.


On June 13, 1740, Oglethorpe began the siege of St. Augustine by blockading the city including the Matanzas Inlet. Anticipating Oglethorpe's attack, Governor Manuel de Montiano had earlier sent a courier to Havana asking for supplies since there were only enough for three weeks.


On July 7, the courier returned to St. Augustine and told Montiano that six supply ships were at Mosquito Inlet, 68 miles further down the coast. (Present-day Ponce de Leon Inlet) He also told Montiano that the British had withdrawn the vessel blocking Matanzas Inlet, and the way appeared clear to provision the city. However, an English deserter reported to the Spanish that Oglethorpe planned a night attack during the next six days of unusually high tides, for the high water was needed to cross Matanzas Bay and assault the Castillo.


Six days passed and no attack came, so Montiano sent five small vessels to Mosquito Inlet to fetch supplies. Just as the boats cleared the Matanzas Inlet, they met two British sloops that were taking soundings. The sloops opened fire and took up the chase. The fighting continued until twilight when the British sloops returned to their squadron. Their withdrawal gave the Spanish flotilla the opening they needed. They promptly entered the Matanzas Inlet, sailed up the river, and anchored at St. Augustine that same night.


Fearing the approaching hurricane season, the British fleet decided to sail north for safer waters. Lacking naval support and knowing that the city was now well-supplied, Oglethorpe raised the siege on July 20, 1740.


The British siege convinced Governor Manuel de Montiano that he needed more than just a wooden tower at Matanzas Inlet. Had the British been able to seize that point, they would probably have been able to starve the city into surrender. Montiano therefore ordered engineer Pedro Ruiz de Olano to build a strong, stone tower. Work started in the fall of 1740, Stone was quarried at El Piñon, a small inlet south of Matanzas. Construction was difficult, for long piles had to be driven into the marsh to support rising stonework.


Repeatedly the British and their Indian allies tried to stop construction. On July 21, 1741, the British moved in to attack the Spanish. Two British ships, the sloop St. Philip and a schooner (a sailing vessel with two or more masts) sighted a Spanish sloop anchored inside the inlet of Matanzas. A Spanish galliot (a two masted vessel propelled mainly by oars), which had gone unnoticed by the British, opened fire from long range but scored no hits. Darkness and fog soon halted the British attack.


The next day the British again attacked. At 10 o'clock in the morning the St. Philip, now clear of the fog, moved in on the Spanish sloop. The sloop attempted to move away but ran aground on one of the many sandbars in the area. The British seized the opportunity and opened fire on the stranded ship. Several shots found their mark - two Spanish crewmen were killed and two were wounded. The Spanish galliot again saved the day by opening fire on the British ships, preventing them from taking further action. The St. Philip and her accompanying sloop were forced to retreat back to the open sea. If the British had been able to defeat the galliot, they would have destroyed the Fort Matanzas construction.


Besides warning St. Augustine of enemy vessels and driving them off if necessary, the completed fort also served as a rest stop, coast guard station, and a place where vessels heading for St. Augustine could get advice on navigating the river. Its primary mission, though, was maintaining control of Matanzas Inlet. After thwarting British attempts to gain the inlet in 1742, the fort never again fired its guns in battle.


1763.  Though British plans to acquire Matanzas by conquest always failed, Great Britain eventually received Florida from Spain by treaty in 1763 as part of the Treaty of Paris following the French and Indian War. They, too, regarded Matanzas Inlet as the key to St. Augustine and usually kept seven soldiers and two cannons there. No attacks came. Spain had planned to capture Matanzas and advance up river to the Castillo de San Marcos during the American Revolution, but these plans never materialized.


1784.  The held the fort until after the American Revolution. In 1784 Florida was transferred back to Spain as part of the Second Treaty of Paris. By this time, however, Spain's fortune was waning, and by the early 1800s, there was little money to maintain the outpost fort at Matanzas. Erosion and rainwater took their toll. Fort Matanzas was already in poor condition by 1819 when Florida was purchased by the United States through the Adams-Onís Treaty.


1821.   Only three Spanish soldiers were in residence when the United States took possession in 1821. The interior was in ruins, and the gun platform's east wall and its foundation had cracked. The United States army never occupied the fort. Little interest was taken in the tower, and with the passage of time, the tower began to deteriorate even further.

Confederate blockade runners attempted to use the Matanzas Inlet during the Civil War, but the Union army stationed a barge in the river near the fort ruins, and attempts to pass were unsuccessful. This activity had little effect on the old tower, however, and soon the area was abandoned once more.


1924 to the Present.  Fort Matanzas was proclaimed a National Monument on October 15, 1924. It was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service on August 10, 1933.


During the 1920s, extensive repair was done. The sentry box, which had fallen off, was rebuilt. Iron rods were placed within the tower. The gun deck parapet and lower walls were rebuilt.


In the 1930s Fort Matanzas became a WPA Project. A steel bulkhead and two groins were built along the water. The vaulted ceiling in the officer's quarters was rebuilt, and wooden stairways were constructed both into the fort and up to the officer's quarters. On Anastasia Island a dock and a visitor center/superintendent's house were built.

The National Park Service continues to preserve this historic structure. In 1999 the coquina chimney was reconstructed, and Fort Matanzas received two replica iron 6-pounder cannon used in cannon firing demonstrations.


Historical information provided by LAC, 2000




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