Monday, July 6, 2009
St. Augustine, Florida #3 - Fort Matanzas National Monument
Returning now to our tour of beautiful and historic St. Augustine, Florida, one of my favorite points of interest there is Fort Matanzas National Monument.
Located on Highway A1A about 15 miles south of downtown St. Augustine, the national park preserves two sites of critical importance to Florida history. It was somewhere in this vicinity that in 1565, Spanish soldiers under Pedro Menendez de Aviles found shipwrecked French sailors and soldiers. Menendez had just returned from his destruction of the French settlement of Fort Caroline, at today's Jacksonville, and was on the hunt for Jean Ribault and his followers who had left the fort before the attack.
Menendez captured them in two groups at what is now Matanzas Inlet. Those who refused to convert to the Catholic faith (the French were Protestants), he put to the sword. Of the first group of 127 prisoners, 111 were killed on the sands of Matanzas. The name in Spanish, in fact, means "slaughter" or "killings."
Because Matanzas Inlet provided water access to St. Augustine, it was a dangerous "back door" to the city in times of war. To protect against attack via this route, the Spanish began construction of Fort Matanzas in 1740. Designed to work in conjunction with the Castillo de San Marcos to defend the water approaches to the city, it was a massive masonry tower. Constructed of local coquina rock, the fort measures 50 feet on each side and rises 30 feet above the surrounding marshes. It originally mounted five cannon, the largest of with was an 18-pounder.
The fort was attacked only once, by British forces under General James Oglethorpe in 1742, but a single shot from one of the Spanish cannon forced the attackers to withdraw.
Beautifully restored, the fort is now the centerpiece of Fort Matanzas National Monument. The main parking lot, nature trails and visitor center can be accessed by car via Highway A1A. The fort itself stands on Rattlesnake Island, but the National Park Service operates large tour boats to ferry visitors across to the fort. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/fortmatanzas1.