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Fort Matanzas - Protecting St. Augustine

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Fort Matanzas, FloridaFort Matanzas National Monument is a Spanish fortress built in 1742 to guard Matanzas Inlet, the southern mouth of the Matanzas River, which could be used as a rear entrance to the city of St. Augustine, Florida, some 15 miles to the north. At that time, coastal Florida was a major field of conflict as European nations fought for control in the New World.

Long before Europeans arrived, archaeological research tells us that at least 12,000 years ago, wandering hunter-gatherer people lived in the region following the great herds of mammoths and other large animals, as well as gathering the wild grains, nuts, and berries they found in their seasonal wanderings. No one knows what these people called themselves, but to archaeologists, they are known as Paleo-Indians.

 

As the large prey died out, these people began to exploit the vast water resources. Fish, shellfish, turtles, and alligators became a major part of their diet. Hollowed out log canoes enabled them to travel the many rivers. About 2500 years ago, as the various groups of archaic people began to become more settled in one place, each group began to develop a distinct regional culture while maintaining several customs in common. The people who lived along the St. Johns River in east-central and northeast Florida were known as the Timucuan.

The Massacre of the French

Played out at the Matanzas Inlet, the Massacre of the French Huguenots, 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 (Matanzas, the Spanish word for "slaughters").

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, as 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 8th 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 RibaultJean Ribault sailed on September 10th to attack and wipe out the Spanish at 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 Rene 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 (5 on map).

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. In the end,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 12th, 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.

 


Wooden Watchtower on the Matanzas InletThe First Spanish Period (1565-1763)

As early as 1569 the Spanish recognized the vulnerability of the Matanzas Inlet and built a wooden watchtower and a thatched hut 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.

At least twice the watchtower kept pirates from coming in this "backdoor." In 1683 English outlaws captured the watchtower, but, word made it to
St. Augustine, and ships and soldiers came and drove them off. In 1686, French pirates attempted to come into the inlet, but again word was sent to St. Augustine, and these pirates, too, were repulsed.

In Florida's warm, wet climate, these wooden watchtowers often had to be rebuilt or replaced. No sign of any of the towers remain, but, archaeological evidence suggests that they may have been on Anastasia Island in the vicinity of the park's visitor center.

 

The British Threat

After the French, the British became the main threat. Beginning with Sir Francis Drake's raid on
St. Augustine in 1586, during which he burned the town, England repeatedly harassed the Spanish colony. Charles Towne (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 British leaders were looking for an excuse for attacking St. Augustine. Wars in Europe gave them the excuse to carry the hostilities to the new world. Whoever controlled Florida controlled the rich shipping lanes coming from the Spanish Caribbean. The British had unsuccessfully laid siege to St. Augustine twice in – 1702 and 1740, the second siege leaving St. Augustine in ashes.

Florida Governor Montiano knew the British would be back and would most likely attempt to come through the unguarded inlet at Matanzas. Therefore, he immediately ordered a fort to be built to guard these southern approaches -- Fort Matanzas.

Work started on the fortress tower in the fall of 1740 when Coquina 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 shallow-draft 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.

 

In September, 1742 Oglethorpe tried again. By this time Fort Matanzas was completed and fired its cannon. The British retreated without firing a shot. The next April Oglethorpe returned again. However, heavy surf kept him from approaching the inlet or landing men and arms on the beach. Neither side fired a shot.

In 1751 Manuel de Montiano was awarded the governorship of Panama, a very wealthy colony compared to St. Augustine and Florida. He died there in 1758.

The British Period (1763-1784)

British SloopIronically, after all the fighting in Georgia and Florida, all it took was a signature on a piece of paper in Europe to take Florida away from Spain. During the Seven Years War (French and Indian War), the British had captured Spanish Cuba and the Philippines. In order to get these valuable colonies back, Spain was forced to give up Florida. Signed on February 10, 1763, the First Treaty of Paris, gave all of Florida to the British.

The Spanish people of St. Augustine packed up all their possessions, including the forts' cannons, and moved to Cuba. The British supply ship, Industry, on its first run to St. Augustine bearing cannon destined for Fort Matanzas, sank near the St. Augustine Inlet, and all supplies were lost. Archeologists, working from the St. Augustine Lighthouse, have discovered this wreck and have recovered some of the cannon and other artifacts.

The English staffed Fort Matanzas with one sergeant, six or eight privates of infantry and one private from the Royal Artillery. As the political climate changed as the American colonies moved towards revolution, more cannon were added with two 18-pounders placed at the fort in 1763.

Life for the English soldiers at Fort Matanzas probably differed little from their Spanish counterparts. Days were spent in drill, repair to the fort and equipment, and foraging for food as the officer attempted to keep his men occupied with useful tasks.

 

 

 

 

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