Fort Matanzas
St. Johns County
HABS FL 15-5
The Beginning
On September 24, 1565 sixteen days after the founding of St. Augustine Spanish soldiers exploring the river going
south recognized that the river went through to the Atlantic ocean and that the land in front of the settlement was an
island. This island would be called the island of
La Cantera, La Escolta and finally Santa Anastasia. Matanzas River
and the Matanzas Inlet were named after the slaughter of the French by the Spanish on the island. What is now
Summer Haven was called
El Penon. Fishes island was further up the river and called El Vergel by the Spanish. One
early name for the watchtower was
La Nea. Around one and ½  miles south of the Mantanzas inlet was another inlet
called El Penion which would have another watchtower.  The little inlet south of Mantanzas was also  known as Barra
Chica and Barreta de Juan Ribao, Barreta de Matanzas, Little Inlet, Little Matanzas Inlet, Ribault's Inlet. .

The river and the shores are not the same that they were in 1565. The island where Fort Matanzas would be located
divided the river into east and west  with the river rejoining after the island.

This route gave St. Augustine another sea route which was important to the  Spanish in the 1702 Carolina attack on
the
Castillo de San Marcos when the Spanish sent word of the attack to Cuba. Another advantage of the opening was
that it could be used as a point to stop traffic coming up the coast from south Florida.

Unfortunately this was also a weak spot in the defense of St. Augustine. It gave a back door to approaching the town
and the Castillo. It was never used by the English but pirates found it extremely convenient.

The watchtowers would be located at different areas around the inlet.

1569 – The first wooden fort erected
To prevent the possibility of a surprise attack a wooden watchtower was built. The soldiers could give a warning to the
town if any ships were seen approaching the inlet. The watchtower was manned by five men. It had no artillery.

1671 – Sketch of the  Mantanzas Watchtower
On August 21, 1671 Governor Manuel de Cendoya visited the watchtower and gave his description in an affidavit.
The watchtower consisted of 4 poles sunk into the ground that was topped by a wooden platform for a sentry. There
was a hut next to the tower for shelter and all this was surrounded by a palisade of palm logs. The soldiers had two
canoes for transportation.

1696 – Johnathan Dickinson arrives at Mantanzas
Johnathan Dickinson was shipwreaked at Jupiter inlet on a voyage to Charleston. The survivors walked up the coast
and received food at the Fort Mantanzas station.

1683 – Pirates Capture the Watchtower
In 1683 Pirates captured the watchtower. The buccaneers were led by Capitaine Bréhal*, a French flibustier from
Saint Domingue (present-day Haiti). Guiding the invaders was a renegade from San Agustin, Alonso de Avecilla. The
invading flotilla included the vessels of Captains Jan Corneliszoon (commander of a brigantine from New York), John
Markham, Conway Woolley, and Thomas Paine (commander of the bark
Pearl, with a commission from the Jamaican
governor, Thomas Lynch, to hunt pirates!) They had decided to attack Saint Augustine, despite an ensuing peace
between France and Spain, and no authorization other than Paine’s commission. On March 24, 230 freebooters
landed near Ponce de León Inlet, 70 miles south of San Augustíne. Flying French colors, they marched north to the
San Augustine presidio, looting the countryside as they went. They captured the watchtowers at Ayamón (Little
Matanzas inlet) and Matanzas. They tortured the captured soldados to get information on Spanish defenses.
Fortunately they had trouble going up the river and decided to disembark on Anastasia island. They were defeated by
the Spanish at Fish’s island.

1715 – Treasure Fleet Survivors arrive at Mantanzas
In 1715 survivors of the treasure fleet arrived at Fort Mantanzas with their pockets stuffed with silver coins. The ships
had wreaked off the Sebastian Inlet.

1738 – Engineers arrive in St. Augustine to strengthen the fortifications.
On April 14 1738 Engineer Arredondo and Sublieutenant engineer Pedro Ruiz de Olano arrived from Cuba. Olano
would become the resident engineer. Nothing was immediately done at Mantanzas but Arredondo had made
recommendations in 1736 for fortifying the inlet. The English would block the islet on June 17, 1740. The critical need
of St. Augustine was food that would need to come through the inlet. The English had moved their ships from the inlet
to the St. Augustine inlet the day that the Spanish ships appeared at Mosquito. The lone British ship
HMS Phoenix, posted at the southern entrance of the Mantanzas inlet some fourteen miles south of the Castillo to
stop any use of the inlet by the Cubans, withdrew. By July 30 the Spanish sent five shallow draft vessels for Mosquito
Inlet. They left the inlet fighting the English that had come to intercept them. That same night they returned from
Mosquite with 1030 bushels of flour and entered Matanzas Inlet.

1740 – Construction of Fort Matanzas underway
The beginning date of construction is unknown but reference was made to it being well underway by May 19, 1741.
On July 21, 1741 the English had the opportunity to stop construction with an attack on a Spanish sloop. On
September 6, 1742  the English tried to land men on Anastasia island at the inlet but could not effect an island. Six
Spanish galleys and the fortification turned them back. On September 9 the English returned to the inlet with
Governor Oglethorpe with the weather not in the English favor and fire from the fort the English turned back. A letter
of Don Antonio Arredondo, 1743 entitled "Suggestions in regard to Fortifying St. Augustine" gave the need for Fort
Matanzas.

The stone structure was built on wood pilings. The first floor had a guard box or
garita. The terreplein was raised 11
feet from the foundation. The south front had a low
parapet without embrasurers or merlons. The east parapet was a
breast high wall with two embrasures. There were no
firing steps behind a breast high wall. The west parapet was also
a breast high wall. The Fort sides were 55 feet long. Five guns were placed in the fort upon its completion. All guns
pointed to the mouth of the inlet. This was how the fort was arranged through 1763.

The tower is 30 feet high. The ceiling of the lower section had a fault like construction. The men slept on the lower
floor and the officers on the top. The Fort could hold 50 men but appears to have had 10 men. The lower story
opened to the terreplein through a door. The upper story was reached by an outside wooden stairway. There was a
window in the north wall of the lower room. There were small rooms for provision and munitions’ storage. There was
also a eight foot three inch (diameter)
cistern to hold water in case of a siege. There were also
observation/ventilation/musketry
loopholes in the lower story in the wall west of the door and a window in the wall to
the east. The gunpowder
magazine was in a cylindrical space rising up from the floor level. The west wall of the room
contained a wooden sleeping platform and there was a fireplace in the east wall. In the upper story there were
loopholes beside the door. A wooden drainpipe carried the water from the roof to the cistern.

Completion of the Fort
The Fort was completed by 1743. Engineer Ruiz sent a letter, a plan and a cross section of Fort Matanzas along with
a map showing Mantanzas Inlet, the Little Inlet and the island of El Penon and part of Anastasia island.

Attack of 1743
In 1743 Governor Ogglethorp again attacked St. Augustine and Fort Mantanzas on the English ship St. Philip. In their
attack on the Fort the troops because of the ocean could not land.

The British take over Fort Matanzas
In 1763 the Spanish exchanged Florida to the English in return of Cuba. The British continued to used Fort Matanzas
arming it with two 6-pounder cannons and a crew of one sergeant and eight privates. By 1775 the crew was a corporal
and four privates. During the American Revolution additional guns were added to Fort Mantanzas with two large guns,
and three more on the west parapet and three on the south parapet with the construction of wood and earth merlons.

The Second Spanish Period
Five men were assigned to Fort Mantanzas by the Spanish. They watched for ships, reported ship passages and
relayed news of shipwrecks and survivors to St. Augustine.

Repairs were soon made on the Fort with lime being made in
kilns at Little Inlet. The quarry became a royal quarry
and the oyster shell mound was also protected. The Fort Matanzas commander was responsible for enforcing this
order. Engineer de la Rocque inspected Fort Matanzas in 1789. The Fort was capable of holding nine cannons. The
entrance ladder was replaced as well as the wooden drain pipe. 1792 the ladder was repaired again and the doors of
the fort were repaired. The hinges of the two windows and the four broken treads of the stairway to the upper story
were replaced. In 1793 a new
terreplein was laid and two 8 pounder cannons a barbette were placed on them. The
soldiers guarding the fort were increased to 5. In 1796 work was done to repair the damage from river erosion.  1797
brought a new ladder from St. Augustine to the fort and a new pump for the
cistern. Water was also obtained from the
plantation of Antonio Mestre by hauling water casks and carrying them back to the fort. In 1798 an old well was
restored on Anastasia island to help ease this problem. In 1799 a hurricane added more water damage to the fort.
The
tabby surface of the roof was replaced the chimney was repaired, the walls of the lower story were replastered
and a new stairway to the upper story was installed. Missing stones were replaced in the east and south wall
foundations (and again the ladder was replaced.)

In 1800 the Fort served as a communications link between General Georges Biassou’s black militia company who
were stationed at the plantation of Josiah Dupont to protect against Indian attacks. In 1801 rain again went through
the walls and roof of the fort. A new tabby slab 14 inches thick was laid for the
terreplein. On July 28, 1809 the floor of
the upper story near the chimney had fallen and damaged the chimney flue. This became a danger to the officer
quarters and the powder magazine. To repair this 40 bushels of lime, seven yards of stone and five yards of
tabby
were used to fill the hole in the floor. Missing plaster was replaced on 148 yards of the interior walls to get rid of the
roaches, and a partition to the officer’s quarters was built.

The engineer Francisco Cortazar was the next to inspect the fort after several years of inaction. River erosion had
undermined the east foundation of the
terreplein. In rain there was no shelter. Foundation work and other repairs
were needed but nothing was done. In 1819 the flag pole fell to the ground. The last inspection was held by Engineer
Ramon de la Cruz in August 1820. The fort was evacuated on September 28, 1820 when lightning struck the roof. La
Cruz submitted a report that concluded: “This site, indispensable as it is for defense, cannot be abandoned without
facing responsibility for the consequences.” While not abandoned soldiers did not live in the fort.

June 5, 1821 the fort was turned over to Lieutenant W. J. Baird of the 3rd U. S. Artillery. On July 5, 1821 the final
muster was held at Fort Mantanzas. Gunner Francisco de Herrera, Sergeant 2nd Class Manuel Ruiz, and Sergeant
2nd Class Lorenzo Brito were present. At sometime in the 19th century the guard box (
echaugette) fell off the fort.

The Americans in the 19th Century
In May 1842 Lieut Henry W. Benham the builder of the American seawall and the man who worked to restore the
Castillo inspected the Matanzas Inlet. He created two drawings that he delivered to the Engineer Department on
August 29, 1843. One was a drawing of the location of the fort to the inlet and the other drawing was the fort itself.

At this time there was a crack in the tower with missing stones through the rear upper and lower story windows. A
second crack ran from the roof parapet halfway down to the cordon at the east third of the tower. Captain Robert E.
Lee recommended on March 12, 1849 that all public land (including Fort Mantanzas) be withheld from public sale. In
1877 Captain James C. Post received orders to survey the military reservation in St. Augustine. His report stated that
“the Fort was visited and it was found that it was rapidly passing into a mass of ruins, the tidal currents having
undermined the northeast until it was in a tottering condition.”

On January 29, 1885 Lieut. George I. Scriven, 3fd Artillery was ordered to inspect Fort Matanzas. He described the
architecture, condition of the terreplein and town, and measured the entire structure. He found two iron cannons still
at the fort with a length of nine feet three inches. He believed that the guns were British. (They were made around  
1750 (probably in Spain), emplaced at Matanzas in 1793, and left behind by the Spanish when they departed Florida
in 1821. The other two cannon now on the gun deck are modern reproductions purchased through donations to the
park and used in the park's living history cannon firing 29 demonstrations.)

The Restoration of the 20th Century
On April 6, 1909 J. E. Ingraham of the Florida East Coast Railroad told U. S. Senator Duncan U. Fletcher of Florida
that the structure deserved to be preserved because “it was an interesting relic, and had constituted an important
element in the Spanish defenses of St. Augustine.”

From 1885 through 1916 Congress defeated four attempts to pay for repairs to the Fort.

The Creation of Rattlesnake Island
In 1911-12 the island was cut in a north-south direction by the Florida Coastline & Transportation Company to
improve its intracoastal canal. This land became an island later called Rattlesnake. In 1929 the cut was transferred to
the United States. The U. S. Corps of  Engineers improved the cut in 1930-32 when it became part of the Intracoastal
Waterway.

Creation of a National Monument
In July 17, 1915 the War Department issued Bulletin 27 that reproduced the Act for the Preservation of American
Antiquities to declare historic properties on lands owned and controlled by the United States as national monuments.
The secretary then declared several historic properties under him as national monuments including Fort Marion ande
Fort Matanzas.

The War Department finally checked the ownership of the land around Fort Mantanzas. They found that the entire
Section 14, Township 9 South, Range 30 East belonged to the United States. The only question was the status of the
unoccupied marsh islands. Woodrow Wilson issued a Presidential Executive Order on April 3, 1916 that added the
entire group of marsh islands lying in the Matanzas River in SE ¼, Section 14, and the NE ¼, Section 23, Township 9
south, Range 30 East, to the Fort Matanzas Military Reservation.

President DeWitt Webb of the St. Augustine Institute of Science and Historical Society wrote to the House
Appropriations Subcommittee in 1917 about saving Fort Mantanzas. The chief engineer in the War Department was
Maj. General William M. Black who had served in St. Augustine from 1886 to 1891 and supervised repairs to Fort
Marion. A estimate of $1025 to stabilize the fort was given by the Jacksonville District engineer. The President signed
the congressional fortifications act of 1917 that gave $25,000 for the preservation of obsolete coastal defenses. Chief
Engineer Black allotted $1,025 to the repair of Fort Matanzas.

This money was used for the repair of the fort tower between July 1916 and April 1917. Two additional amounts of
132.60 were needed The work was performed by Bud Deyo. The war ended the repairs.

On October 15, 1921 Fort Marion and Fort Matanzas was on the list of surplus property. Both were soon removed
from the list. On March 2, 1923 President President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the War Department
appropriations act for 1924 containing $4,100 for Fort Mantanzas. The War Department was also preparing a
Presidential Proclamation because the earlier proclamation had not been issued directly by the President.

The fort was stabilized on January 24, 1924. They fixed the cracked portion of the southeast scarp, rebuilt the
terreplein surface and a small portion of the upper story floor. Bud Deyo was again the person who did the repairs.
Eugene Johnson laid the base of oyster shells around the base of the structure.

On October 15, 1924, Fort Matanzas received designation as a national monument along with Fort Marion, Fort
Pulaski, and Castle Pinckney among others. The custody of the fort was transferred to the Jeffersonville
Quartermaster Depot (Indiana) on July 1, 1925. On August 10, 1927 the President transferred the lands not included
in the National Monument to the Department of Agriculture as a bird refuge. The sentry box was repaired by 1927 in
brick. It was redone with
coquina in 1929. In November the fort was stabilized against the tidal water. Carmelo Pacetti
helped repair the coquina in the tower.

In 1931 stones missing from the walls were replaced and repointed. In 1933 the Fort was transferred to the National
Park Service in the Department of the Interior. On May 15, 1934 Miss Ada Corbett gave a donation of 17.34 acres on
Anastasia Island to the Federal government. This was added to the Fort Matanzas National Monument by FDR in
January 9, 1935. President Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded Fort Matanzas National Monument through Proclamation
Number 2114 on January 9, 1935. This Proclamation added lands on Anastasia 21 Island that had been donated to
the United States by the Corbett family.On March 24, 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Proclamation Number
2773, which added the remainder of public lands on Rattlesnake Island, consisting of 89.42 acres to the National  
Monument ―in order to insure permanent protection to the Fort and its historic setting. The Fort now contained
298.51 acres with the donation of land by Mr. Howard C. Johnson and Tressa Yeager Johnson on the southern tip of
Anastasia Island.

In the 1970s more effort was made to stabilize the structure.

2000 70 More Acres added to the Fort
Public Law 106-524 of the 106th Congress was  An Act To revise the boundary of Fort Matanzas National Monument,
and for other purposes.

The boundary of the Monument is revised to include an area totaling approximately 70 acres, as generally depicted
on the Map. The Secretary may acquire any land, water, or interests in land that
are located within the revised boundary of the Monument by--
(1) donation;
(2) purchase with donated or appropriated funds;
(3) transfer from any other Federal agency; or
(4) exchange.

Subsequent donations and the acquisition of 70 acres authorized by Public Law 106-524  (November 22, 2000) have
further expanded the park from its original 1-acre size. Today, Fort  Matanzas consists of nearly 300 acres on 36
Rattlesnake and Anastasia Islands, some 14 miles 37 south of the City of St. Augustine, Florida.

Archeology at the Park
Since the 1960s there have been several archaeological surveys and investigations. There are seven recorded sites.
The first is the north midden on Rattlesnake Island north of the fort. It contains artifacts relating to the Spanish and
British occupations of Fort Matanzas. Fort Matanzas on Rattlesnake Island contains material that is raleted to the fort.
Pompano Farm Midden located on Anastasia Island at the northern park boundary is a prehistoric shell midden. The
west midden located on Rattlesnake island west of the fort is a shell midden with artifacts related to the Spanish and
British periods of occupation. The Johnson House on Anastasia Island contains prehistoric and historic artifact scatter.
The Visitor Center Site is on Anastasia Island including the parking lot and vicinity. It contains a prehistoric and
historic midden and a camp site. The marker midden is located on Anastasia Island at the massacre marker. It
contains prehistoric artifact scatter. Between Fort Matanzas and Castillo de San Marcos NM, approximately 40,085
archaeological specimens have been collected through excavations, with historic ceramics representing the majority
of the objects. Fort Matanzas’s museum collections consist of 46,651 objects and archival materials, 98.98% of which
is catalogued.
Al Manucy's sketch of the Matanzas Tower
from 1671 Description
From Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources
Sentry Box after 1927 Repair
Two views in 1912 of the condition of the Fort
Scenes in Florida, in Picturesque America, with Illustrations by Harry Fenn, 1872
Map of Shoreline
HABS (Historic American Building Survey Drawings) - click on drawings to enlarge
HERBERT KAHLER, PHOTOGRAPHER; MCH.26,1934. WEST VIEW - Fort Matanzas,
Saint Augustine, St. Johns County, FL
HERBERT KAHLER, PHOTOGRAPHER, MCH.26,1934. SOUTH VIEW - Fort Matanzas,
Saint Augustine, St. Johns County, Florida
C. E. Peterson, Photographer c. 1934 VIEW OF TOWER - Fort Matanzas,
Saint Augustine, St. Johns County, FL
C. E. Peterson, Photographer c. 1934 VIEW ON ROOF OF TOWER - Fort Matanzas,
Saint Augustine, St. Johns County, FL
HERBERT KAHLER, PHOTOGRAPHER, MCH.26,1934. VIEW FROM SOUTH-EAST - Fort Matanzas,
Saint Augustine, St. Johns County, FL
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