Fort Matanzas National Monument - St. Augustine, Florida
Fort Matanzas National Monument - St. Augustine, Florida
Interpreter at Fort Matanzas
A uniformed interpreter
recreates the Spanish history
of Fort Matanzas and its role
in the history of St. Augustine.
Cannon at Fort Matanzas
The fort was originally armed
with five cannon, all of which
could easily reach the mouth
of Matanzas Inlet.
Fort Matanzas National Monument - St. Augustine, Florida
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort Matanzas was built by the Spanish to protect
the southern approach to the historic city of
St. Augustine, Florida.
Guardian Fort of St. Augustine
Located on a pristine coastal island south of
St. Augustine, Florida, Fort Matanzas has
guarded the southern approaches to
America's oldest city since 1740. Built to
protect and provide advance warning to St.
Augustine in the event of an attack from the
south, the historic fort is the centerpiece of a
beautiful and scenic national park.

The word "matanzas" is Spanish for
"slaughter" or "killing," and its application to
the Matanzas River and Inlet commemorates
one of the bloodiest incidents in Florida's
colonial history. 175 years before Fort
Matanzas was built, Spanish and French
forces battled for control of the Florida coast.

Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St.
Augustine fifteen miles north of Matanzas
Inlet in 1565. After attacking and capturing
Fort Caroline, a French fort constructed the
previous year on the St. Johns River, he
turned south in search of a large group of the
French who had left Fort Caroline by ship
before the attack. He found 127 of these
individuals at Matanzas, where they had been
blocked by the inlet in an effort to walk back to
Fort Caroline after their ships had been
wrecked near Cape Canaveral by a hurricane.

Telling them that he had captured Fort
Caroline, Menendez talked the French into
surrendering. He then demanded that they
convert to Catholicism. Most of the prisoners
were Protestants and refused. Menendez
ordered them killed and 111 were executed
on the sands of Matanzas. A second group of
captives, including the French leader Jean
Ribault, was executed a few days later.

The bloody incident gave the inlet, river and
eventual Fort Matanzas, their names.

The Spanish had maintained sentries and
wooden watchtowers at Matanzas Inlet for
years, but an unsuccessful attack on St.
Augustine by English forces under James
Oglethorpe prompted them to begin building
Fort Matanzas in 1740. Designed to work in
conjunction with the
Castillo de San Marcos
and the other defenses of the city, the
powerful and compact tower was built of
coquina stone, mined from a nearby quarry.

The coast and appearance of Matanzas Inlet
has changed dramatically over the 268 years
that have passed since work began on Fort
Matanzas. At that time, the inlet was only
one-half mile from the fort, much closer than
it is today.

Fort Matanzas, measuring 50 feet on each
side with a 30-foot high tower, was
completed ahead of schedule in 1742. It
mounted five cannon, four six-pounders and
one 18-pounder.

The fort was barely complete when its
garrison engaged in its only battle. British
commander Gov. James Oglethorpe of
Georgia arrived off Matanzas Inlet in 1742
with 12 ships. Small boats from the fleet
pulled into the inlet and were quickly detected
by the Spanish soldiers in the fort.

A single cannon shot from the fort drove off
this scouting expedition and the British soon
departed. It was the only hostile shot ever
fired from the fort.

Florida and Fort Matanzas were transferred
from Spain to England at the end of the
French and Indian War and the fort was
garrisoned by British troops. They continued
to hold Fort Matanzas until the end of the
American Revolution, when Florida was
returned to Spain by treaty.
The Matanzas River
Fort Matanzas guarded the
Matanzas River approach to
St. Augustine. Soldiers could
fire from openings like this
should an enemy force make
it to land behind the fort.
The old fort rapidly fell into disrepair and by
the time the United States gained
possession of Florida in 1821, it was
obsolete and falling apart. Andrew Jackson
was appointed to serve as the first U.S.
governor of Florida and valued the old fort at
only one-cent at the time of the transfer. It
was never garrisoned by U.S. troops.

Fort Matanzas was in ruins by the time of the
Civil War and played no part in that conflict.

The historic Spanish fortification has now
been restored and is the centerpiece of the
Fort Matanzas National Monument. The park
entrance is located at 8635 A1A South, St.
Augustine, Florida. It is about 15 miles south
of the historic city.

The park is open seven days a week and a
free passenger ferry carries visitors over to
the fort (there is no bridge). The boats leave
the visitor center on an hourly basis, weather
permitting. The park is open daily from 9:00
a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and free to visit.

The ferry ride across to Fort Matanzas offers
a remarkable opportunity to see the beautiful
natural scenery that surrounds the Matanzas
River. Dolphins are often seen playing as the
boat passes.

For those not interested in taking the boat,
the fort can be viewed in the distance from
the dock at the visitor center. The park also
preserves a vital piece of coastal property
and offers a nature trail through the fragile
ecosystem, access to one of the few
unspoiled beaches in this section of Florida,
picnic areas and spectacular views.

Although the fort and ferry are not accessible
to persons using wheelchairs, the visitor
center, restrooms, dock and boardwalk
nature trail are wheelchair accessible.

Please click here to visit the park's official
website for more information.
Battle for Fort Matanzas
The Spanish defenders of
Fort Matanzas drove away a
British fleet in 1742 with a
single shot from one of the
fort's cannon.
Slaughter at Matanzas Inlet
Spanish soldiers massacred
more than 200 shipwrecked
French sailors and soldiers at
Matanzas Inlet in 1565.
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Copyright 2011 & 2013 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Update: November 13, 2013
Historic Forts in Florida