San Marcos de Apalache - A Brief History of Fort St. Marks
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - San Marcos de Apalache, In Depth
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - San Marcos de Apalache, In Depth
by Dale Cox

St. Marks - On the point of land formed by the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers stand the ruins of one of
Florida's most significant historic structures. Picturesque and historic San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park
preserves the scene of some of the most dramatic events in Florida history.

It was somewhere in this vicinity that the Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez gave up his invasion of Florida in 1528
and built boats to escape. He and most of his men disappeared in the Gulf of Mexico and their fates remain unknown
to this day. Hernando de Soto's expedition visited the area ten years later.

When Spanish missionaries began their effort to convert the powerful Apalachee nation to Christianity, the present site
of St. Marks was developed as a port for the province. The need for stronger defenses led to the construction in 1679
of the first fort at San Marcos de Apalache ("St. Marks of Apalachee"). Located directly at the tip of the point within
today's state park, the original fort was a small square structure of wood. The exterior walls were plastered to create
the impression of stone in what would now be considered an example of "psychological warfare."

The disguise failed to protect the fort. Just three years after it was built, real "Pirates of the Caribbean" attacked,
captured and destroyed the citadel. The destroyed fort was replaced by a second, stronger, work, but it was evacuated
following the destruction of the Apalachee missions in 1704 by a combined force of British soldiers and Creek
warriors.

The site remained abandoned until 1718 when the Spanish again sent troops to occupy San Marcos de Apalache.
Captain Primo de Rivera began construction that year on a massive stone fortress. Designed in a unique triangular
form to fit the nature of the ground on the point, the fort was to have bastions on each of its three corners, thick stone
walls and batteries of heavy artillery. A massive undertaking, the fort was never completed, although sufficient
construction was done to render it usable for many years to come.

The transfer of Florida from Spain to England in 1763 resulted in the occupation of San Marcos de Apalache by British
troops, who called it Fort St. Marks. The site saw no action during the American Revolution, although Florida remained
a British colony through the years of the Revolutionary War. The American victory resulted in San Marcos being
returned to the Spanish in 1783.

Spanish troops garrisoned the fort from the close of the Revolution until 1800, when the bold adventurer and pirate
William Augustus Bowles attacked the works with a mixed force of whites, Seminoles and African Americans. He
succeeded in capturing and looting the fort, but evacuated it a short time later when faced with overpowering military
Spanish military might.

The Spanish held San Marcos de Apalache through the War of 1812 and large numbers of refugee Native Americans
that had fled the Creek Nation following Andrew Jackson's victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 received
supplies and settled in the vicinity. Among these groups was the band of the Creek Prophet Josiah Francis or Hillis
Hadjo. A leader of the Red Stick or war forces during the Creek War of 1813-1814 and ally of the British during the War
of 1812, Francis settled with his family and followers on the Wakulla River upstream from the fort.

He and his people were still living there when the First Seminole War erupted between the whites and the Seminole/
Creek alliance in 1817. Andrew Jackson marched an army into Spanish Florida and occupied the site of a former
British post on the Apalachicola River where he built Fort Gadsden. A Georgia militiaman named Duncan McKrimmon
wandered away from the post in March of 1818 and was captured by warriors loyal to the Prophet Francis. Brought to
the Wakulla, he was on the verge of execution by a warrior outraged over the loss of two sisters in the Creek War,
McKrimmon was saved by the sudden and remarkable intervention of the prophet's daughter, Milly Francis. Her rescue
of McKrimmon earned her recognition as the "Creek Pocahontas" and she became one of the first women in American
history to receive a special medal of honor from the U.S. Congress.
Please click here to learn more about her story.

McKrimmon was turned over to the Spanish commandant of San Marcos de Apalache when it was learned that
Jackson's army was again on the march. As these events were underway, a schooner sailed into the "Spanish Hole"
at the mouth of the St. Marks River and dropped anchor. A British flag was seen flapping from its masts and the
Prophet Francis and another chief, Homathlemico, paddled down in a canoe believing that long-awaited supplies had
arrived from England. They were decoyed aboard before they realized that the vessel was actually the
U.S.S. Thomas
Shields
, an American warship commanded by Lt. Isaac McKeever and operating in conjunction with the movements of
Jackson's army. Francis and Homathlemico were taken prisoner and the ship remained in position at the mouth of the
river.

One of Francis' daughters (the older sister of Milly Francis) paddled another canoe out to the ship the next day but
became suspicious when she did not see her father on deck. She turned and made for shore, but the Americans
opened fire on her with both cannon and muskets. She reached the shore, however, and with her escort made a
miraculous escape into the marshes.

Andrew Jackson soon appeared outside the walls of San Marcos de Apalache with his army and, taking the Spanish
garrison off guard, stormed the fort before its guns could be fired. The old Spanish fortress now became an American
post and was known as Fort St. Marks for the rest of its military history. Soldiers from the 4th and 7th Infantry
Regiments and the 4th Artillery occupied the fort for a number of years and the graves of American soldiers that died
there from disease and sickness can be seen in the park today.

The fort had been abandoned by the time of the Civil War and some of the stones from the old walls were used to
build a Marine Hospital on the site as well as the base of the nearby St. Marks Lighthouse. Confederate troops
occupied the site from 1861-1865 and built an earthwork fort atop the old Spanish ruins that they named Fort Ward
after a Southern officer.

Fort Ward was held until the end of the war and was, remarkably, one of the few coastal forts in the Confederacy never
conquered by Union forces. Two attempts were made on the fort, but both failed. The latter of these, launched in March
of 1865, resulted in a disastrous defeat for Union troops at the nearby
Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. The fort was
turned over to United States officers at the end of the war, having never fallen.

For many years the site of the historic forts of San Marcos de Apalache and Fort Ward remained overgrown and
neglected. Public interest gradually grew in the site and it was designated a unit of the Florida State Park system
during the 1960s. San Marcos de Apalache is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
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