San Marcos de Apalache
The ruins of the historic fort are
preserved at San Marcos de
Apalache Historic State Park in St.
Fort Ward & the Last Flag
Confederate troops rebuild the old
Spanish fort using earth. It was not
evacuated until May 10, 1865,
making it the last coastal fort of the
Confederacy to lower its flag.
SAN MARCOS DE APALACHE
HISTORIC STATE PARK
St. Marks, Florida
|San Marcos de Apalache
The stone ruins of the Spanish fort can still be seen
at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. The
site has been a crossroads of American history.
Spanish Citadel on the Gulf
San Marcos de Apalache has been known by
multiple names during its hundreds of years
of service as a military post, it is now a state
park in St. Marks, Florida.
Called Fort St. Marks by the England and the
United States, Fort Ward by the Confederacy,
the fort was founded by Spain in 1679 as the
Castillo de San Marcos de Apalache ("Castle
of St. Marks of Apalache"). Spanish knights, a
future U.S. President, Confederate generals,
and a Creek Indian Pocahontas have all
walked its grounds.
The original fort or castle of San Marcos de
Apalache was built by the Spanish on the
point of land formed by the confluence of the
St. Marks and Wakulla RIvers to protect the
port of the province of Apalachee.
Named for the powerful Apalache, a nation of
Christian American Indians, the province was
a rich agricultural district noted for its farms,
ranches and prosperous settlements. The
risk of attacks from the Gulf of Mexico was a
major concern during these days of the real
pirates of the Caribbean, so the King of
Spain authorized the building of a fort to
guard the port.
The first fort of San Marcos de Apalache was
a small log structure built directly on the point
formed by the merging of the rivers. Its walls
were plastered to create the appearance of
stone, but its weakness soon became
Just three years after it was built, the fort was
attacked by French pirates. They created
widespread panic by taking and looting San
Marcos but eventually sailed away. The fort
was replaced but the elements, hurricanes
and fevers made its occupation a nightmare
of death and sickness for the soldiers sent
The original log fortifications were replaced
during the 1700s by a powerful stone
fortress, but it was only about half finished
when Florida was transferred to Great Britain
in 1763. Spain had sided with the French in
the Seven Years (or French & Indian) War
and paid the price by losing its colony. After
94 years under the Spanish flag, San Marcos
became the British post of Fort St. Marks.
Redcoats held the fort through the years that
followed, but it was isolated and of little use
to them. They finally left it in the hands of a
trader who also served as caretaker. It was
an important point of trade for Creek and
Seminole Indians during the American
The Spanish returned after Great Britain lost
the American Revolution in 1783. They
resumed work on the stone fort and guarded
the nearby trading post of Panton, Leslie &
Company (later John Forbes & Company).
In 1800, however, the fort attracted the ire of
the pirate and adventurer William Augustus
Bowles. A former British serviceman, he
declared an empire called the State of
Muskogee in Florida, commissioned a flotilla
of pirate ships, and led an "army" of whites,
blacks and Indians against San Marcos.
The siege of San Marcos de Apalache by
Bowles and his followers was a noteworthy
event in American history. Not only was it one
of the few times that an American Indian
force maintained an extended siege on an
enemy position, the attack also showcased
the growing weakness of Spain.
Bowles and his army took the fort and held it
for several weeks until a Spanish force came
from Pensacola to take it back. Unwilling to
withstand an attack from Spanish cannon,
the adventurer and his men melted away. For
a brief time, however, the sun flag of the State
of Muskogee had waved over the walls of
San Marcos de Apalache.
The fort remained in Spanish hands until
1818 when it was stormed by the U.S. Army
under Major General (and future President)
Andrew Jackson. The Americans believed
that the Spanish were supplying Creek and
Seminole warriors then fighting against the
United States in the First Seminole War.
The capture of the fort put the Scottish trader
Alexander Arbuthnot and the Creek leaders
Josiah Francis and Homathlemico in
U.S.hands. All three were executed, as was
former British officer Robert Ambrister who
was caught on the Suwannee River assisting
The Prophet Francis was the father of a 15-
year old girl named Milly Francis. She is
remembered as the "Creek Pocahontas" for
her role in saving the life of an American
soldier named Duncan McCrimmon (also
spelled McKrimmon). Milly was present when
her father was executed by U.S. soldiers and
also witnessed the firing squad shooting of
U.S. troops held San Marcos de Apalache,
now called Fort St. Marks, for the next three
years even though Florida still belonged to
Spain. The legal transfer of the colony came
in 1821 and American soldiers used the fort
off and on for years to come. A garrison was
posted there during the Second Seminole
War (1835-1841), but no major effort was
made to improve the defenses.
The fort eventually fell into ruins and a tavern
even operated at the point of the Wakulla and
St. Marks RIvers. Some of the stones from
the original Spanish bombproofs were used
to construct a Marine Hospital at the site.
War returned to San Marcos de Apalache in
1861 when Florida seceded from the United
States. Confederate troops occupied the old
fort, reinforced the Spanish walls with
earthworks and mounted cannon. They
called the post Fort Ward, also using it as the
home port for the gunboat CSS Spray.
Fort Ward was a primary target of the Natural
Bridge Expedition in 1865, but Union soldiers
failed in their attempt to take it. Soldiers and
Confederate Marines from the fort took part in
the fighting at the nearby Battle of Natural
Bridge on March 6, 1865.
It is a little known footnote of history that
Confederate troops continued to hold Fort
Ward until May 10, 1865. It became the last
coastal fort of the Confederacy to lower its
A primary target of the Natural Bridge
expedition in 1865, the fort was never
captured by Union troops. Soldiers and C.S.
Marines from the fort took part in the nearby
Battle of Natural Bridge.
San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park
is now maintained as a museum and
historic site by the State of Florida. It is
locatedat 148 Old Fort Road in the town of St.
Marks, Florida, and is open to the public from
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern) on Thursday
through Monday of each week. The park is
closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
There is a $2 admission fee to see the
museum (children 5 and under admitted
free) and see its outstanding film. The fort
site and grounds are free to visit.
Please click here for more information.
Milly Francis Monument
Milly Francis, remembered as the
"Creek Pocahontas" for saving the
life of an American soldier, saw her
father executed at San Marcos.
St. Marks Military Cemetery
This small cemetery contains the
remains of soldiers who died while
serving at Fort St. Marks during the
early 19th century.
|Copyright 2017 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: August 22, 2017
(Some contents Copyright 2011)
Walls of the Spanish fortress
The stone walls of San Marcos de
Apalache can still be seen more
than 200 years after they were built.
Seen here is one end of the old
Battle of Natural Bridge
Soldiers and Confederate Marines
from Fort Ward (San Marcos de
Apalache) took part in the fighting at
Natural Bridge. The battle was the
last significant victory of the War
Between the States (or Civil War).
Natural Bridge Mini-Documentary. Just click the play button!