History of Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida
Transcribed from: Quaint and Historic Forts of North America
Author: John Martin Hammond
Published in 1915 by the J. B. Lippencott Company of Philadelphia and London
The ancient city of St.
Augustine, the oldest place of European settlement on the North-American
Continent, is on the east coast of Florida at the mouth of the St Augustine
River and at the northern end of a long lagoon formed by Anastasia Island,
which separates the water if the lagoon
and of the Atlantic Ocean. Our interest in the spot may be concentrated in Fort Marion,
a Spanish bravo which has fought the city’s battles for more than three hundred
and fifty years. Probably the most
picturesque of fortifications in the United
States, Fort Marion annually receives thousands of visitors, drawn
from the leisured throng who have made St.
Augustine the winter social capital of the American nation.
Marion is situated at the northern end
of St. Augustine, where its lonely watch-tower
may have a clear view of the shipping channel which leads from the city across
the long bar Anastasia
Island to the ocean. The fortification is a regular polygon of
four equal sides and four bastions. A
moat surrounds the structure, but for the moat has been dry for many years. The
entrance is to the south, and is protected by a barbacan, or less technically,
an arrow-shaped out-work. A stationary
bridge leads part way across the moat and the path is then continued on into
the fort by a draw-bridge.
Over the entrance is an
escutcheon bearing the Arms of Spain with gorgeous coloring, which has been
much dimmed by the hot sun of Florida.
A legend, now partly obliterated sets forth that “Don Ferdinand, the VI,
being King of Spain and the Field
Marshall Don Alonzo Fernando Hereda, being Governor and Captain General of this
place, San Augustin of Florida and its province, this fort was finished in the
year 1756. The works were directed by the
Captain Engineer Don Pedro de Brozas y Garay.”
Passing through the entrance to
the fort one finds one’s self in a dark passage, on the right and left of which
are low doorways, that on the right being the nearer. Glancing through the right door-way one sees
three dark chambers, the first of which was used as a bake-room and the two
other of which were places of confinement for prisoners. Looking through the dark door-way a few steps
forward to the left one gazes into the guard-room.
Walking on one comes into the
open court, 108 feet by 109 feet; immediately to the right is the foot of the
inclined plane which leads to the upper walls. To the left is the well. On all
sides of the court are entrances to casemates.
Directly across from the entrance is the ancient chapel, which heard
masses sung while the English colonies were just being started. The altar and niches still remain over the
door of this place of worship is a tablet set in the wall by French astronomers,
who here once observed the transit of Venus.
Passing up the inclined plane to
which allusion has already been made one finds one’s self on the ramparts of
the fort. A charming view is to be
obtained on all sides, but particularly looking out to sea. At each angle of
the fort was a sentry-box and that at the northeast corner was also a watch
tower. This tower, probably the most
familiar remembrance of old Fort
Marion, is twenty-five
feet high. The distance from watch-tower to sentry-box (or from corner to corner) of the old fort is
The material of which the fort is
constructed is the familiar sea-shell concretion used so largely used in Florida and known as
“coquina”. It was quarried on Anastasia Island across from Matanazas Inlet from
the city and was ferried over to the fort site in large barges. The sub-stance is softer when first dug than
when it has been exposed to the air and light for a season, sharing this
property with concrete, to which it is analogous in other ways, so the walls of
the fort are more solid today than when they were built.
The history of Fort Marion
takes one back to early bickering between the Spanish and the French on the
North American continent. In 1562 Jean
Ribaut, a sturdy French mariner, sailed into the water is Florida,
explored the waters of the St. Johns River (at the mouth of which busy Jacksonville now stands) and planted a colony and a fort
on the St. Johns with the name of Fort Caroline. The river he called the River of May,
in remembrance of the month in which he first set eyes upon it. In 1564, Laudonierre, a second Frenchman came
with reinforcements for Fort Caroline, but paused on his passage to investigate
an inlet farther south than the mouth of the St. John’s River. The inlet he called the River
of Dolphins, from the abundance of such
creatures at play in the waters and on the shores of the inlet, to which later
generations were to know as St.
he descried and Indian village known as Seloy.
The jealous King of Spain heard
of the French settlement in Florida
and was displeased. He sent an
expedition under Juan Menendez de Aviles to colonize the country with Spaniards
and to exterminate the French, who added to the misfortune of not being
Spaniards the mistake of not being Catholics. Menendez sailed into Florida waters in September 1565, reconnoitred the French
Colony on the St. John’s River and then sailed south several days, landing at
the Indian Village of Seloy. Here he decided to establish the capital of
is domain. The large barn like dwelling of the Indian chief was made into a
fort. This was the original of Fort
Marion of today. Then on September 8, 1565, Menendez took
formal possession of the territory, and names his fort San Juan de Pinos.
Of the Sixteenth Century quarrels
of Frenchman and Spaniard, of Huguenot and catholic, there is not space in this
chapter to tell. Suffice it to say that
even in so broad a land as florid, which according to the interpretation of
today included all of the present United States and British Canada, there was
not room enough for the two separated small French and Spanish colonies to
subsist together was beyond all reason. So the next step in the history of our
fort is the expedition of Menendez against the French and the perpetration by
him of one of the most horrid massacres that has ever stained the New World.
Let us picture a blinding night
in September 1565, a Fort
Caroline. The Spanish
leader, it is known, has established himself at the River of Dolphins. One if the equinoctial tempests to which Florida is subject was raging.
The French in their dismantled little post have deemed no enemy hardy enough to
venture out in such elemental fury.
Laudonierre himself has dismissed the weary sentinels from the wall,
secure in the thought that Nature, herself, is his protection. He does not know the tenacity of the Spaniard.
Menendez, setting out from his new stronghold with a few hundred men and
struggling on against the storm, is even now within striking distance of the
doomed French retreat. A sudden rush
upon the sleeping garrison and the Spaniards are within the fort. No mercy is shown. One hundred and thirty men
are killed with little resistance. One
old carpenter escaped to the woods during the melee, but surrendered himself to
the Spaniards the next morning with
pleas for mercy. He was butchered with
his prayers on his lips.
Menendez returned to St. Augustine and in a few days heard that some of the
French ships which had fled in disorder during the rout at the fort had landed
their crews about 20 miles south of St.
immediately set out for the spot with one hundred and fifty men. The hapless
French without food and without shelter surrendered themselves to
Menendez. All of them, (over a hundred
in number) with the exception of twelve Breton sailors, who had been kidnapped,
and four ships’ caulkers who might be useful to the Spaniards were put to the
knife in cold blood. Again word came to
Menendez that that castaway Frenchmen were south of St. Augustine. It was the remainder of the French squadron
under Ribaut – more than three hundred and fifty in number. Menendez repeated his tactics with this
company as well. He allowed the to trust
themselves to his mercy and then conclusively proves that there was no mercy in
the heart of a Spaniard of the Inquistion by putting the whole company to death
ten at a time. The spot where these to
butcheries took place is known to this day as Matanzas, or the place of the Slaughters.
Immediately now the Spaniard
began to make himself more secure in Florida.
His stronghold at St. Augustine was amplified
and Fort Caroline,
the luckless French fort was rebuilt and renamed San Mateo.
In 1568 the French under de Gorgues descended upon the Spanish at San Mateo and put the
whole Garrison to sword. San Augustin
was not attacked, however and for two hundred years held the Spanish flag
supreme in this part of the New World.
For twenty years after its
foundation Menendez’s little fort of San Juan De Pinos saw no military service,
though it was made strong and formidable.
Then the clash of arms came to his ears accompanied by great
catastrophe. Those were the years of the
English sea-kings. Raleigh, Drake,
Grenville, Gilbert, Frobisher were sweeping the oceans in the diminutive craft,
making anxious the captain of many a Spanish galleon. In September 1585, Drake sailed on a
freebooting voyage from the harbor of Plymouth, England, with more than an
ordinarily large number of men and ships, and in May 1586, this little armada
chances to be in sight if San Augustin.
The procedure may now be told in the words of one of Drakes seamen:
And so in the charming,
inconsequential fashion of the times, the narrative goes on, carrying the
battle with it. The forth fell into the
hands of the English after a stubborn defence by its Spaniard occupants and was
destroyed. The village was sacked and
burned. Drake then sailed on his
The fort was rebuilt and stood
secure until 1665, when San Augustin was sacked by buccaneers under Captain
John Davis and it shared the destruction of the town. Then a substantial structure, Fort Marion
of today, was begun. Work was continued for successive generations, until in
1756 the stronghold was declared finished.
The new structure was christened San Marco.
During these years the fort was
not without service, however. In 1702 and again in 1740 San Augustin was
attacked by English forces from the English Colonies to the north, and Fort San
Marco, even while not complete, bore the brunt of these attacks. The second expedition against San Augustin
was under the leadership of Governor Oglethorpe, of Georgia, and arose to the dignity
of a siege of the city. For weeks the
English forces lay beyond the city walls and were then driven off by
reinforcements brought from Cuba.
With the construction of Fort San
Marco the erection of city walls was undertaken too. The walls of old San Augustin ran from Fort
San Marco around the city and were constructed of “coquina”. Only the so-called “City Gate” remains of
these walls today.
In 1766 the warrior which had
withstood armed assault fell to the attack of diplomacy, for it was in this
year that England made its trade with Spain whereby Spain was back Cuba, which
England has wrested by force of arms from that country, and England was given
Florida. The flag of Castile and of Aragon was hauled down from the
wall of the old fort and the British lion was raised in its place. Fort San Marco became on British hands, Fort
During the American revolution Florida was the only one
of the fourteen British Colonies which remained loyal to the Mother
Country. The fervor of the northern
coasts found no kindred spark in old St.
Augustine. The town became a haven for Tories. She opened her gates and an oddly-assorted
throng came flocking in. There the Tory
Colonel Thomas Browne, of Georgia, tar and feathers still sticking to his skin
from his experience with the Liberty Boys of Savannah. There was Rory McIntosh, always attended by
Scotch pipers, who paraded the narrow streets breathing out fire and slaughter
against the colonies. The Scopholites,
so-called from Scophol, their leader, marched down 600 strong, from the back
country of North Carolina, burning and killing in heir course through Georgia
. With such additions, St Augustine was not contents with passive
loyalty and became a centre for military operations against the southern
colonies. Many a council did the rooms
of Fort St. Mark witness, which had as
its result death and privation to the rebellious Americans.
Two expeditions were attempted by
the colonists against Fort St. Mark. The
first under General Charles Lee fell short because of mismanagements. The
second advanced as far as the St.
John’s River. Consternation in St. Augustine reigned supreme; slaves were impressed to help strengthen the
fortifications; citizens ran hither and
thither with their valuables. But the
Americans were menaced by fever at the St John’s
and faced the prospect of a midsummer encampment in Florida, so they turned about and went
north. Fort St.
Mark was not to leave English hands by force.
In 1788 took place another of
those shuffles between high contracting parties by which each party thinks that
he secure the better of the bargain. England traded Florida
to Spain for Jamaica. Spain
traded Jamaica to England for Florida.
In 1821 Spain ceded Florida to the United
States, and in 1825 the name of the forth was changed
from Fort St. Mark to Fort
Marion in honor of
General Francis Marion of Revolutionary fame.
The Seminole war began in 1835 nd
continued until 1842, costing the United States two thousand lives,
and forty million dollars. Fort Marion
was the centre of the military operations of this conflict and it was the scene
of the disgraceful episode of treachery by which Osceola and other Indian
chieftans were captured. In 1838 General
Hernandez, in command of the Untied States forces, sent word to Osceola that he
would be protected if he should walk into Fort Marion
for talk of peace. With seventy of his followers the Indian came to the
conference and was placed in irons. The
prisoner was taken to Fort Moultrie, in Charleston
harbor, where from much brooding and confinement he died. The same tactics were repeated in another
sitting with Coacoochee, the remaining great leader of the Seminoles, and the
Seminole war was ended. Coacoochee was
confined in Fort Marion, where his cell is pointed out to
visitors. His fate became that of an exile, for with his people he was
transported to a western reservation.
During the Civil War Fort Marion
had a brief flurry of excitement when the fort was seized by Southern
Sympathizers in 1861. It fell quickly
before Federal troops, ho9wever, and had no further active part in that war.
The old fort is still government
property, but its days of activity are long since past. That it will be maintained for many years as
a reminder of the past is, however, well assured.
File transcribed and contributed for the FLGenWeb Project, Inc.
by Laverne Tornow
©FLGenWeb Project, Inc. 2008 All rights Reserved