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The British Period

National Flag = Union Jack

The First Treaty of Paris, signed on February 10, 1763 ending the Seven Year War, gave all of Florida to the British. The Spanish packed up all their possessions, including the Fort Matanzas cannons, and headed for Cuba, leaving only their real property to the British. When the British took over the little fort, two six-pounders (cannons that fired a six-pound iron ball) were all they had to mount on

the fort. The supply ship, Industry, on its first run to St. Augustine, went down in a storm near the St. Augustine Inlet, and all supplies were lost. Archaeologists have been able to recover some of these cannon.

The English staffed Fort Matanzas with one sergeant, six or eight privates from the Ninth Regiment, and one private from the Royal Artillery. As the political situation changed, the number of soldiers stationed at the fort increased, and more cannons were added. At least two eighteen-pounders were placed at the fort in 1783.

The political situation in St. Augustine was difficult at best for the British. The War for American Independence was raging to the north and the Spanish, under General Bernardo de Galvez, were attempting to recapture Florida through military actions in the panhandle. The British wanted out of Florida but did not leave because St. Augustine was one of the only safe havens where British loyalists could find sanctuary during those times.

Life for those in the English garrison at Fort Matanzas probably differed little from the Spanish. Days were spent in training, repair, and foraging for food as the officer attempted to keep his men occupied with useful tasks.

After capturing Pensacola from the British in 1781, it was thought that the Spanish might make plans to capture St. Augustine and regain control of Florida by trying the same plan the British had tried--coming up the Matanzas River and attacking from the rear. However such plans were never executed.

On September 3, 1783, the Second Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution and returned Florida to the Spanish. This time it was the English who packed up and left.

The Second Spanish Period

Spanish National Flag

The Spanish officially returned to Florida on July 12, 1784. They found Fort Matanzas to be in good condition. The British had added earth-filled wood framed parapets on the east, south, and west walls with three embrasures on each side. These parapets were subsequently taken down, returning the fort to its original design. This was done as much to rid the fort of rotting timber as to change the style. During the earlier part of this period, life at Fort Matanzas was much the same as it had been during the First Spanish Period.

One of the new duties of the garrison was to protect the nearby coquina quarry at El Penon, from being used for any purpose other than the repair of military structures.

On several occasions, people were seen taking stones, and were made to return them.

Also, just south of the Matanzas Inlet, was a large midden of oyster shells. Oyster shell was burnt to make lime, so these shells, an accumulation of centuries of Native American's meals, were coveted by the local masons. The mound was so large that it was easily seen by passing ships and was used as a marker for Matanzas Inlet. The governor declared the midden too valuable as a sentinel to be used by masons for lime. He assigned responsibility of guarding the midden to the commander of Fort Matanzas. On several occasions, particularity at night, barges were seen leaving the midden, filled with shell. They were stopped and turned back.

As the fort aged, it began to pose serious maintenance problems. In 1796, the first major problem was reported. The east side foundation, facing the Matanzas River, was eroding. Also, tabby floors had to be repaired and wooden stairs replaced. The cistern pump had broken, and it, too, had to be replaced.

In October 1801, heavy rains flooded the fort. Water trapped on the roof poured through a hole next to the chimney and turned both rooms into "lagoons". Water also got into the gun powder magazine and ruined some of the powder. A new roof was installed.

In July 1808, the fort commander reported that a hole had developed in the floor of the officer's quarters next to the chimney. Whenever a fire was burning below, smoke filled the officer's quarters causing both a health hazard and the danger of a spark finding its way to the powder magazine. This repair was also made.

In 1818, it was reported that a roof crack diverted rainwater away from the scupper. Also the downspout was broken to such an extent that what little water did come through the scupper spread out over the gun deck instead of being channeled into the cistern. But by then there was insufficient money available for repairs.

The deterioration of the fort continued to a point where it was no longer safe for a soldier to sleep inside. Most likely they slept in tents outside adjacent to the fort. Then, on September 28, 1820, a lightning strike rendered the fort totally useless.

The proud white fort that had defended the back door to St. Augustine for so many years was reduced to worthlessness, not by an enemy's cannon balls but by the ravages of time and nature.

However, Spanish soldiers continued to be stationed at the site until the last days of Spain's rule over Florida. Records show that soldiers were present on July 5, 1821, five days before the transfer of Fort

Matanzas and all of Florida to the United States. All that remained at the fort were two eight-pounder cannons made in Spain and mounted on the fort in 1793. They remain to this day.

U.S. War Department

National Flag of The United States of America

Spain deeded Florida to the United States in 1821, ending over three hundred years of Spanish rule. Florida now became a territory of the United States with Andrew Jackson as its first governor. Fort Matanzas became the property of the War Department.

Military personnel later sent to Florida to evaluate their possessions determined that Fort Matanzas had only historical value. It was obsolete and in bad repair. The exterior surfaces were overrun with vegetation, its walls had cracked, and its undermined foundation caused the south side to lean precariously. The sentry box, the wooden drain pipe, the stairways, windows and doors, the hatch cover and the chimney were all gone. It was a mere ghost of what it once had been. And, since there were no funds available to restore it as an historic structure, it was left to the ravages and whims
of nature.

Matanzas Ruins

Ruins of Fort Matanzas in a photograph from around 1912

Fortune smiled on Fort Matanzas on July 18, 1916, when $1025 was granted by Congress for the repair of the historical structure. In August 1924, the War Department employed a local man, Eugene Johnson, of Summer Haven, to purchase, deliver and spread 3,750 barrels of oyster shells around the base of the fort. He was to be paid twelve cents per barrel. In the first week he delivered and spread 240 barrels, bringing them in his rowboat. He then hired a powerboat and increased his production to 150 barrels a day. By mid-October he had delivered 3,825 barrels for which he was paid $450, the original contract amount.

On October 15, 1924, using the power granted in the Antiquities Act, President Calvin Coolidge named five sites, including Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos, as national monuments. On August 19, 1927, he issued another order, assigning all the lands around the fort, not included in the national monument to the Department of Agriculture, as a bird refuge.

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