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As early as 1569 a wooden watchtower with a thatched hut was built at Matanzas Inlet. Built to serve only as a lookout, it had no armament. These wooden watchtowers had to be rebuilt or replaced often in Florida's warm, wet climate.

Governor Manuel de Cendoya visited the Matanzas watchtower on August 21st, 1671, and the occasion was recorded in an affidavit which also gave a description of the watchtower. This drawing was made centuries later from the early description.

Location of the Inlet

Many scholars have debated the exact location of the slaughter of the French. Over the years, heavy storms have been known to open new inlets and close existing ones. It is well documented that an inlet called El Penon was located a few miles south of the present Matanzas Inlet at the time of the massacre. Spanish maps drawn at about this time name this southern inlet "Little Inlet", "Little Matanzas Inlet", "Ribault's Inlet", as well as "El Penon Inlet".

With nearly 250 people having been killed, it would seem that something would have been found over the years that would give clues to the exact location of the site. However, no such archaeological evidence has ever been found.

The National Park Service does have a copy of a deposition given by a man who, as a boy, played in the area. According to him, after the hurricane of 1893, the beach was washed away, exposing a large number of human bones. The writer of the deposition suggested that these were the bones of the French soldiers killed by Pedro Menendez in 1565. However, other people conjecture that these bones, if actually seen, were more likely from burial grounds of Native Americans who had lived in the area for many centuries.

Watch Towers and
Suprise Attacks

St. Augustine was vulnerable to attack through its "back door." All one needed do was enter the Matanzas River at the Matanzas Inlet, sail north until reaching the San Sebastian River, surprising the city from the rear.

Realizing this, by 1569 the Spanish had built wooden watchtowers along the shore to watch for ships heading towards the city and alert the military of their presence. Such a tower was built at the Matanzas Inlet.

Construction was simple. Poles were anchored into the ground and a platform built at the top of the poles from which a sentry could scan the ocean for any ship approaching from the south. A small thatch- roofed hut was built at the base of the tower, and both tower and hut were enclosed in a palm log stockade. If a ship were sighted, a man would either run or row the fifteen miles (24 km) from Matanzas to St. Augustine to alert the garrison at the larger fort there. The watchtower was manned by perhaps 4-5 men and had no artillery.

In 1683 a band of pirates captured the Matanzas tower and made plans to capture St. Augustine. However when they advanced north they became lost, and opted for an overland approach. They were met and defeated by the Spanish at El Vergel (Fish Island), and the city was saved.


 
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