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The ladder in the center of the officer's quarters leads through the ceiling to the observation deck 35 feet (11 meters) above the level of the river. From here a soldier could see any ship passing by and have ample time to warn St. Augustine. At one time a cover or roof over this hatchway kept out the cold and rain. To the north, the waterway leads to St. Augustine fifteen miles away.

With the completion of the little watchtower fort at Matanzas, St. Augustine was now safe from attack from the south. Moreover, St. Augustine had a secure escape route, should one ever be required.

Picture from inside Castillo de San Marcos

Military Life at Fort Matanzas

The First Spanish Period

spanish first flag

Supposedly, the fort was designed to accommodate six guns and fifty men, although no more than five cannon were ever emplaced. Usually, only an officer, four privates of the infantry and two gunners manned the fort. Soldiers were assigned to the fort as a part of their regular rotation among the outposts and missions near St. Augustine. The tour of duty at Fort Matanzas was one month.

Soldiers assigned to the fort rowed or sailed small boats from St. Augustine, bringing all the supplies they would need for the month. Days were spent in cannon drills to maintain their skills at a high level, making necessary repairs to the building, maintaining equipment, foraging for firewood, and fishing. Lookouts continuously watched the ocean for approaching ships.

Since St. Augustine was the only town on Florida's east coast at that time, any shipwreck survivors who made it to shore would walk to St. Augustine for help. Fort Matanzas was the first Spanish presence encountered by those walking from the south. The soldiers of Matanzas helped many shipwreck victims.


If a soldier became sick while serving at the fort, he was taken to St. Augustine by boat for treatment. This was an all-day journey for those assigned. Because the fort is situated in a salt marsh, the water supply depended entirely on rain that drained off the flat roof into the cistern. During periods of drought, however, it was necessary for soldiers to row a mile south to Pellicer Creek, continue up as far as water depth would allow, and then walk with barrels and casks a mile or two up to where the water became fresh enough to drink. By the Second Spanish period there were plantations in the area where the men could go for well water.

It was an isolated outpost. No road passed near Matanzas, so visitors were few. How did the soldiers wile away any free time they might have had? Gambling, it is known, was a favorite pastime. When they were in St. Augustine, the men played dice and card games in taverns, so it is reasonable to expect that they played them at Fort Matanzas as well. Perhaps one of the men had a guitar or flute to play while others sang or danced.

Nevertheless, thirty days at the outpost of Matanzas was probably lonely, quiet duty in spite of its importance in the defense of St. Augustine.

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