Matanzas Inlet, in the year of our Lord, Fifteen-hundred sixty-four

DSCN2920
Approaching the tower on the ferry.

My visit begins with a short boat ride to here.

But, this story begins with Phillip II learning that the French have built a fort at the mouth of the large river now called the St Johns.  This is a perfect location for those Protestant reformers that call themselves Huguenots to launch attacks on the treasure fleets returning to Spain. Ft caroline map cropped

Ignoring the protests from the devoutly Catholic Phillip, Jean Ribault sailed from France in May with more than 600 soliders and settlers to resupply the new French fort.  In return Phillip sent an Adm. Pedro Mendendez with 800 people and a mission to establish a settlement and remove the French when he arrived at the mouth of the St Johns river in August.  After giving chase on the sea, the Spanish sailed on to the newly founded post called St. Augustine.big_map1Again in September Jean Ribault suffered another loss this time one including the lives of more than a hundred men. A hurricane had struck that wrecked the ships some where between what is now Daytona Beach and Cape Canaveral.  When the survivors reached the shore Menendez informed them of the fall of Fort Caroline and urged their surrender, even with no promise of clemency. He spared only a few professing Catholics and four artisans needed to at St. Augustine.  Two weeks more french survivors reached this inlet and met the same fate as their countrymen, nearly 250 perished.   It is from that time that the inlet became known as Matanzas, the spanish word for slaughters.   The question of Menendez’s actions remains unanswered.  Was he driven to these deeds because food supplies were already low and this was a simple deed of survival? Or, was this a vengeful act motivated by religion?  {Much of this history I found at the site presented by the National Park Service}

Today the Torre de Matanzas (Matanzas Tower) stands quiet, it’s cannons no longer thunder as they did when firing their deadly six and eighteen pound balls.  Instead, the Park Service guides recount the life of of the soldiers stationed at the post.  Matanzas folderThe walls have long since lost their smooth brilliant white and red plaster, colors of the Spanish flag, that announced to all that saw it “this is territory of Spain”.DSCN2935

What remains visible is the coquina blocks hauled from El Piñon, a quarry south of the inlet. DSCN2939 If you look very closely under this Garita (sentry box) you will see a trace of what is now pink remaining from the red plaster that was here in 1742.

The normal garrison for this post was one officer, four infantrymen, and two gunners.  They enlisted men shared quarters right off the gun deck while the officer stayed in the room above.  DSCN2929DSCN2930While the table setting might appear “quaint” by some standards, remember that six men lived and ate together here during the hot and humid Florida summers.

It’s no wonder that the officer had these accommodations…DSCN2931

Battles?   Only one significant engagement with the British not the French.  You see Gov. James Oglethorpe, from the British colony in Georgia, tried to gain advantage of the inlet.  His ships were driven back by the four six-pound and the one eighteen-pound guns firing from the tower.

The view today looking toward the inlet

After the British ships retreated the guns were never again fired in battle.

The American Revolution, a second Treaty of Paris, then finally Spain transferring Florida to the United States in 1821 found the fort  with new owners that would never occupy its’ walls.  The tower soon fell to ruin from the storms, salt air and lack of upkeep.  It became a curiosity to the visitors of the  Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Morgans made St. Augustine their winter home.

A Postcard of Fort Matanzas from the 1890s.
A Postcard of Fort Matanzas from the 1890s.

It was these influential guests who convinced the Congress of 1916 to spend $1025 to repair and preserve this structure.  One hundred years ago the decision was made to protect a part of our history dating back to a time twice that.

The next trip to this area will be to Fort Caroline and the trail that leads back through time to that place in our history.  Please do follow the links I’ve included here in the blog. They can unlock some more of the fascinating history of our country.

 

As usual, “Get out, Be safe, and Go adventure”.

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