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Castillo de San Marcos

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Castillo de San Marcos
1 South Castillo Drive
St. Augustine, Florida 32084
Voice: 904-829-6506

The Castillo de San Marcos, built 1672-1695, served primarily as an outpost of the Spanish Empire, guarding St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in the continental United States, and also protecting the sea route for treasure ships returning to Spain. Although the Castillo has served a number of nations throughout its history, it has never been taken by military force. During the 18th century, the Castillo went from Spanish control to British and back to the Spanish , who remained in power in Florida until the area was purchased by the United States in 1821. Called Fort Marion at this time, The Castillo was made a National Monument in 1924 and became part of the National Park system in 1933. The park consists of the original historic Castillo fortress itself with its attendant grounds, some 25 total acres.

On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed on the shore of what is Matanzas Bay today, and began the founding of the Presidio of San Agustin. The town was to serve very important functions for the Spanish Empire. It defended the primary trade route to Europe and the Bahama Channel (today called the Gulf Stream). It also served as Florida's territorial capitol, defending against encroachment into the northern reaches of the Spanish Empire. The Castillo was not the first fort built by the Spanish but was in fact the tenth, with the previous nine forts being built of wood. Following a pirate attack on St. Augustine in 1668, the Queen Regent Mariana made the commitment to have a masonry fortification built to defend the city and port. Construction of the fortress that would become the Castillo de San Marcos was begun in 1672.

The stone that was chosen for the fabric of the Castillo's walls was a local stone called "coquina" (co-key-na) by the Spanish. The name means "little shells" and that is exactly what the stone is made of, little shellfish that died long ago and their shells have now become bonded together to form the stone. The coquina was quarried from Anastasia Island over across the bay from the Castillo, and ferried across to the construction site. In a work area that today is where the Castillo's parking lot is, the stone masons sent here by the Crown from Havana labored to produce the blocks for the construction. The mortar to bond the blocks to each other was made on the construction site by baking oyster shells in kilns until they fell apart to a fine white powder called lime. The lime was then mixed with sand and fresh water to produce the mortar that still holds the Castillo together today. After 23 years of work, the Castillo was completed in 1695.

The Castillo had its first test when British forces under Governor Moore of Charles Town, Carolina came down to lay siege to the city in early November, 1702. At the start of the siege the people of St. Augustine came up to the Castillo to take shelter, and the over 1200 citizens of the city would remain within the walls for almost two months. The siege was finally broken by the arrival of a relief fleet from Havana that trapped the British ships within St. Augustine's harbor and forced the British to burn their ships to prevent their capture by the Spanish. As they withdrew from the area, the British put the city to the torch putting them in the same class as Sir Francis Drake who burned the city in 1586.

In 1763, Britain finally gained possession of St. Augustine and all of Florida, but not by taking the city. As a provision of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Seven Years War, Britain gained the Florida Territory by the return to Spain of Havana, which the British had taken late in the war. The British split Florida into an East Florida and a West Florida, and made St. Augustine the capital of East Florida. On July 21, 1763, the governor of the Florida Territory turned it over to a representative of King George III. The British would make a number of small changes to the Castillo, including its name, which would now be Fort St. Marks. With the departure of the Spanish from Florida, the British felt no great need to maintain the Fort in first rate condition because they held the all of eastern North America. This outlook changed greatly with signs of rebellion being seen in the Thirteen Colonies to the north.

With Spain's return to St. Augustine, the Fort had its name changed back to the Castillo de San Marcos. The Spanish soon discovered that Florida had changed markedly since 1763. Border problems of the past were now greatly increased by the fact that runway slaves were coming into Florida to be welcomed by the Seminole Indians, along with the fact that a number of ruffians and scoundrels that were now calling Florida their home base. In spite of these facts coupled with unrest in her colonies in South America, Spain continued the adoption and reinforcement of new defenses built by the British and the upkeep of the Castillo. On July 20, 1821, after heavy pressure from the US Government and numerous other pressures on the Empire, Spain ceded Florida to the United States of America.

On their arrival in St. Augustine, the Americans changed the name of the Castillo to Fort Marion, in honor of General Francis Marion of Revolutionary War fame, and structurally changed little else of the fortification. The old storerooms with their heavy doors and barred windows were converted to prison cells. In the 1840s, army engineers turned the east moat into a water battery, part of the American Coastal Defense System, and improved the glacis hill around the Fort. Throughout the American Territorial Period, Seminole Indians were jailed within the Fort, among them Osceola in 1837, and this foreshadowed later events with the imprisonment of the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapahoe, and Apache Indians captured in the west during America's push toward her "Manifest Destiny" during the 1870s and 1880s.

In 1845, Florida became a state in the Union, but would only remain so until December of 1860, when she joined other Southern states to form the Confederate States of America and entered the ensuing American Civil War. During the War, Fort Marion was in Union hands for the majority of it, having been handed over to the Confederates in January, 1861 on the basis of a receipt for the Fort and all of its contents signed by Confederate authorities and given to the Union commander.

The Fort came back into Union hands on March 11, 1862 after the USS WABASH, a Union gunboat, took the city and Fort without firing a shot when it found that Confederate forces had evacuated the area and the local authorities were willing to surrender to preserve the town.

In the 1890s, the Fort was back again at its duty of being a prison. During the Spanish American War in 1898, it would have almost 200 court-martialed deserters from the American Army imprisoned within its walls. With the end of the 19th century, the Fort finally completed its long tour of duty, being removed from the rolls of active bases, and was made a national monument in 1900 after serving six flags over 205 years.

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