America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Forts of St. Augustine, Florida
Today, when you discuss the forts built to protect St. Augustine during the Spanish period, most focus on the two large and wonderful National Monuments at the Castillo de San Marcos and Fort Matanzas. And while they certainly have their charms and historic importance through the many years of protecting the town from those wandering and aggressive to control North America British, perhaps even more important than those two forts themselves, is the third, Fort Mose, which became the first free black settlement in the United States in 1738. Talk about something most people don't know about. So while it may not be the fort in St. Augustine that you will be taking lots of pictures of (the fort itself no longer exists while the other two do), the state park that recounts its history is just as big a must if you're in town. So St. Augustine is not only the first permanent settlement in the United States, built by the Spanish in 1565, but includes black history aplenty of the free kind just two miles north. Image above: Fort Matanzas, C.E. Peterson, Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy Library of Congress.
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Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Forts of St. Augustine, Florida
There had always been a need to fortify the first permanent European settlement that would actually last in the confines of what is today the continental United States. Since 1565, the Spanish were in constant danger of attack from indigenous sources, plus the English and French who wanted to establish themselves as the dominant power in Florida. The first fort, a wooden structure, was insufficient. It was replaced by the masonry star fort Castillo de San Marcos in 1672. But an attack on St. Augustine, a thirty-nine day siege in 1702, convinced the authorites that their approaches from the north and south were vulnerable. Thus, the two forts, first Fort Mose, established on a settlement of free blacks and legally certified upon the fort's construction in 1738, then Fort Matanzas in 1740, were built to shore up the town's defenses.
What remains of those forts? Both the Castillo de San Marcos, the largest, and Fort Matanzas, are fully restored and can be visited. Fort Mose, now a State Park, is no longer there, but a Visitor Center, exhibits, and walking paths through Florida marshes can get you a good way toward understanding the significance of the first free black settlement in the United States.
With all three, they tell a great story of how St. Augustine, during the Spanish period in particular, shaped how Florida would become what it is today.
Image above: Acreage of marshland on site of first free black settlement at Fort Mose, 2015, Justin Water. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons CC4.0. Below: Castillo de San Marcos, named Fort Marion at the time, 1894, William Henry Jackson. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Where Is It
The three forts are situated surrounding the town of St. Augustine, with the Castillo de San Marcos within the historic district at 11 South Castillo Drive, Saint Augustine, FL 32084. Fort Mose State Park where the history and archaeological remains of the fort are located is located at 15 Fort Mose Trail, St. Augustine FL 32084, which is two miles north of town. Fort Matanzas is located at 8635 A1A South, Saint Augustine, FL 32080, fourteen miles south of town.
What is There Now
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is located on eighteen acres within the historic district of St. Augustine. Its casements include museum exhibits. There is a shot furnace, power magazine, British room, chapel, the Plaza de Armas, and more.
Fort Mose State Park contains forty acres of salt marsh, a visitor center and interactive museum that tells the story of the first free black settlement, plus the remains of the fort in a grove of trees on the site. There are picnic facilities, a boardwalk, and kayak launch.
Fort Matanzas National Monument. A Visitor Center with exhibits and orientation is located on the mainland, which also contains beaches, a nature trail and several boardwalks through natural areas, and picnic area on three hundred acres. Fort Matanzas itself is located across the Matanzas River on Rattlesnake Island.
When Open and How Much
Castillo de San Marcos - Open year round Wednesday to Sunday, except major holidays. Fee for adults over fifteen years of age is $15.
Fort Mose State Park - The park itself is open three hundred and sixty-five days per year. Check with the park for current visitor center hours. Free to visit.
Fort Matanzas - The fort is accessible only by free thirty-six passenger ferry service from the Visitor Center area. Boarding passes must be gotten at the Fort Matanzas Visitor Center. They are issued on a first come first served basis. Check with the park for current hours before making your visit there.
Fees subject to change.
Castillo de San Marcos
Fort Mose State Park
It's St. Augustine, the first permanent settlement in the United States, so you're surrounded by historic sites to see from the Spanish period three hundred years ago to more recent pursuits, like the World Golf Hall of Fame, or just a walk on one beach after another. Not far up the coast there's the Timucuan National Preserve, and a bit south, the Canaveral National Seashore and its space cousin, Cape Canaveral.
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