The flag which flies over Fort Matanzas and the Castillo de San Marcos is depicted in usage as a red X figure placed on a white background. This symbol relates to the jagged edges of the cross. The X-shaped crucifix is regularly called "St. Andrew's cross" because legend says that Andrew the Disciple was crucified on a cross shaped like an X.
As early as 1569 the Spanish realized the threat of the Matanzas Inlet and built a plank watchtower and a wood hut to house six militants who took shifts scanning the range. If a vessel was sighted, a messenger or small boat was sent out to warn St. Augustine. Watching and informing were the tower's primary tasks for it was in want of any armament. Due to Florida's humid climate, these clumsy watchtowers often had to be repaired or reconstructed. No sign of any of the towers remain, but archaeological proof suggests that they may have been on Anastasia Island in the neighborhood of the park's visitant compound.
Several times the watchtower prevented pirates from entering in through this back corridor. In 1683, English fugitives captured the watchtower, but the news made it to St. Augustine, and vessels and warriors came and threw them out. In 1686 French privateers attempted to traverse the inlet, but again notice was sent to St. Augustine, and these pirates, too, were revolted.
The Massacre of the French
The European story of Fort Matanzas National Monument starts with an event almost 200 years prior to the construction of the fort at Matanzas - the Spanish slaughter of French forces in 1565. It happened near or quite possibly in the area where now lies the monument. The conflict started Spanish power in Florida for 235 years.
Pedro Menéndez de Aviles
When King Philip II of Spain discovered that the Frenchman Rene de Laudonniére had established Fort Caroline in Florida, he was infuriated -- as the new colony was squarely on land pertaining to the Spanish crown. Spanish treasure navies sailed onward the Florida coast on their way to Spain and Fort Caroline presented an excellent post for French interventions. Despite Philip's objections, Jean Ribault navigated from France in May 1565 with more than six-hundred fighters and pioneers to bring new provisions to Fort Caroline.
General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles, was entrusted with extracting the French, also navigated in May, reaching the Saint Johns River in August with some 800 people, soon after Ribault. After a brief sea chase, the Spanish withdrew south to a position they had earlier surveyed. The Spanish came aground on September 8 and built and named their new village "St. Augustine" because the land had first been discovered on the Feast Day of St. Augustine, August 28.
Ribault sailed on September 10 to attack and destroy the Spanish at St. Augustine, however, a hurricane took his ships far away to the south, destroying them on the Florida coast.
Simultaneously, Menéndez led a force to assault Fort Caroline. For most of the soldiers were away, Menéndez was quickly able to seize the French settlement, annihilating utmost of the men in the engagement. Some of the residents were able to escape to vessels and retreat to France. Menéndez forgave the women and children and transferred them by ship to Havana.
He later discovered from Timucuan Indians that an assortment of white men was on the shore several miles to the south of St. Augustine. He proceeded with 70 soldiers to where a delta had blocked over one-hundred of the shipwrecked Frenchmen striving to get back to Fort Caroline.
With a captured Frenchman as a translator, Menéndez explained how Fort Caroline had been captured and pressed the French to abdicate. Reports to the contrary, he made no guarantees as to forbear them. Having expended most of their stores and defenses in the wreck, they did in fact surrender.
Two weeks later the series of incidents was repeated. More French survivors appeared at the inlet, including Jean Ribault. On October 12 Ribault and his men surrendered and met their fate, again resisting to give up their profession. This time 134 were exterminated. From that day forward, the inlet was called Matanzas -- meaning "slaughters" in Spanish.
After the French, the British grew to be the main threat to Spain. Starting with Sir Francis Drake's assault on St. Augustine in 1586, when he burned the town, England repeatedly raided the Spanish colony. Charles Towne (Charleston) in the Carolina Colony was settled by the English in 1670. The English colony of Georgia was established in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. Both of these settlements were on land declared by Spain. Enmities were fixed, and the British generals were studying for a reason for charging St. Augustine. Conflicts in Europe provided them the reason to carry the aversions to the new world.
The Siege of 1702
In 1700, Spain’s King Charles II lapsed without an heir. Soon, most of Europe was embroiled in a battle with each country supporting its own Protestant or Catholic nominee for the Throne. The War of Spanish Succession surged over into the New World where it became recognized as Queen Anne’s War. This was the justification South Carolina's Governor James Moore needed. In 1702 he led a company against St. Augustine and its new fort. After 58 days, the British retreated, but as they left, they burned St. Augustine to the ground.
Oglethorpe's Attack of 1740
Just as the 1702 Siege grew out of a larger European conflict, so would the next attack on St. Augustine-- James Oglethorpe's Siege of 1740, which grew out of the War of Jenkin's Ear, a dispute between Britain and Spain over trade in the Caribbean.
The Building of Fort Matanzas
Labor started on the tower in the fall of 1740. Coquina rock was quarried at El Piñon, a small bay south of Matanzas. The building was painful, for long masses had to be driven into the swamp to maintain upcoming stonework.
Regularly, the British and their Indian partners attempted to hinder construction. On July 21, 1741, the British navigated in to attack the Spanish. Two British ships, the sloop St. Philip and a schooner sighted a Spanish sloop moored inside the bay of Matanzas. A Spanish galliot, which had gone unnoticed by the British, opened fire from long range but scored no successes. Night and daze soon ended the British attack.
A Mediterranean-Style Galliot
The following day the British newly attacked. At 10 o'clock in the morn the St. Philip, now free of the fog, propelled in on the Spanish vessel. The sloop attempted to sway away but ran stuck on one of the numerous sandbars in the region. The British embraced the chance and opened fire on the stranded ship. Several shots obtained their target - two Spanish crewmen were annihilated and two more were injured. The Spanish galliot again won the day by beginning fire on the British ships, stopping them from considering further effort. The St. Philip was forced to withdraw to the open sea. Had the British defeated the galliot, they perhaps may have halted the Fort Matanzas construction.
In September 1742 Oglethorpe tried once again. Yet by this time Fort Matanzas was finished and fired its first cannon shot. The British retreated without so much as firing a shot.
In 1751 Montiano was awarded the governorship of Panama, a very wealthy colony compared to St. Augustine and Florida. He died there in 1758.
The Castillo de San Marcos is unparalleled in North American design. As the only extant 17th-century martial construction in the country and the oldest handiwork fortification in the United States, it is an excellent illustration of the "bastion system" of a fortress, as well as the culmination of hundreds of years of improved military defense engineering.
It is also singular for the rock used in its construction. The Castillo is one of only two fortifications in the world constructed out of a limestone called coquina.
Given its light and porous nature, coquina would seem to be a poor choice of building element for a fort. However, the Spanish had few other choices; it was the only rock available on the coast of Florida. Nevertheless, coquina's porosity unintendedly had an unexpected benefit. Due to its conglomerate mixture coquina contains millions of tiny air hollows delivering it compressible.
A cannonball shot at the more solid material, such as granite or stone would smash the wall into tiny pieces, but cannonballs fired at the walls of the Castillo burrowed their way into the rock and attached there. So the dense coquina surfaces incorporated or diverted weapons rather than succumbing to them, rendering a surprisingly long-lived fortification.