St Augustine, FL – On a foggy, rainy January morning I visited Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. It was built by the Spanish between 1672 and 1695 out of coquina blocks (coquina is a sedimentary rock composed of layers of compressed shells) quarried from nearby Anastasia Island. It is a square fort with diamond-shaped bastions at each corner which provide crossfires that offer the fort more protection. The Castillo was occupied twice by the Spanish, from its construction through 1763 when they lost St Augustine to the British as part of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which ended the 7 Years War (also known as the French and Indian War) and from 1783 to 1821 when it was ceded to the United States in the Adams-Onis Treaty (also known as the Florida Purchase Treaty). The British occupied the Castillo from 1763 to 1783 when they ceded it back to the Spanish as part of the Treaty of Paris (1783), one of the treaties that ended the American Revolution. During the British occupation, the Castillo was named Fort St Mark and St Augustine was the capital of British East Florida (Florida was split into two British colonies, British East and British West, which brought the total of British colonies in America to 15). When the United States took control of the Castillo in 1821, it was renamed Fort Marion after the Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion. The US Army mostly used Fort Marion as a military prison to hold prisoners from the Indian Wars. In 1924, the Castillo was designated a National Monument and 1933 it was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service. In 1942, by order of Congress, it was renamed Castillo de San Marcos.
The Castillo is an impressive structure. It was an awesome experience to walk through a fort from the 17th Century; you don’t get that kind of opportunity in very many places in the United States. It’s fascinating to see the graffiti left by soldiers and prisoners throughout the Castillo, from writing to drawings of ships scratched into the walls. A product of Spain’s Catholic heritage, there is chapel integral to the Castillo. Unlike the iron cannons you see at Revolutionary or Civil War forts, you see bronze cannons at the Castillo, many with magnificent detail cast or etched into them; it’s something you just don’t see on American cannons from later periods. It was dismal, foggy, rainy day when I visited (although the sun teased us and peeked out for about a half hour), so I plan on going back one day and getting a better look at the outside of the fort while it’s dry.
I highly recommend visiting Castillo de San Marcos if you find yourself in the St Augustine area. You’ll learn a lot about Spanish History in North America that you don’t learn in school and is rarely mentioned in books. The park rangers give a very interesting guided tour of several of the Castillo’s rooms that place the Castillo in the context of that Spanish and Colonial History.
I'm an Amateur Radio Operator, Radio Monitoring enthusiast, Motor Sports fan, and Blogger. Most of my amateur radio activity is voice because I mostly operate from a mobile station (listen out for me operating from Jekyll Island, IOTA NA-058). On the radio monitoring side of things, I enjoy listening to military aviation, Fire/EMS, and USCG/Federal comms. I'm a sports car/touring/GT, Formula 1, and IndyCar racing fan who's become disenchanted with NASCAR racing.
Due to my job, I split time between Savannah and Brunswick, GA
View all posts by KF4LMT