Frequently Asked Questions

How old is the fort?
The fort was constructed between 1740 - 1742 so it is over 265 years old.

Who built Fort Matanzas?
The Spanish built the fort to control Matanzas Inlet, the “backdoor” to St Augustine.

How much restoration work has been done?
The majority of the stone you see is original, although extensive restoration work has been performed through the years.

How did it get the name “Matanzas”?
The Spanish word “Matanzas” means “slaughter” in English. This area and waterway have been known by that name since 1565 when 245 Frenchmen were put to death in the dunes at the inlet.

Where was the inlet when the fort was built?
Time and tide are changing this coastline. In 1740, the inlet was a half-mile closer to the fort than it is now.

How big was the fort’s island when it was built?
The fort was built on less than two acres of dry ground with water all around it and a deep channel just in front of the gundeck. Today, Rattlesnake Island is more than two hundred acres.

Why do they call it Rattlesnake Island?
In the early 1900s when dredging work for the Intracoastal Waterway was begun by the United States Corps of Engineers, the name Rattlesnake Island was taken from a nearby fishing camp. Another possibility is that when workers began the restoration work in 1916, they found rattlesnakes among the brush and rubble on the fort.

How many people lived in the fort?
Usually seven to ten soldiers and one officer were on duty. For battle conditions, Fort Matanzas was to have a fighting strength of fifty men.

How long did soldiers stay at the fort?
A month’s tour of duty was normal. Troops were rotated from the garrison at St Augustine.

How did they get their supplies?
Supplies came once a month by waterways in longboats or lanches (launches).

How did Ft Matanzas communicate with the garrison at St Augustine?
In time of danger, word could be sent to St Augustine, 15 miles to the north, by boat, horseback, or on foot.

Isn’t this building too small for a real fort?
No, its size was suited to its purpose – a watchtower to protect the southern entrance into the Matanzas River and St Augustine with enough soldiers to keep watch and maintain the cannon.

What is underneath the gundeck?
Ft Matanzas’ gundeck is a solid fill of earth to provide a secure platform for five cannon which would have weighed about six tons.

Were any battles fought here?
There were no battles here but, the fort did exchange fire at least once. Ft Matanzas was built in 1740 after the siege by British troops from Georgia; the last attempt by the British to conquer Spanish Florida.

What is the large hole in the top of the gundeck?
This hole opens into a cistern which stored rainwater collected on the top observation deck and passed downward through a wooden drain spout. There was no source of fresh water on Rattlesnake Island.

What are the new coquina blocks at the top of the fort?
They cover tie rods which hold the upper structure together.

What is the hole in the wall on the second floor?
It is the door into the magazine where gunpowder and cannon ammunition were stored.

How did soldiers get up into the fort?
The permanent stairs are recent additions. At first a ladder, which could be pulled up, was the only access into the fort.

Did American soldiers ever use Ft Matanzas?
No, the watchtower was abandoned after the United States acquired Florida from Spain in 1821.

When was Fort Matanzas made a national monument?
It was declared a national monument on October 15, 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge. He signed a proclamation that also included Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos), Fort Pulaski, Fort Wood (Statue of Liberty), and Castle Pinckney (Castle Pinckney was returned to the Army Corps of Engineers in 1951 and is no longer a National Monument).

When was the visitor center built? Constructed of coquina blocks like the fort, the Visitor Center was built during the Roosevelt administration in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration project.

Last updated: June 6, 2017

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

8635 A1A South
Saint Augustine, FL 32080


904 471-0116

Contact Us