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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Location: St. Johns County, St. Augustine; address, One South Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32084.

This well-preserved fort figured prominently in the Spanish-English struggle for the present Southeastern United States during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spanish began to construct it because of the English threat to Florida posed by the founding of Charleston, S.C., in 1670, only 2 years after the sack of St. Augustine by English pirates. As early as 1586, when Sir Francis Drake had raided St. Augustine, the English had shown their determination to destroy the Spanish monopoly in the New World.

Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos NM.

Construction of the castillo began in 1672 and required almost 25 years. Spanish artisans and drafted Indian labor built substantial walls, 30 feet high and up to 12 feet thick, of the native shellstone called coquina, with mortar made from shell lime. The walls were built in a symmetrical design, in the style developed by Italian and Spanish engineers.

The castillo was well armed and manned, for the region was in turmoil. Spanish forays against the Carolinas and Georgia (1686, 1706, 1742) emanated from the castillo, which between 1683 and 1743 was also the target of six raids and sieges by pirates, Indians, and Englishmen. Though England gained possession of Florida, including the castillo, at the end of the French and Indian War, in 1763, Spain regained control of Florida at the end of the War for American Independence and held it until the United States acquired it early in the 19th century. The U.S. Army renamed the castillo Fort Marion, and used it as a prison, Seminole and Southwestern Indians, among others, being imprisoned there.

Castillo de San Marcos
Constructed in St. Augustine late in the 17th century by the Spanish, Castillo de San Marcos figured prominently in the Anglo-Spanish rivalry for control of the present Southeastern United States.

During the Civil War, Confederate forces occupied the fort briefly before Federal troops assumed control in 1862. Ironically, its last military use—as a prison during the Spanish-American War (1898)—was against the nation that built it. Established in 1924 as a National Monument by Presidential proclamation, the fort was placed under the jurisdiction of the War Department, which in 1933 transferred it to the National Park Service. The original name was restored 9 years later.

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005