You probably already know St. Augustine was founded by Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565.
There’s no reason to doubt you also know it’s the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement within the continental United States.
But how much do you know about the Castillo De San Marcos?
Well, you’re in luck because we’re going to shoot cannonball-sized fortress facts your way!
How The Oldest Masonry Fort In North America Came To Be
Over 100 years before the fort’s creation, St. Augustine was under constant threat from a wide range of groups.
There was the burning of the city by Sir Francis Drake, an English privateer, in 1586. In the second half of the 17th century, there were raids by Indians who were unsettled by the expanding English colony in the north. Sixty people were killed in 1668 after English buccaneer Robert Searle sacked the city.
These events finally forced the Spanish monarchy to act, with Queen Regent Mariana ordering the disbursement of funds for the construction of a permanent fortress, which began in 1672. Spanish engineer Ignacio Daza was charged with the design of the Castillo.
The fortress was still being constructed when it withstood its first attack in 1686. The Spanish destroyed the ships of buccaneers Michel de Grammont, who went down with his crew, and Nicolas Brigaut, who was captured.
The Spanish then tangled with the English in 1702 when North Carolina Gov. James Moore’s troops attacked. Moore’s forces failed to capture the fort after a 58-day siege, so they burned down the city before retreating.
The British failed again in 1740 when Gen. James Oglethorpe of Georgia was unable to seize the fort.
A Fort By Any Other Name Would Stand As Strong
The Castillo de San Marcos has had two other names since its inception.
The first name change came in 1763 after Britain gained control of Florida as part of a provision in the Treaty of Paris. The British renamed it Fort St. Mark and made some structural changes.
The name reverted back 20 years later in 1783 when Florida was transferred back to Spain.
The next name change happened in 1821 after Spain ceded Florida to the United States as part of the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty. In honor of Gen. Francis Marion, the Americans renamed it Fort Marion. The U.S. also made some changes to the fortress, such as converting storerooms into prison cells.
It wasn’t until 1942 that an Act of Congress restored its original name.
Controlled But Never Conquered
Not only is the Castillo de San Marcos the oldest of the country, it might be the most successful as it has never been conquered.
Despite several attacks and sieges, the fort peacefully transitioned control between Spain, Britain and the United States.
In addition to the swaps previously mentioned, the fort also changed hands during the Civil War.
It started in 1861 when Florida seceded from the U.S. and Union troops withdrew, leaving a single Union soldier behind to man the fort.
Confederate troops marched on the fort and it was surrendered without incident after the Union caretaker’s only demand was a receipt for it.
The Confederate army stripped the fort nearly of all its artillery, so there wasn’t much in the way of defensive firepower.
The Union took back the fort in 1862 after a Navy frigate found it clear of Confederate troops and city leaders were willing to surrender it.
The fort was designated a National Monument in 1924.
It wasn’t until after 251 years of continuous military possession that it was deactivated in 1933 after the War Department transferred it to the National Park Service, which now manages the fort.
In 1975, the American Society of Civil Engineers designated the Castillo de San Marcos a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
According to the National Park Service, more than 800,000 people visited the Castillo de San Marcos in 2017.
Hopefully, these facts fortify your desire to go visit this must-visit monument!
William is the Managing Editor at FloridaInsider.com. His years of experience in journalism, broadcasting and multimedia include roles as a Writer and Web Producer. He graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science and Communication.