17 February 2009

San Marcos de Apalache

This is one of the most fascinating little known sites in the country. Located where the Wakulla and St Marks rivers converge near the Gulf Coast, this is the site of a fort owned by the Spanish, British, Muskogee, Confederates, and US. It's history begins earlier, though, with the doomed expedition of Panfilo de Navarez, who came north from Tampa in 1528. When he failed to find gold and riches, he built rafts near here to return to his ships, but the ships and two of the rafts were destroyed in a storm. After a long overland trek, only four men survived the ill-fated expedition. Hernando De Soto passed through here on a much more succesful expedition in 1539.
By 1679, the Spanish began construction on a wooden fort on this spot, the logs covered with lime to look like stone. This ruse only lasted three years before the fort was burned by pirates. It was not until 1718 that Captain Jose Primo de Ribera began to build another wooden fort.
Artist's concept of the early Spanish fort.
The first stone fort here was begun in 1739, but construction was slow, and it was only half finished when the fort was transferred to the British in 1763. By 1787 Spain occupied the fort again as a result of the Treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution. Seen here are the remains of the Spanish Bombproof, or magazine. It was built with limestone from about a mile downriver, and had four rooms with arched ceilings and strong doors. Its roof served as a firing position for troops on the north wall of the fort. Much of the stone fort was destroyed by a hurricane in 1851. Stones from the bombproof were used later to build a lighthouse and Marine hospital. When Confederates occupied the fort, they placed a battery of canon here.

This piece of mortar from the Spanish Bombproof shows the finger markings of a construction worker in the upper left corner. Someone also very obviously formed their name or initials with stone chips in the mortar.

This is the keystone from the Bombproof. The keystone was placed in the entrance arch of forts and magazines to hold the doorway together, and as a symbol that it is finished.

The original moat of the Spanish stone fort. In 1800, a former British officer, William Augustus Bowles, united groups of Creek and Seminole Indians into a nation they called Muskogee. This nation made a capital near modern tallahasee and eventually captured the fort here at San Marcos. Not long after, the fort was retaken by the Spanish and Bowles was taken as a prisoner to Havana, Cuba, where he died.

The remains here are what is left of the north wall of the Spanish fort. In 1817, prompted by Indian raids into Georgia, and by slaves running away to Spanish Florida, the United States began the First Seminole War. As part of this, Andrew Jackson was ordered to invade Spanish held Florida. In April 1818, Jackson siezed the lightly defended San Marcos, where he believed the Natives were getting war supplies. He wrote "To prevent the recurrence of so gross a violation of neutrality, and to exclude our savage enemies from so strong a hold as St Marks, I deem it expedient to garrison that fortress with American troops until the close of the present war. This measure is justifiable on the immutable priciple of self defense, and can not but be satisfactory, under existing circumstances, to his Catholic Majesty the King of Spain." In addition to attacking Spanish and Indians here, he found a Scottish agent, Alexander Arbuthnot, who he accused of selling arms to the Indians. Later in his campaign, he found another British agent named Robert Ambrister. Both men were given a military tribunal here, and were executed. Britain had serious discussions about war over the incident, but cooler heads prevailed. The US House of Representatives stated "The House of Representatives of the United States disapproves the proceedings in the trial and execution of Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert C. Armbrister. This House disapproves of the seizure of the post of St Marks and Pensacola, contrary to orders, and in violation of the Constitution." More importantly, as a result of Jackson's succesful campaign and Spain's weak control over Florida, the territory was sold to the United States in 1821.
In 1857-58, a Marine Hospital was built near the fort, using stones from the Spanish Bombproof. This facility provided care for local yellow fever victims. The modern park visitor center, seen here, is built on the foundation of the hospital.

In 1861, Confederate forces took control of the fort, renaming it Fort Ward. During the war, the river was blockaded by the Union Navy, but the local blockade runner The Spray was one of the most successful of the war, delivering salt as cargo. In 1864 a Union raid destroyed many nearby kettles and furnaces of salt. In 1865, a Union invasion was stalled by running aground while trying to avoid the fort. The soldiers disembarked the ships, and result was the Battle of Natural Bridge, that stopped the invasion. Seen here is the large earthen magazine built by the Confederates.
Looking down the Confederate magazine into the Spanish moat. The last soldiers to occupy the fort were Union Colored Infantry under Col Joseph Shaw. They left in 1866, and the fort became a part of history.

Here is the surviving portion of the out wall of the Spanish stone fort. In 1996, the State Park Service built a wooden covering to protect the wall from the river, which had been eroding it.
Here is a canon in the visitor center. Based on its condition I am guessing it is authentic, probably one of the Spanish canon by its design.
This appears to be a grave, located atop the Confederate magazine. I have no idea the story behind it. If anyone does, please tell me!
This cemetery is near the visitor center, and is where several unknown soldiers from Jackson's army are buried.

Marker at the cemetery
Marker for Luther Tucker, near the site of the original fort.
Marker at the original fort site

Marker in memory of Malee Francis, whose story can be read in depth here.

Odometer reading: 224.4

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