We all know that Florida is America’s crowning jewel of theme parks, and has some of the best beaches around, but what you may not know is that Florida is home to some serious icons of American and Caribbean history. So far I have visited Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and so far, the one thing that I have found in all of them are forts. It was a mainstay of the Caribbean back in the day when Europe was fighting over who would control the “new” world. Turns out, you don’t need to leave the mainland in order to get a taste of this history, as Florida is home to some impressive French, Spanish, and American forts.
The first fort that I visited in Florida was Fort Caroline, located in Jacksonville in northern Florida. This is thought to be the site of one of the oldest colonies in the United States. It was the French who settled here in 1564 on the relatively high, dry ground of the area, and had good relations with the native Timucuan people for a time. Unfortunately, the Spanish weren’t too happy with the French setting up shop in the area, so they ended up massacring the people that tried to make Caroline their home only a year after the settlement had been established. The area is currently cared for by the US National Park Service, and it is free to visit. The fort itself has been recreated to some extent, and there is some really lovely hiking in the park as well.
Castillo de San Marcos
South of Jacksonville in the coastal city of St. Augustine, which claims to be the oldest, colonial city in the United States, is Castillo de San Marcos, another site protected by the National Park Service (sensing a theme here?). Unlike Fort Caroline, the Castillo de San Marcos was built by the Spanish in 1672, and as its relatively in-tact existence indicates, it was a far more successful settlement. The fort held St. Augustine’s bay from the British until 1763 when the area was given to the British by treaty. Any attempts to attack the fort before this, were unsuccessful, in part, due to the special stone that was used to build the fort. The fort provides insight into the colonial history of Florida, but also US history as well, since the fort was eventually used to incarcerate Native Americans. It isn’t all (or even mostly) a happy story, but it represents an important part of our past nonetheless. Once you’re done learning about the Castillo, head to nearby downtown St. Augustine, for a charming place to walk around, shop, and eat great food.
Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas
Fort Jefferson in my opinion, it is the most magnificent of the three (although Florida is home to more than just these). The fort is massive, and somehow located in the middle of the Caribbean ocean, about 70 miles away from Key West on the Dry Tortugas islands. It was built by the American people in order to protect the deep waters of this area, which are key to some of the busiest shipping lanes in the region. The building process itself carried on for almost thirty years (1846-1875), but the building was never actually finished. While the fort was never attacked, it did serve as a symbol of American power, and it also was a strategic location during the Civil War, when the Union used it to blockade Southern shipping and hold prisoners. Now, it is an enchanting spot to spend the day, exploring the past in the long, chambered halls of the fortress, and looking out onto the brilliant blue of the Caribbean sea.