Friday, January 7, 2011

January 7, 1861 - America's Oldest Fort is Seized

Castillo de San Marcos (Fort Marion)
January 7, 1861

As the situation in the nation quickly deteriorated in the final days before Abraham Lincoln became President of the United States, Florida moved rapidly to follow the secession lead of South Carolina.

With noted secessionist Edmund Ruffin of Virginia present, the delegates to the state's Secession Convention met in the Old Capitol building in Tallahassee and passed a resolution declaring their intent to take Florida out of the Union:

WHEREAS, All hope in the preservation of the Federal Union upon terms consistent with the safety and honor of the slaveholding States, has been finally dissipated by the recent indications of the strength of the anti-slavery sentiment of the free States; therefore, be it

Resolved, By the People of the State of Florida in convention assembled, that as it is the undoubted right of the several States of the Federal Union, known as the United States of America, to withdraw from the said Union, at such time and for such cause or causes as in the opinion of the people of each State, acting in their sovereign capacity, may be just and proper, in the opinion of this Convention, the causes are such as to compel the State of Florida to proceed to exercise that right.

Castillo de San Marcos (NPS Photo)
The resolution passed by an overwhelming margin and committees were assigned to draft the state's secession documents, which were passed three days later. Meanwhile, also on January 7th, a company of state militia arrived at the St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine and demanded possession of the keys to Fort Marion and the magazine. Begun by the Spanish in 1670 and known today by its original name of Castillo de San Marcos, the fortress then called Fort Marion is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Ordnance Sergeant Henry Douglas of the U.S. Army had no choice but to surrender the keys:

Upon reflection I decided that the only alternative for me was to deliver the keys, under protect, and demand a receipt for the property. One thing certain, with the exception of the guns composing the armament of the water battery, the property seized is of no great value. The gentleman acting under the governor’s instructions has promised to receipt to me for the stores. Henry Douglas, January 7, 1861)

With the fort, the Florida militia took possession of four 8-inch guns, sixteen older 32-pounders, six batteries of field artillery, more than 900 pounds of gunpowder and more than 150,000 prepared cartridges for small arms, as well as a variety of other ordnance and military supplies.

If you would like to read a detailed account of the seizure, please visit Civil War Florida.

The fort would be held by state troops and the Confederate army until the following year and, despite its age, remained a military post until the 20th century when it became a national park area. It is now Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and is visited by thousands of people each year. To learn more, please visit

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