Between all of Florida’s notable historic and beautiful sites is a treasure that many people do not know about. This isolated paradise would be Fort Jefferson, which is in the Dry Tortugas of Key West. This incredible island oasis is surrounded by crystal clear waters, beautiful coral reefs, and the unforgettable Key West breeze. The forts history is rich in war and trade, and its placement aided in shaping the future of this country. A jewel long forgotten, Fort Jefferson itself is unique, old, and important to the history of not only Florida, but the United States as a whole.
When people think
of Key West, they think of clear blue waters, long calm beaches, and the
ultimate vacation spot. Most individuals do not think of the old brick
structure called Fort Jefferson. It is an isolated island located “about
70 miles away from key west” (Sandler) a place that can be reached
through ferry rides, private boat rides, public boat rides which are
offered daily, the trip departs early in the morning and return late afternoon
(only two boat lines are offer) and/or plane rides.
This 7 groups of coral reefs based
land is called Dry
Tortugas, was named by Ponce De León. “Tortuga” refers to the turtles that used
the beaches as nesting grounds. Dry was added later to let sailors know there
was no fresh water in the area. The fort building took around 30 years and
16 million bricks to build, which makes it one of the largest brick structures
in the western hemisphere, but it was never completed nor was fully armed.
The fort was
named after President Thomas Jefferson. “Fort Jefferson was begun in 1846 to
protect anchorages on the only shipping channel into the Gulf of Mexico.
Building continued until 1875 with slaves of African extraction doing much of
the construction under the direction of the US Army Corps of Engineers. As many
as 40 million bricks were used for the inconceivably ambitious project.”
location is a key part in why it was built. Its location determined who
controlled trading up into the mainland, whoever had hold of the Fort,
controlled the trading. In his article, “The Fortress of the Dry Tortugas,”
Willie Drye states, “Any nation that established a base of operations in the
Tortugas could easily control shipping all along the Gulf Coast, so the U.S.
began building Fort Jefferson soon after Florida was admitted as the nation's
27th state in 1845.” As we can see, the fort location was chosen for a reason
and used strategically. “Never completed, the fort nevertheless housed
2,500 soldiers, workers, and prisoners at a time during the Civil War.” At
the end of the Civil War, 1865, the Fort’s population declined to 1,013,
consisting of 486 soldiers or civilians and 527 prisoners”
War and trade
shaped the way this Fort was used. Maybe its most important role, was in the
Civil War. During the Civil War, the Union took control over the Fort to create
a blockade against the confederacy. This strategy greatly gave the Union the
upper hand because it cut off shipping lanes that the confederacy would have
used to ship weapons and goods in for the war. “While Fort Jefferson never
witnessed a battle, it helped prevent the Confederacy from ever seriously
threatening Union control of the shipping lanes. During the Civil War the Union
used the fort as a prison for deserters, and it was garrisoned by some of the
first black soldiers to serve in the U.S. military.
Its most famous
prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who treated John Wilkes Booth's broken leg after
the actor shot President Abraham Lincoln. Mudd was imprisoned at the fort for
four years after his conviction as a conspirator in the plot to kill Lincoln.”
During the stay of Dr. Mudd the yellow fever hit the fort. Dr.
Mudd was hit by it as well, but he helped other prisoners to recover from
this illness when he was weak, so President Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd for his
act of kindness. He returned home and “continued to practice medicine. He died
in 1883 at age 50” (Sandler).
fort was abandoned because it was hit by several hurricanes but Later in the years, the Us navy took
the fort as a base to invade Cuba during the Spanish -American war and in 1909
the island was claimed as an offshore national Monument by President Franklin
D. Roosevelt and President George H. W. Bush signed an act to upgrade the
statue of the fort from National Monument to a National
Some things to
see nearby the fort are fort Zachary Taylor, east and west Martello tower,
watch the famous Fort Jefferson`s display of six 15-inch Rod man guns which
is considered the largest collection of rod man guns in the world and
Truman little white house.
Although this quaint and peculiar structure sits in the
middle of beautiful water in Florida’s most southern point, its role in our
country’s history should be recognized as it helped shape our country, as we
know it today. From being the backbone for shipping lanes for the union to a
prison for war criminals, Fort Jefferson is rich in history and she be
preserved for future generations to enjoy.