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Title: Fort Jefferson National Monument, Florida
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Fort Jefferson National Monument, Florida" ***

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    [Illustration: (Cover) _Fort Jefferson from the air._]

                             Fort Jefferson
                           NATIONAL MONUMENT

    [Illustration: Lighthouse]

_Fort Jefferson (1846-74), largest of the 19th-century American coastal
           forts, and one time “Key to the Gulf of Mexico.”_

The seven Dry Tortugas Islands and the surrounding shoals and waters in
the Gulf of Mexico are included in Fort Jefferson National Monument.
Though the area is off the beaten track, it has long been famous for
bird and marine life, as well as for legends of pirates and sunken gold.
The century-old fort is the central feature.

                             _Dry Tortugas_

Like a strand of beads hanging from the tip of Florida, reef islands
trail westward into the Gulf of Mexico. At the end, almost 70 miles west
of Key West, is the cluster of coral keys called Dry Tortugas. In 1513,
the Spanish discoverer Ponce de León named them _las Tortugas_—the
Turtles—because of “the great amount of turtles which there do breed.”
The later name Dry Tortugas, warns the mariner that there is no fresh
water here.

Past Tortugas sailed the treasure-laden ships of Spain, braving
shipwreck and corsairs. Not until Florida became part of the United
States in 1821 were the pirates finally driven out. Then, for additional
insurance to a growing United States commerce in the Gulf, a lighthouse
was built at Tortugas, on Garden Key, in 1825. Thirty-one years later
the present 150-foot light was erected on Loggerhead Key.

                         _The Need for a Fort_

In the words of the naval captain who surveyed the Keys in 1830,
Tortugas could “control navigation of the Gulf.” Commerce from the
growing Mississippi Valley sailed the Gulf to reach the Atlantic. Enemy
seizure of Tortugas would cut off this vital traffic, and naval tactics
from this strategic base could be effective against even a superior

There were still keen memories of Jackson’s fight with the British at
New Orleans, and Britain was currently developing her West Indies
possessions. Trouble in Cuba was near. Texas, a new republic, seemed
about to form an alliance with France or England, thus providing the
Europeans with a foothold on the Gulf Coast.

                     _Thirty Years of Construction_

During the first half of the 1800’s the United States began a chain of
seacoast defenses from Maine to Texas. The largest link was Fort
Jefferson, half a mile in perimeter and covering most of 16-acre Garden
Key. From foundation to crown its 8-foot-thick walls stand 50 feet high.
It has 3 gun tiers, designed for 450 guns, and a garrison of 1,500 men.

The fort was started in 1846, and, although work went on for almost 30
years, it was never finished. The U. S. Engineer Corps planned and
supervised the building. Artisans imported from the North and slaves
from Key West made up most of the labor gang. After 1861 the slaves were
partly replaced by military prisoners, but slave labor did not end until
Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863.

                      _The War Between the States_

To prevent Florida’s seizure of the half-complete, unarmed defense,
Federal troops hurriedly occupied Fort Jefferson (January 19, 1861), but
aside from a few warning shots at Confederate privateers, there was no
action. The average garrison numbered 500 men, and building quarters for
them accounted for most of the wartime construction.

Little important work was done after 1866, for the new rifled cannon had
already made the fort obsolete. Further, the engineers found that the
foundations rested not upon a solid coral reef, but upon sand and coral
boulders washed up by the sea. The huge structure settled, and the walls
began to crack.

                             _Yellow Fever_

For almost 10 years after the war, Fort Jefferson remained a prison.
Among the prisoners sent there in 1865 were the “Lincoln
Conspirators”—Michael O’Loughlin, Samuel Arnold, Edward Spangler, and
Dr. Samuel A. Mudd. Dr. Mudd, knowing nothing of President Lincoln’s
assassination, had set the broken leg of the fugitive assassin, John
Wilkes Booth. The innocent physician was convicted of conspiracy and
sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor.

Normally, Tortugas was a healthful post, but in 1867 yellow fever came.
From August 18 to November 14 the epidemic raged, striking 270 of the
300 men at the fort. Among the first of the 38 fatalities was the post
surgeon, Maj. Joseph Sim Smith. Dr. Mudd, together with Dr. Daniel
Whitehurst, from Key West, worked day and night to fight the scourge.
Two years later, Dr. Mudd was pardoned.

    [Illustration: _It is a mile-long walk through the gunroom

                       _The Spanish-American War_

Because of hurricane damage and another fever outbreak, Fort Jefferson
was abandoned in 1874. During the 1880’s, however, the United States
began a naval building program, and Navy men looked at this southern
outpost as a possible naval base. From Tortugas Harbor the battleship
_Maine_ weighed anchor for Cuba, and when she was blown up in Havana
Harbor, on February 15, 1898, the Navy began a coaling station outside
the fort walls, bringing the total cost of the fortification to some 3½
million dollars. The big sheds were hardly completed before a hurricane
smashed the loading rigs.

One of the first naval wireless stations was built at the fort early in
the 1900’s, and, during World War I, Tortugas was equipped for a
seaplane base. But as the military moved out again, fire and storms and
salvagers took their toll, leaving the “Gibraltar of the Gulf” the vast
ruin that it is today.

                            _Tortugas Birds_

One of our great national wildlife spectacles occurs each year between
May and September, when the sooty terns assemble on Bush Key for their
nesting season. The terns come from the Caribbean Sea and west-central
Atlantic Ocean and land by the thousands on Bush Key. Their nests are no
more than depressions in the warm sand. The parents take turns shading
their single egg from the sun. When the young are strong enough for
continuous flight, the colony again heads southeastward to tropical

The presence of these tropical oceanic birds at Tortugas was recorded by
Ponce de León (1513), Capt. John Hawkins (1565), John James Audubon
(1832), and Louis Agassiz (1858). During the early 1900’s, commercial
egg-raiding reduced the colony to only 4,000 birds, but careful
protection restored the strength of the colony; 120,000 birds are now
recorded at the rookery. Several hundred noddy terns, similar to the
sooty in habit and size, nest in the low shrubbery of Bush Key.

The great man-o’-war, or frigate, bird congregates here during the tern
season to enjoy an easy existence on minnows pirated from the terns.
With a wingspread of about 7 feet, the frigate is one of the most
graceful of the soaring birds. Though rarely seen elsewhere in any
number, as many as 200 glide endlessly on the thermal updrafts above the

Blue-faced and brown boobies of the West Indies are year-round residents
of Tortugas. Each summer a colony of a few hundred roseate terns, which
normally inhabit the Atlantic seaboard north of Cape Hatteras, nest on
Long Key. In season, a continuous procession of songbirds and other
migrants fly over or drop off for rest at the islands, which lie across
one of the principal flyways from the United States to Cuba and South
America. Familiar gulls and terns of the north, as well as many
migratory shore birds, spend the winter at Tortugas.

    [Illustration: _Ruins of the officers’ quarters._]

    [Illustration: _Dr. Samuel A. Mudd._]

    [Illustration: _The sooty tern shades its eggs from the hot sun._]

                        _Plant and Animal Life_

The warm Gulf Stream waters support great reefs of coral and “forests”
of marine plants, which in turn provide refuge for the myriad forms of
animal life in nature’s aquarium. The visitor who is equipped with a
glass-bottomed bucket or box can enjoy the sight of brilliant tropical
fish and crustaceans in the crystal-clear waters of their native
environment. Sport fishing is permitted in accordance with regulations,
which may be obtained from the superintendent.

The native flora is tropical, principally mangrove, button-mangrove or
buttonwood, bay cedar, seagrape, sea-lavender, purslane, and seaoats—all
quite characteristic of the lower east coast of Florida.

The early residents, however, brought in many plants, including the
feathery tamarind, gumbo limbo, Australian-pine, and coconut and date
palms. Growing out of the ruins may be a pepper plant that came from a
garden in Havana.

                           _About Your Visit_

Fort Jefferson is 68 miles from Key West and is accessible only by boat.
Landing of aircraft is prohibited because of the hazards to wildlife.
However, there are no other restrictions that would interfere with your
enjoyment of a rare experience. The area is an isolated wilderness, and
you must provide for your own independent existence—no housing, meals,
transportation, or supplies are available. The anchorage is large and
well protected, and a landing wharf is available.

National Park Service representatives at Fort Jefferson are on duty to
enforce regulations and to guide you to the most interesting points in
the area. You are required to register at the fort. There is no charge
for admission.


Fort Jefferson was declared a national monument by Presidential
proclamation of January 4, 1935. The monument includes the Dry Tortugas
Islands and a surrounding water area of about 75 square miles.
Correspondence regarding the monument should be addressed to the
Superintendent, Fort Jefferson National Monument, Key West, Fla.

            [Illustration: FORT JEFFERSON NATIONAL MONUMENT;
                         DRY TORTUGAS; FLORIDA
                          High-resolution Map]

    [Illustration: U. S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Seal]

                United States Department of the Interior
                      Fred A. Seaton, _Secretary_
           National Park Service, Conrad L. Wirth, _Director_
                                                            Reprint 1958

                         U. S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1958 O-467962

 _The National Park System, of which this area is a unit, is dedicated
   to conserving the scenic, scientific, and historic heritage of the
      United States for the benefit and enjoyment of its people._

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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