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The name would become a warning for sailors to avoid this area and it would reflect the rough life those future inhabitants of the islands would experience on these islands. Fort Jefferson as portrayed in Harper’s magazine  in 1861 (Image courtesy of Richter Library, University of Miami).
A letter from Calvin Shedd to his wife that shows a Fort Jefferson postmark (Image courtesy of Richter Library, University of Miami).
In 1829, the United States government realized the location of the islands would be an ideal location to guard the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, and also control trade routes to Louisiana. Porter’s views were not shared by everyone in the navy when his warning was not heeded in 1829. Rogers believed the islands would be able to sustain a fortified structure, but there was one problem he saw on the islands: There was no fresh water. Looking from the officer’s quarters across the parade ground in May 1898 (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives). The cisterns Ryan talks about are a complex system of channels collecting rainwater under the fort, but in the early 1850s the fort gradually started to sink. Most of the cisterns were destroyed by the sinking of the fort, but some still remained functional. In 1844, the 28th Congress approved $50,000 towards the construction of the fort which was called the Fortification Bill. Fort Jefferson’s primary use was a refueling and supply port for the naval fleet, but its design made it a powerful weapon of the sea. Shedd’s letters also describe the illnesses soldiers suffered on the island, along with the work they did constructing the fort.
In the 1860s, the history of Fort Jefferson becomes one of imprisonment, illness and death. Mudd was the only person who could stop the disease from killing the rest of the soldiers and prisoners. The Naval coal shed outside the fort on December 3, 1899 (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives). The sanitation problems soldiers faced are a problem for rangers and guests to the national park today. Archeologists Margot Schawdron and Chris Lydick from Florida State University have been sent to the fort to fix the problem. The combination of the yellow fever, construction problems and poor sanitation made it difficult to find a reason to maintain the fort as a necessary need for the military. Soldiers in quarantine in spring 1899 (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives). The Navy abandoned the fort in 1874 and a large majority of the soldiers and prisoners were moved from the island. The fort’s history has evolved from a military juggernaut of war to a sanctuary preserving the wildlife of the Dry Tortugas region.
The parade ground in 1867 (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives). The history of Fort Jefferson provides a window for those of the present to look into the past.
Considering the conditions soldiers and prisoners endured at Fort Jefferson, trees became symbols of normalcy. Construction on Fort Jefferson lasted 30 years until it was abandoned by the military in 1874.

The NPS has recently been granted $15 million toward repairing damaged brick and construction at the fort. Fort Jefferson from the air in 1935 (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives). QUEENSLAND’S coal miners look set to shed more than 1000 jobs as tough market conditions continue to take their toll on Australia’s second biggest export. BMA asset president Lucas Dow said the joint venture had to act to guarantee the long-term viability of the business. Isaac Regional Council mayor Anne Baker, whose region takes in several BMA mines, said the news was devastating for workers, their families and friends, schools, and local businesses. The thermal and metallurgical coal mine, believed to employ about 300 people, will go into care and maintenance from January next year. In a statement, Vale said the operation was “not economically feasible under current market conditions”.
Rio Tinto also announced it was shedding up to 100 jobs at its Kestrel coal mine in the Central Highlands. Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said further closures could be expected due to oversupply in the global coal market. A combination of brick and steel was erected on the island of Garden Key, one of seven islands, making up what the Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon called the Dry Tortugas. They are called dry because there is no fresh water on the island and tortugas because it was a location where turtles nested and they became the most abundant food source on the island for sailors. The fort was created out of military service in hopes of ensuring the safety of the United States’ Southern region. The government had to create a presence to guard this area and they did so by planning to construct a military facility on one of the islands in the Dry Tortugas. This did not deter him and Rogers believed creating cisterns on the islands to gather rain water would be sufficient. To this day, the rangers living on Garden Key use the cisterns to collect and use water just as the soldiers who once lived there did. Mudd’s cell (door at right) and two 24-pound flank defense howitzers (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives). When these cannons are firing in battle this case mate gets very dark, so they needed light to see,” explained Mike Todd, a tour guide for the Key West-based ship Yankee Freedom II. Infantry mustered and formed for inspection in May 1898 (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service and the National Archives). The intense heat and the isolation of the island were difficult for engineers and soldiers while the fort was constructed.
Each of his letters conveyed his urgency to leave the isolated Garden Key island and return to his family in New Hampshire.
The fort was converted into a military prison when the Civil War started in 1861 and maintained a collection of Union prisoners. He did eventually eliminate the yellow fever and after spending four years at the fort, President Andrew Johnson pardoned him in 1869. Another group of residents returned from the island from Cuba and this time the yellow fever was so bad that 34 people became ill and 14 people died. Here are some diagrams … illustrations of how they have designed the drainage systems in the past,” Schawdron says as she refers to diagrams, which illustrate the old building plans of the engineers who built the fort.
A document of what engineers were thinking when they built this massive fortress to accommodate the soldiers.

The archeological work and construction of a new sewage system is expected to be finished by Sept. A small group of officers stayed behind with Army engineers to maintain minor construction on the fort.
Its usefulness changed in 1908 when the fort was designated to be a wildlife refuge for loggerhead and green sea turtles. Within the brick and steel walls, the inhabitants who once lived there tried to do anything they could not to remind themselves of the harsh conditions. They have been there as long as the walls have stood and were the one thing the Army engineers felt would help the soldiers on the island deal with living in the Gulf of Mexico. The moat was created to protect the fort from tidal waves and would be a physical obstacle if enemy forces landed on the island.
His letters give a unique insight in the life of a soldier and the hardships he experiences at the fort. He was accused of working with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination conspiracy of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
Ironically, the doctor would be the only hope for the soldiers when a severe case of yellow fever fell upon the inhabitants. NPS records claim the problem of this case of yellow fever is contributed to poor sanitation systems on the island.
NPS took over maintenance the fort and it was named Fort Jefferson National Monument in 1935. The fort’s walls did harbor isolation, suffering and illness for its former inhabitants, but it was located in a tropical paradise.
Because they understand by having a tree there was a sense of normalcy in this very surreal place,” Ryan explained. The red bricks were brought from northern states to the island during the war, when Fort Jefferson became a Union fort. Many were destroyed when the fort sank, but several are used,” Ryan explained as he illustrated with his arms how water travels down the case mate in his office and goes down to an underground cistern.
Even though the fortress was created to serve as a refueling and supply facility for the Navy, it was also designed to carry 400 cannons, included on all its sides and one hot shot furnace, which fires flaming cannon balls. It was a hard way of living on Fort Jefferson, but for soldiers it was important to maintain national security of the Gulf Straits even if it meant living a life of isolation and suffering. Shedd’s letters were written to his family and explained in detail the way of life in the Dry Tortugas. Mudd and three other men accused in the assassination were sent to Fort Jefferson and, as fate would have it, his misfortune would save the lives of those who lived at the fort. Records from naval officers and engineers differed on this claim, but records do show that sanitation at the fort was poor. The sinking of the fort in the 1850s because the heavy weight of the brick was too much for the coral island to handle.

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