Historian credited with Fort Mosa rediscovery dies

Historic City News has learned that Frederick Eugene “Jack” Williams, III, the local historian who rediscovered the site of Fort Mosa, died January 7th of cancer and complications after a fall.

Williams was an expert in colonial Spanish history and weaponry, and a long time St. Augustine resident. In 2003, he received the de Aviles Award from the City of St. Augustine in recognition of his rediscovery of the fort.

A self-taught historian, in the 1960’s, Williams set himself the task of finding the lost site of Fort Mosa (called Fort Mose by some), an eighteenth century fort which had been located north of the City of St. Augustine.

After spending years trying to determine the location of the fort, Williams became convinced that Fort Mosa was on land already owned by the St. Augustine Historical Society. The Society disagreed. Undeterred, Williams bought the land from the Historical Society where he believed the fort to be, and spent many years excavating.

When Williams finally found the cornerstone of the fort, he financed archeologist Dr. Kathleen Deagan’s first dig on the property — Deagan confirmed the site was, indeed, the lost Fort Mosa.

Born November 30th, 1925, Frederick Eugene Williams, III – never known as Fred – spent his youth in Neptune Beach where his grandfather had been one of the original homesteaders. At sixteen, Williams enlisted in the Navy, attending boot camp with his father. During WWII, Williams fought in the islands of the Southwest Pacific, saw action in New Guinea, and witnessed the very first Kamikaze fighter attack on a US naval carrier. Blown out of the gun turret on PT boat 128 during a battle in the Philippines, Williams broke his back and received an honorable discharge on February 23rd, 1946.

He returned to work as a machinist for Carpco Engineering in Jacksonville. Later he worked at Aircraft Armaments, Inc. in Cockeysville, Maryland as both a machinist and a proof director of the ordinance laboratory.

In 1962, Williams bought a gun shop on Spanish Street in St. Augustine, and subsequently operated a museum of weapons at that location for many years.

Irascible and opinionated, this “amateur” historian loved to debate anyone with a degree and was particularly happy to receive mail addressed to “Dr. Frederick Williams, PhD” after speaking at historical conferences. His close friends included local history buffs, gun collectors, pilots at the St. Augustine airport, and the many people who loved to listen to his stories.

Jack is survived by his son Dana Williams of Lake Worth, daughter Diana Hamann of Los Angeles and long time girlfriend, Lucy Osgood of St. Augustine. A celebration of his life will take place on January 29th at 3:00 p.m. at the new Conference Center at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St. Augustine; located at 4730 Casa Cola Way.

On that day, the flags in St. Augustine will fly at half-mast in his honor.

If you plan to attend the memorial please RSVP by calling (904) 417-8074 and leave your name and contact information.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News contributed photograph by Bill Parnell

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