This Tropical Island Prison Might Make You Wish You Were Locked Up

Located 70 miles offshore in the Florida Keys, this isolated complex looks like paradise — complete with seven islands.

Built between 1846 and 1875, Fort Jefferson was meant to guard the vital shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic from piracy. However, during the Civil War, the six-sided building was also used to house prisoners.

While in operation, the all-masonry fort held over 2,500 prisoners, who were either criminals or deserters during and after the war. Its most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd. He was locked up for his involvement in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

dry tortugas

By 1888, Fort Jefferson could not withstand the constant hurricanes and the destructive tropical climate. That’s when it was turned over to the Marine-Hospital Service to be run as a quarantine station.

In 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the 100-square-mile location a national monument, and in 1992 it became┬áDry Tortugas National Park. The name comes from the abundance of turtles that inhabit the area, including leatherback, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles. It was also intended to warn people that the islands don’t have a source of fresh water.


Visitors from all over the world are drawn to Dry Tortugas by its intriguing history, marine life and unbelievably beautiful beaches.

This remote area of the Florida Keys is only accessible by high-speed ferry, seaplane, or private vessel. Interested in making the journey out there? Get more information here.