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Six Revolutionary Forts

Scattered throughout New England are dozens of revolutionary forts. Some, like Fort Halifax in Maine, date to the French and Indian wars. Others, like Fort Washington in Massachusetts, rose during the American Revolution.

Revolutionary forts range from the extensive remains of Mount Independence in Vermont to mere traces of earthworks in Rhode Island. All sited along waterways and harbors, making them pleasant summer destinations today.

Here are six revolutionary forts, one for each state. If you know of another revolutionary fort worth visiting, please mention it in the comments section.

Black Rock Fort

Black Rock Fort

Black Rock Fort, one of the revolutionary forts captured by the British.

In early 1776, Connecticut built a three-gun log fort and blockhouse on a rocky point in New Haven Harbor. Called Black Rock Fort, it stood on the site of an old fort built around 1657.

In 1777, British general William Tryon and 2,600 troops ravaged New Haven, Fairfield and Norwalk in Connecticut. They captured Black Rock Fort after its 19 defenders ran out of ammunition.  Then, when the British forces withdrew, they burned the fort’s barracks. They'd already torched manor houses, barns, ships and supply houses.

In 1807, the abandoned fort was rebuilt and named after Connecticut hero Nathan Hale. Fort Nathan Hale II was built during the Civil War, but saw no action. Named a historic site in 1921, it grew neglected and overgrown after World War II.

But then came the nation's bicentennial and the reconstruction of  Black Rock Fort and Fort Nathan Hale. Today they belong to Fort Hale Park, and they include a drawbridge, moat, ramparts, earthworks, powder magazines and bunker.

Fort Nathan Hale Park has a sandy beach, picnic tables and spectacular views of the harbor.

Connecticut is also home to Fort Griswold in Groton and Fort Trumbull in New London.

Fort Nathan Hale Park and Black Rock Park, 36 Woodward Ave., New Haven, Conn.

Fort Halifax

revolutionary-forts-halifax

Benedict Arnold and his troops occupied this abandoned fort on the way to Canada.

At the outset of the French and Indian War, Maj. Gen. John Winslow built Fort Halifax where the Sebasticook River flowed into the Kennebec. Winslow's great-grandfather, Edward Winslow, came to Plimoth Plantation on the Mayflower.

The British built Fort Halifax as a series of fortifications along the rivers to prevent the French and Indians from attacking English settlements. (Other significant pre-revolutionary forts from that era: Fort Pownall in Stockton Springs, Maine, and Fort Frederick in Saint John, New Brunswick.)

Like so many revolutionary forts, the American rebels took over Fort Halifax from the British. They decommissioned it, but then Benedict Arnold used it as a way station for his troops on his failed expedition to Quebec.

revolutionary forts-inside-halifax-blockhouse

Inside the blockhouse at Fort Halifax.

A single blockhouse survives, the oldest blockhouse in the United States. The fort was gradually dismantled to build the Town of Winslow, Maine, which grew up around it.  The townspeople used it as a boathouse, a storehouse, a cow barn and a chicken coop.

In 1987, the Kennebec River flooded and washed the blockhouse downriver. Searchers found 22 original pine timbers, and they were used to rebuild the blockhouse. Hundreds of people came to the rededication ceremony in 1988.

Today Fort Halifax belongs to a municipal park, open to visitors in the summer.

70-98 Bay St., Winslow, Maine

Fort Washington

revolutionary-forts-washington

Washington fortified here.

Fort Washington Park in Cambridge, Mass., contains the remains of the only surviving fortification built by Gen. George Washington during the Siege of Boston. It’s also the oldest surviving fortification from the American Revolution.

Diagram of Washington's battery, courtesy Library of Congress.

Diagram of Washington's battery, courtesy Library of Congress.

In November 1775, Washington wrote to Joseph Reed, "I have caused two three gun half moon batteries to be thrown up for occasional use.” About 50 or 60 men could find protection behind the earthworks.

Washington had quickly realized his soldiers needed training to fend off the professional British forces. He ordered his men to build the small batteries as a way of training them to build larger fortifications. They later built a battery at Dorchester Heights in Boston, fortified them with captured cannons and forced the British to evacuate.

After the war, seven people held the property in common. They deeded it to the City of Cambridge in 1857 on the condition that it ‘shall forever remain open for light, air, and adornment.’ Today the fort belongs to a park, and it includes three cannon and grassy embankments.

95 Waverly St., Cambridge, Mass.

Fort Constitution

Fort Constitution

Fort Constitution saw action just before the Revolution.

Before 1632, the British built a stone fort, then called the Castle, in New Castle, N.H. It stood at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. The Castle protected Portsmouth Harbor and stored the colony's munitions. Then the colonists renamed it Fort William and Mary around 1692.

A rumor spread in Boston that the redcoats were on their way to seize powder from Fort William and Mary. Only a handful of troops  manned the fort, and they reported to the royal governor, John Wentworth.

Paul Revere then rode 60 miles to Portsmouth in a less-famous ride to warn the patriots of New Hampshire.

Four hundred men mustered to attack the fort, guarded by six troops. They broke open the powder house and captured the British soldiers. They also took 100 barrels of gunpowder later used in the Siege of Boston.

Fort William and Mary was the only manned fort in New Hampshire during the American Revolution, but saw no action.

When it was rebuilt in 1808, it was renamed Fort Constitution. It’s the ruins of the 1808 fort that are still in evidence at the state historic site, open year-round. Fort Constitution is a great spot for picnics, though it is unstaffed and not pet friendly.

During the Revolutionary War, Fort No. 4 in Charlestown no longer existed, but General John Stark gathered New Hampshire militia at its site en route to the Battle of Bennington in 1777.

25 Wentworth Road, Off NH Route 1B at US Coast Guard Station, New Castle, N.H.

Fort Conanicut

revolutionary-forts-fort-conanicut

Edward Bannister painted this landscape of Fort Conanicut.

Fort Conanicut, first built as Dumpling Rock Battery in 1776 near Jamestown, R.I., had eight 18-pound guns.

The British captured the battery in late 1776 after they landed at Newport. They then expanded it, building Beaver Tail Fort, Beaver Head Fort and Fort Conanicut. As the French drew near, the British spiked the guns and destroyed the battery. Then they retreated to Newport.

The French occupied Fort Conanicut until 1778, when the British fleet appeared. A hurricane damaged both fleets and the French abandoned the fort. Theydidn’t return until 1780, but then left for Yorktown in 1781.

In 1790, a tower was built on the site and called Fort Dumpling. The fort was abandoned in 1824 and then dynamited in 1898 to make way for Fort Wetherill. Rhode Island now operates the site as a state park.

Some remains of the earthworks still exist, and an interpretive sign explains the fort's history. The park sits atop 100-foot granite cliffs, a favorite spot for viewing Tall Ship events and the America’s Cup races.

Fort Wetherill State Park, Fort Wetherill Road
Jamestown, R.I.

Mount Independence

revolutionary-forts-mount-independence

One of the most extensive of the revolutionary forts, Mount Independence.

Mount Independence in Orwell, Vt., is one of the largest and least disturbed Revolutionary sites in America. After the abandonment of the fort, livestock grazed on land that held unmarked soldiers' graves.

Fort Ticonderoga stands across a quarter-mile stretch of lake.

Rebel soldiers built the fort on a mountaintop to prevent the British from invading from Canada. They began building in July 1776, a week after the return of the disastrous Arnold Expedition to Canada. They called it East Point or Rattlesnake Hill until July 28, 1776. On that day Col. Arthur St. Clair read the Declaration of Independence to the soldiers and renamed the fort Independence.

A year later, the Americans retreated.  British and German then occupied the fort until November 1777.

Today Mount Independence has a museum and six miles of hiking trails. The museum includes exhibits about the fort and artifacts such as timbers, a cannon and a powder horn.

Hiking trails pass the remnants of blockhouses, soldiers’ huts and a general hospital. Trails lead to the remains of the fort, the Great Battery and the Horseshoe Battery. Re-enactors stage encampments and the Seth Warner Mount Independence Fife and Drum Corps performs at civic events.

 6 miles west of State Route 22A, Orwell, Vt.

Images: Black Rock Fort by 2112guy - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3319905; Fort Halifax, blockhouse interior By Magicpiano - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28017965; Mount Independence By Zeph77 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27483591; Revolutionary Re-enactors, By Zeph77 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27521852; Fort Washington By Daderot - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5275220; Fort Conanicut By Swampyank at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20434654

This story about revolutionary forts was updated in 2019. 

 

 

 

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Kaia Lee

    April 8, 2017 at 10:07 am

    FYI – the photo you have listed as “Ft Constitution” is actually a photo of Ft Foster, Gerrish Island, Kittery,ME.

  2. Ken Higgins

    April 9, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Fort McClary
    possibly as early as 1689 (Fort William, Fort rebuilt 1721, 1808,1844,1863

  3. Jane Coryell

    April 14, 2017 at 8:01 am

    If you visit Fort Halifax, then you should also visit Fort Western in Augusta. Fort Western was built to supply Fort Halifax, because the river above Augusta is not navigable by large boats. Schooners would arrive at Fort Western and the supplies would be loaded on bateaus to be rowed to Fort Halifax. The large fort building at Fort Western is original and is interpreted as a fort, store, and house, with many original furnishings.

  4. Pingback: The Many Loves of Henry Tufts: Original Colonial Badboy - New England Historical Society

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