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Fort Frederick History


 Fort Frederick History

Fort Frederick was built in 1756 by the Colony of Maryland in response to the disastrous defeat of General Edward Braddock’s British Army in the summer of 1755 near Fort Duquesne.  

Governor Horatio Sharpe of Maryland understood the state of military affairs and wanted the fort built by Maryland to be the lynch pin of the British defense in the Middle Colonies. Sharpe also understood that his fort should be built of stone regardless of cost to help intimidate the French and Indians as well as being easier to maintain than wood.  Fort Frederick was named for Frederick Calvert, Lord Baltimore, Proprietor of Maryland.
Construction of the stone fort began in late June of 1756 and construction would continue until November 1757.  The majority of the fort was complete by October 1756, which included the bastions, the enlisted barracks, and a large portion of the curtain walls.  Fort Frederick is the only stone fort built by the British and the only French and Indian War fort still standing. 

When the fort was completed its stone walls averages 18 feet in height, and enclosed one and half acres of ground.  Inside were three buildings; the two enlisted barracks and one officers quarters.  The fort had but one entrance which had a large oaken gate with wicket, topped with iron spikes.

The two enlisted barracks were built to house 100 men in each, a full Maryland Provincial company.  The barracks were considered quite roomy and comfortable for the men.  Each room housed 16 men (two squads) in 8 bunks with a fireplace on each end.  These rooms were not sure bedrooms, but served as the living, cooking, and dinning quarters for each squad.

The officer quarters known as the Governors House served multiple functions.  Its first function was as a quarters for the forts eight officers.  The second function was to serve as the headquarters for the fort.  The final role it served was, the western wing of the building was the forts storehouse for supplies.
The fort was defended by the four bastions that protrude from each corner.  Although evidence is limited it appears that each one had a horizontal log crib work inside about 16 feet from the stone wall that would have had fill in between.  On each bastion was mounted a six pound cannon on a ships carriage.  There may have been a similar arrangement on the curtain walls,  but that is up for debate. 
The other feature of note is the well which is 40 feet deep.  It is stone shafted and still holds potable water to this day.

Today the fort only features two buildings which are reconstructions of the enlisted barracks.  These buildings were built in 1976, builto resemble the originals (two story, white callboard, with six foot overhanging porch).  The west barracks are set-up to be the enlisted living history spaces, with three large first floor barracks rooms open to be used by park staff and living historians. The second floor features a barracks room set to tell the forts story in the American Revolution.   These rooms feature bunks, tables, and forms (benches), as well as functional fireplaces.  The east barracks are set-up to resemble the interiors of the Governors House, Storehouse, Armory, Kitchen, and Laundry on the first floor.  The second Floor houses a small museum, Indian Trade good storehouse, hospital, and Surgeons quarters.

The fort saw service until April of 1759 when she was officially closed after the fall of Fort Duquense.  The fort would reopen in July 1763 during Pontiacs Rebellion as a militia fort and settler refuge, and would be opened periodically into 1764.  In 1778 the Fort saw a new function this time as a Prisoner of War camp for British soldiers captured by American Forces.  The fort saw large contingents of prisoners from the Convention Army captured at Saratoga, as well as Cornwallis’s men who surrendered at Yorktown.  At its peak the fort held over 1,000 prisoners at one time.  In 1783 the fort would close down again and would not see military service again until 1861 when elements of the first Maryland Regiment, USA used the crumbling walls of the fort as a campsite while the protected the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Potomac River Crossings.  During their time there the fort technically sees its only battles as the First Maryland fought several skirmishes near the fort.  In 1922 the State reacquires the fort and in 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps comes to the Park and restores the stone walls, does archeology and builds many of the other buildings around the fort.

Robert Ambrose
Park Ranger
Fort Frederick State Park

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