Strongholds of the Past

Discover your
family's story.

Enter a grandparent's name to get started.

choose a state:
Start Now

The tourist on the coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia- for in summer hundreds of people seek out this pleasant land for its cheerful climate – may come upon a little bay on the easternmost verge of the land where is a deep landlocked inlet protected from elemental fury by a long rocky arm thrust out from the shore into the sea. He will not be able to surmise from the present aspect of his surroundings that this was the site of mighty Louisburg, the greatest artificial stronghold (Quebec being largely a work of nature) that the French ever had in the New World. Of this massive and menacing fortress, which cost thirty million livres and twenty-five years of toil to build after the designs of the great Vauban, hardly one stone lies placed upon another and grass and rubble have taken the place of the heavy walls. Standing on the ground where New France’s greatest leaders stood it is difficult today to picture the martial pomp which once must have claimed this spot, to visualize, more particularly, the setting for the farcical onslaught of the zealous New Englanders of 1744, under the doughty Pepperell, in their greatest single military exploit.

The Treaty of Utrecht, which provided a basis of agreement for France and England in the New World for almost half a century, did not establish boundaries between the two countries and the contest to determine the question was unceasing, though not officially recognized. France busied herself in building fortifications and was ready frequently to formally draw the sword; yet it needed the outbreak of the War of The Austrian Succession in 1744, in far distant Europe, to precipitate the American quarrel.

The news of the beginning of this conflict came to Duquesnel, commandant of Louisburg, before it reached the English colonies, however, and it seemed to him an essentially proper thing to do to strike against the English. He accordingly sent out an expedition against the English fishing village of Canseau, at the southern end of the Strait of Canseau, which separates Cape Breton Island from the peninsula of Acadia. With a wooden redoubt defended by eighty Englishmen anticipating no danger, Canseau offered no great resistance and was easily taken, its inhabitants sent to Boston, and its houses burned to the ground. The next blow was an unsuccessful expedition against Annapolis Royal. By these two valueless strokes Duquesnel warned New England that New France was on the aggressive.

Mighty Louisburg, To the Sea from the ruined Walls
Mighty Louisburg, To the Sea from the ruined Walls

Enraged by the attacks upon Canseau and Annapolis and with the easy self-confidence which is a heritage of the children of the hardy north Atlantic coast, the people of Massachusetts were prepared for the suggestion of William Vaughan, of Damariscotta, that with the tourist on the coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia – for in summer hundreds of people seek out this pleasant land for its cheerful climate – may come upon a little bay on the easternmost verge of the land where is a deep landlocked inlet protected from elemental fury by a long rocky arm thrust out from the shore into the sea. He will not be able to surmise from the present aspect of his surroundings that this was the site of mighty Louisburg, the greatest artificial stronghold (Quebec being largely a work of nature) that the French ever had in the New World. Of this massive and menacing fortress, which cost thirty million livres and twenty-five years of toil to build after the designs of the great Vauban, hardly one stone lies placed upon another and grass and rubble have taken the place of the heavy walls. Standing on the ground where New France’s greatest leaders stood it is difficult today to picture the martial pomp which once must have claimed this spot, to visualize, more particularly, the setting for the farcical onslaught of the zealous New Englanders of 1744, under the doughty Pepperell, in their greatest single military exploit.

The Treaty of Utrecht, which provided a basis of agreement for France and England in the New World their untrained militia they should attack New France’s mightiest stronghold. Vaughan found a willing listener in the governor, William Shirley, who helped the enterprise on its way.

The originator of this astounding project was born at Portsmouth, in 1703, and was a graduate of Harvard College nineteen years thereafter. His father had been lieutenant governor of New Hampshire. Soon after leaving college Vaughan had betrayed an adventurous disposition by establishing a fishing station on the island of Matinicus off the coast of Maine. Afterward he became the owner of most of the land on the little river Damariscotta where he built a little wooden fort, established a considerable settlement and built up an extensive trade in fish and timber. Governor Shirley was an English barrister who had come to Massachusetts in 1731 to practice his profession and who had been raised by his own native gifts to the position of highest eminence in the colony.

On the 9th of January 1745, the General Court of Massachusetts received a message from the governor that he had a communication to make to them so critical that he must swear all of the members to secrecy. Then to their astonishment he proposed that they undertake the reduction of Louisburg. They listened with respect to the governor’s suggestion and appointed a committee of two to consider the matter. The committee’s report, made in the course of several days, was unfavorable and so was the vote of the court.

Meanwhile intelligence of Governor Shirley’s proposal had leaked out despite the pledge of secrecy. It is said that a country member of the court more pious than discreet was overheard praying long and fervently for Divine guidance in the matter. The news flew through the province and public pressure compelled a reconsideration of the project. It was urged against the plan that raw militia were no match for disciplined troops behind ramparts, that the expense would be staggering and that the credit of the colony was already overstrained. The matter was put to a vote and carried by a single vote. This result is said to have been due to one of the opposition falling and breaking his leg while hurrying to the council.

The die was now cast and hesitation vanished. Shirley wrote to all of the colonies as far south as Pennsylvania, but of these only four responded: Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, which blazed with holy zeal as, since the enterprise would be directed against Roman Catholics, it was supposed that heaven would in a peculiar manner favor it. There were prayers in churches and families. New Hampshire provided 500 men, of which number Massachusetts was to pay and provide for 150; Rhode Island voted a sloop carrying fourteen cannon and twelve swivels; Connecticut promised 516 men and officers provided that Roger Wolcott should have second rank in the expedition; and Massachusetts was to provide 3000 men and the commanding officer.

This last condition was one of the hardest to fulfill, for, as Governor Wanton of Rhode Island wrote, there was not in New England “one officer of experience nor even an engineer.” The choice fell upon William Pepperell, of Kittery, Maine (then a part of Massachusetts), who though a prosperous trader had had little experience to fit him for commanding an attack upon a great fortress. Pepperell’s home is still standing at Kittery and is a substantial structure as befitted its affluent master.

There was staying at Pepperell’s house at this time the preacher Whitefield. Pepperell asked his guest for a motto for the expedition. “Nil Desperandum Christo Duce” was suggested; and this being adopted gave to the expedition the air of a crusade.

A novel plan was suggested, among others, to Pepperell by one of the zealots of New England. Two trustworthy men, according to this plan, were to be sent out at night before the French ramparts, one of them carrying a wooden mallet with which he was to beat upon the ground. The other was to place his ear to the ground and wherever a concealed mine would give back a hollow sound was to make a cross mark with chalk so that the New England boys would know where not to walk when they attacked the fort. The French sentry meanwhile, it was supposed, would be too confused by the unusual noise of the thumping to take any action.

Might Louisburg today, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Might Louisburg today, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Within seven weeks after Shirley issued his proclamation preparations for the expedition were complete. The force, all told, numbered about four thousand men. Transports were easily obtained in the harbor of Boston or in the towns adjoining. There was a lack of cannon of large caliber, but it was known that the French possessed cannon of large caliber, so cannon balls and supplies to fit such guns were carried along, it being foreseen that the army would capture sufficient of the French cannon to supply its needs. Of other supplies there was a sufficiency and, to overbalance the lack of any military training whatever in the officers, Governor Shirley had written a long list of instructions for the siege. These instructions, after going into such minute directions as how to make fast the windows of the Governor’s apartment at Louisburg, and outlining a complex series of military maneuvers to be undertaken after dark by men who had no idea of the country they would be in, ended with the words, ” Notwithstanding the instructions you have received from me I must leave you to act, upon unforeseen emergencies, according to your best discretion.”

On Friday, April 5, 1745, the first of the transports arrived at Canseau, the rendezvous, about sixty miles from Louisburg, and this little post which had now a small French garrison changed hands again. Captain Ammi Cutter was put in command with sixty-eight men. On Sunday there was a great open air concourse at which Parson Moody preached on the text “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.” Parson Moody’s sermon was disturbed by the drilling of an awkward squad whose men were learning how to handle a musket.

For three weeks the expedition lay at Canseau waiting for the ice to clear from the northern waters, and then, on the morning of the 29th, it set out expecting to make Louisburg by nine o’clock that evening and to take the French by surprise as Shirley had directed. The French, of course, had been aware all the time of the location of the enemy and had even had intelligence from Boston when the affair was first bruited about. A lull in the wind caused a change in the plan of taking the French by surprise and it was not until the keen light of the following morning that the New Englanders saw Louisburg, no very great sight at that, as the buildings of the town were almost completely hid behind the massive walls which encircled them.

And now how were matters going on inside the mighty walls? Badly, it must be admitted. The garrison consisted of five hundred and sixty regulars, of whom several companies were Swiss, and of about fourteen hundred militia. The regulars were in bad condition and had, indeed, the preceding Christmas, broken into mutiny because of exasperation with bad rations and with having been given no extra pay for work on the fortifications. Some of the officers had lost all confidence in their men and the commandant, Chevalier Duchambon, successor to Duquesnel, was a man of hesitant and capricious mind. It is thus to be seen that the fortress was fatally weak within though in material circumstances it was the strongest on the North American continent.

The landing of the provincial forces was accomplished creditably about three miles below the fortifications. Vaughan then led about four hundred men to the town and saluted it with three cheers, much to the discomfiture of the garrison, which was entirely unused to this kind of warfare. He then marched unresisted to the northeast arm of the harbor where there were magazines of naval stores. These his men set on fire and he the next day set about returning to the main force.

The strongest outlying work of Louisburg was the Grand Battery more than a mile from the town. As Vaughan came near this work he observed therein no signs of life. One of Vaughan’s party was a Cape Cod Indian. This red man was bribed by a flask of brandy, which Vaughan had, in his pocket to undertake a reconnaissance, which he carried through in a unique fashion. Pretending to be drunk, and waving his flask around his head, the Indian staggered toward the battery. There was still no life. The Indian entered through an embrasure and found the place empty. Vaughan took possession and an eighteen year old drummer boy climbed the flagstaff and fastened thereon a red shirt as a substitute for the British ensign. Thus also did the Massachusetts men acquire the cannon for which they had been hoping.

It is difficult to understand how it was that the Grand Battery was deserted. ” A detachment of the enemy advanced to the neighborhood of the Royal Battery,” writes the Habitant de Louisburg in his invaluable narrative retailed by Parkman. ” At once we were all seized with fright and on the instant it was proposed to abandon this magnificent battery which would have been our best defense, if one had known how to use it. Various councils were held in a tumultuous way. It would be hard to tell the reasons for such a strange proceeding. Not one shot had been fired at the battery, which the enemy could not take except by making regular approaches as if against the town itself, and by besieging it, so to speak, in form. Some persons remonstrated, but in vain; and so a battery which had cost the King immense sums was abandoned before it was attacked.”

The battery contained twenty-eight forty-two pounder cannon and two eighteen pounders. Several of these guns were opened upon the town the next morning, “which,” wrote a soldier of New England in his diary, “damaged the houses and made the women cry.”

In this good natured fashion did the whole siege progress. It is hardly possible to write about the informal procedure in an orderly fashion. Accomplishing incredible tasks in fashions opposed to all of the laws of warfare the New Englanders went on with only rudimentary observance of discipline under their merchant commander. While the cannon boomed in front the men behind the lines wrestled, and ran races, and fired at targets, though ammunition was short, and chased French cannon balls for exercise, bringing back the cannon balls to be used in the guns. Some of the men went fishing about two miles away. Now and then some of the fishermen lost their scalps to Indians who prowled about the camps of the besiegers.

At last the impossible happened. Discouraged by humiliating failures and badly, though not fatally, battered, mighty Louisburg surrendered. The strongest work of man in the New World had fallen to ignorant New England fishermen! The soldiers of France received the ridicule of the whole Old World and an effort was made from Versailles to recover the point lost, but unsuccessfully.

Louisburg was restored to the French Crown in 1748 by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. It was to fall again to English arms in the Seven Years War, which ended with the complete extinction of French power in the New World; but with the account of this siege, which was conducted painfully and formally in accord with the rules of war, we need have no concern. The great fortress was then destroyed block by block and Time has continued the work of demolition, which the English began.

While Louisburg and Quebec were great eastern strongholds of the French in America, their centre of power in the far west was Fort Chartres on the Mississippi River, at the mouth of the Kaskaskia River, Illinois. Here they held gay sway over a wilderness empire that included many Indian tribes and extended over thousands of miles.

The first Fort Chartres was commenced in 1718 when Lieutenant Pierre Dugue de Boisbriant, a Canadian holding a French commission, accompanied by several officers and a large body of troops, arrived at Kaskaskia by boat from New Orleans. A site was selected about eighteen miles north of that little village and by the spring of 1720 the fort was substantially completed. It was a stockade of wood strengthened with earth between the palisades. Within the enclosure were the commandant’s house, a barracks, a storehouse and a blacksmith shop, all constructed of hand-sawed lumber.

Almost immediately a village of Indians and traders sprang up around the place and the enterprising Jesuits built a church, St. Anne de Chartres, where many a service was recited for motley congregations of red and white. For thirty-six years this first Fort Chartres flourished and during this time was the setting for dramatic and pregnant happenings. Here, in 1720, came Phillippe Francois de Renault, bringing with him five hundred San Domingo Negroes into the wilderness, thus introducing Negro slavery into Illinois. In 1721 the post was visited by the famous Father Xavier de Charlevoix, in whose train was a young Canadian officer, Louis St. Ange de Belle Rive, who was destined afterward to be the commandant of the fort. Under the administration of the Sieur de Liette, 1725-1730, a captain in the Royal army, the French forces were engaged in armed pacification of the Fox Indians. Belle Rive succeeded de Liette and under his sway the post became the scene of social gayety.

In 1736 there left Fort Chartres a disastrous expedition against the Chickasaw Indians on the far distant Arkansas River. The result of this expedition was a defeat in which D’Artaguette, the leader, de Vincennes, for whom the little town of Vincennes, Indiana, is named, Father Senat, a Jesuit, and about fifteen other Frenchmen were taken prisoners and held for ransom. The ransom not arriving, the prisoners were roasted at a slow fire by their savage captors. A second expedition against the Chickasaws in 1739 was somewhat more successful.

By 1751 the fort was much out of repair and in this year there came to command it a French major of engineers (Irish by descent) Chevalier Macarty, who was accompanied by nearly a full regiment of grenadiers. In 1753 the second Fort Chartres, a solid structure of stone and one of the strongest fortifications ever erected on the American continent, was commenced by Macarty and his men. In 1756 it was finished. The site chosen was about a mile above the old fort and about half a mile back from the Mississippi River and would seem to have been a strange selection for such a structure, as it was low and marshy.

Of the first Fort Chartres not a sign remains today, and its exact site is a matter of disagreement. Of the second Fort Chartres the old powder magazine is to be seen. The fort itself has succumbed to the encroachments of the river, which cut away its bank even so far back as to undermine the walls of the fort itself and, in 1772, to cause the desertion of the structure by its garrison. The quarry from which the limestone of which the walls were constructed was obtained was located in the great bluff s four miles east of the point. The finer stone with which the arches and ornamental parts were faced came from beyond the Mississippi.

The fort covered altogether about four acres and was capable of sheltering a garrison of three hundred men. The expense of its erection was one million dollars, a sum of money only equaled in those days by the expenditure for the fortifications of Louisburg, Quebec, and Crown Point. It is generally believed that large profits went to the commandant and to others interested in its construction.

The command of the point in 1760 passed from Macarty to Nenon de Villiers, who led the French and Indians against Washington at Great Meadows in the skirmish which virtually was the opening engagement of the French and Indian War, a part of his force on this occasion being drawn from the garrison of Fort Chartres.

The veteran St. Ange de Belle Rive, stationed at Vincennes, took charge of the fort in 1764 and had the melancholy distinction of surrendering it to the English, October 10, 1765, when Captain Thomas Stirling came from Fort Pitt with one hundred Highlanders of the 42d British regiment, – a fitting distinction when one remembers that St. Ange had been in command of the first fort shortly after its establishment, and when there was no rival to French power in all of the West.

A predecessor of Fort Chartres in making sure French dominion of the West was Fort St. Louis, on Starved Rock, on the Illinois River, about forty miles southwest of Chicago of today and not far distant from the present day city of Ottawa, Illinois. Of Fort St. Louis there remains not a trace, but to its existence and to La Salle, its intrepid founder, there will for centuries be a natural monument – that great towering crag upon whose flat summit the stronghold was built.

A natural phenomenon of great geologic interest, Starved Rock rises directly from a level river plain. Its sides are as steep as castle wall and attain a height of one hundred feet and more. The river washes its western base and its summit overhangs the stream so that water can be drawn there from by means of a bucket and a cord. On three sides the pinnacle of the rock is inaccessible and the fourth side might be held by a handful of men against an army. The top of the cliff measures about two hundred feet in diameter and is flat.

On this ideal site, in 1682, the French built Fort St. Louis. In less than three months fourteen thousand Indians lay encamped on the plains of the river within sound of the guns of the fort. Today the point is a pleasure park.

From Fort St. Louis many an exploring expedition pushed forth into the wilderness and here many a treaty was concluded with savage tribes. While frequently obliged to give up command temporarily Henry de Tonti, La Salle’s very faithful lieutenant, was supreme at Fort St. Louis practically from its foundation until its abandonment in 1702. In 1718 a number of French traders were making it their headquarters, but its military history ceased with Tonti’s departure.

A predecessor even of Fort St. Louis was Fort Crevecoeur – Fort of the Broken Heart, which wore its poetic name for only a few months after its construction in 1680, by La Salle, on the east shore of the Illinois River, not far below Peoria Lake. Fort Crevecoeur was destroyed by mutineers during the absence of its commander, Tonti, and was not rebuilt. Fort St. Louis succeeding to its mission. The exact site today is a matter of dispute.

Waterfront of Present Day Detroit
Where Indian canoes and the palisades of the French were

Fort Crevecoeur was the fourth in La Salle’s comprehensive scheme of a chain of fortifications to extend from Quebec, the centre of French power, up the St. Lawrence, through the Great Lakes, across the portage country which lay between the western lakes and the headwaters of the navigable tributaries of the Mississippi and then down the Mississippi to its mouth, thus hemming in the English to their coast possessions east of the Appalachian range, and ensuring the vast major part of the American continent to the French. The other three of La Salle’s fortifications at this date were Fort Frontenac, now Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Fort Niagara, commanding the passage from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, and Detroit, commanding the passage from Erie to Michigan.

The foundation of the city of Detroit thus needs no further pointing out. Where La Salle’s tentative fortifications were the city now presents a busy waterfront, with steamers and factories and great buildings where Indian canoes and the palisades of the French once were.

Developments of this plan of La Salle’s, which was adhered to tenaciously by the French for almost a century, until they fell before the slow growing mass of the English, were Michillimackinac and a chain of posts along the Ohio River. Of this Ohio series the most important element was the much fought over Fort Duquesne – the objective of Braddock’s fateful march – later Fort Pitt, and now the city of Pittsburgh.

Old Block House, Fort Pitt, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Old Block House, Fort Pitt, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The visitor to Pittsburgh today will find on Fourth Street, midway between the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, a little blockhouse, more correctly a redoubt, sixteen by fifteen feet in lateral dimensions and twenty-two feet high. The structure is constructed of brick covered with clapboards and with a layer of double logs, and contains thirty-six portholes in two layers. This little blockhouse is all that remains today of Fort Pitt. It was built by Colonel Boquet in 1764 and was purchased by private parties in the early days of Pittsburgh. In 1894 the property was deeded by its owner of that generation, Mrs. Mary E. Schenley, of London, to the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and is maintained by this organization today for the benefit of the public.

The situation of Fort Pitt and its predecessor, Fort Duquesne, was of immense strategic importance in the early days of the American nation, the considerations which gave it value having operated in the field of commerce in late years to make Pittsburgh notable as a manufacturing and distributing centre. It stood at the gateway to the Ohio River and the rich country, which the Ohio waters, and since it commanded the Ohio it commanded the key to the West.

These considerations were appreciated by the Colonial Virginians, and in 1754 Captain William Trent was commissioned by Governor Dinwiddle, of Virginia, to erect a fort at the juncture of the Monongahela and the Allegheny Rivers at the expense of the Ohio Company.

Captain Trent commenced his work in February 1754, but in April 1754, surrendered to a detachment of French under Le Mercier.

The French then commenced the erection of a fort of their own on the extreme neck of land between the rivers. They finished their work in the summer of that year and named it Fort Duquesne in honor of Governor General Duquesne, of Canada.

In the same year a force of English colonists, about 150 strong, made a tentative advance against the work under the leadership of our own George Washington, then a young man. Washington found the post too strong for attack and became himself the object of hostile attention from the French, being forced to fall back to Great Meadows and to erect a temporary triangular earth fortification there which he named Fort Necessity.

In 1755 it was the plan of the British ministry to concentrate its forces in the colonies in three directions of attack against the French. One blow was to be struck at Acadia; a second blow was to be struck at Crown Point, and a third, under General Braddock, an English born officer of wide Continental experience, at Fort Duquesne.

Braddock’s unfortunate march began May 27, 1755, from Fort Cumberland, Maryland (Cumberland, today), and of the details of that disastrous journey little need be told in these pages, as the story is already familiar. Braddock had the bravery of his calling and the arrogance and presumption of the European brought into contact with provincials. He did not believe that anything very good could come out of the colonies and did not hesitate to show this attitude of mind. On the line of march he scorned to send out scouts ahead as was necessary in fighting Indians. He insisted on sending his Continental troops in solid order against an enemy who fought behind trees and stumps in any kind of order that suited his purpose. He committed all of the stupidities that vanity and overweening self-confidence could dictate, and, when the French in a despairing last minute effort against overwhelming numbers had found easy victory, gave up his life on the field of battle. He was buried beneath the feet of the retreating troops so that their steps should obliterate from the fiendish enemy the location of his last resting place.

 

The English loss in this battle was 714 men killed and a shattering of their military prestige with all of the Indian people of the borderland. The French loss was 3 white men killed and 27 Indians. The access to their influence amongst the savage tribes because of their unexpected victory was much.

Fort Duquesne fell to the English in 1758 when 7,000 men under Brigadier General John Forbes slowly and circumspectly proceeded against it. The French deserted the post after attempting to destroy it and the English took possession November 25 of that year. A new fort was commenced under Forbes which stood on the Monongahela side of the city at the south end of the present West Street and between West and Liberty Streets. It was occupied in 1760 and was completely finished in the summer of 1761. The stone bombproof magazine stood until 1852 when the Pennsylvania Railroad built its freight terminal here.

Of the remainder of the line of French forts along the Ohio River there are no relics left, though memorials have been established at several points. The first of this Ohio River chain was Presque Isle on Lake Erie, now the little city of Erie, Pennsylvania. For some years after French domain in the New World Presque Isle was of importance and, indeed, for some years after the Revolution.

The post was taken by the English in 1759, and in 1763 fell a victim to Indian attack as a corollary to the Pontiac conspiracy, which had as its object the complete extinction of English life in the West. The fort, a rectangle of earth and wooden palisades, stood on the west bank of Mill Creek and at the intersection with the shore of the lake. Here the veteran Indian fighter, General Wayne, died in 1796. In 1876 the State of Pennsylvania erected a blockhouse on the site of the old fort as a memorial. This blockhouse is now included in the grounds of the Pennsylvania Sailors and Soldiers’ Home.

From Presque Isle there was a portage to Fort Le Boeuf, now the little city of Waterford, Pennsylvania. Fort Le Boeuf stood at High and Water Street. Waterford, though there is at this point no sign of its existence. It was erected in 1753 and fell before Pontiac’s far-reaching conspiracy in 1763.

Venango, the next of the French line of forts east of Pittsburgh (Duquesne), was the forerunner of Franklin, Pennsylvania, and stood at Elk and Eighth Streets. Of Venango, too, no sign remains. It fell to the Indians in 1763.

South of Pittsburgh the English had a post at Brownsville, on the Ohio River, Pennsylvania, built in 1754, and known as Redstone Old Fort. The French had Fort Massac to which about one thousand troopers retired after the evacuation of Fort Duquesne. Later years also saw small fortifications developed on the Ohio River, some holding the potentialities of future greatness such as that at the falls of the Ohio River, which was to be the nucleus of the settlement of the present day city of Louisville, Kentucky.

At the south end of Lake Erie during the French occupancy of the West stood Fort Sandusky, which has given its name to the City of Sandusky of today. On the Maumee River, Indiana, was Fort Miamis, Miami of today.

In the early days of the French there had been a trading post at the site of the future great city of Chicago, but it remained for the United States, in 1803, to establish a formal fortification here. Fort Dearborn, of bloody memory. Fort Dearborn, as every good Chicagoan knows, or ought to know, stood at the southern approach to the Rush Street bridge and extended a little across Michigan Avenue and somewhat into the river, as it now is. The ground rose into a little mound yielding a fine view of the surrounding flat prairie land. Here the pioneer soldiers erected a rude stockade of logs fifteen feet in height and enclosing a space sufficiently large to contain a small parade ground, officers’ quarters, troop barracks, guard house, magazines and two blockhouses, one at the northwest and the other at the southeast corner of the palisade. This rude structure with its small garrison was the seed of the present day great city.

Upon the outbreak of the War of 1812 General Hull, who was commanding the American army of the border, ordered the evacuation of Fort Dearborn, as the place was too remote to be adequately defended and as its possession meant no access of strength to the United States. There were at this time in the garrison four officers and fifty-four noncommissioned officers and privates under the leadership of Captain Nathan Heald. The wives of the two senior officers were with them and a number of the privates had, also, their families, so that the stockade contained twelve women and twenty children.

Though an experienced soldier, Captain Heald seems to have misjudged the temper of the hostile Indians surrounding his post and to have too easily accepted their assurances of noninterference with the garrison as it left the fort. At all events, on August 15, 1812, Captain Heald evacuated his fort, and though the Indians allowed the little company – a long cavalcade – to proceed as far as the end of present day Eighteenth Street without molestation, they then fell upon men, women and children indiscriminately. Of the company of Americans only a handful survived.

In 1816 Fort Dearborn was rebuilt and re-garrisoned but after the Black Hawk war fell into disuse, and in 1837 was abandoned by the army. It was used for various purposes by different departments of the Federal government until 1857, when it was torn down except a small building, which stood until the great fire of 1871. A commercial building now occupies the site, which is commemorated by a small bronze tablet set into the wall by the Chicago Historical Society in 1880.

At the foot of Eighteenth Street at the point where the attack upon the devoted column commenced, a beautiful bronze monument has been erected depicting a scene from the massacre.

Fort Gage, Illinois, memorable as the first objective of George Rogers Clark in 1778, stood at the historic little village Kaskaskia, of French foundation, on the Kaskaskia River near the confluence of that stream with the Mississippi. In shape an oblong, 280 feet by 251 feet, constructed of squared timbers founded upon heavy earthwork, Fort Gage was never heavily garrisoned. It was the point to which the British retired when the crumbling walls of Fort Chartres would no longer hold them. In 1772 the garrison consisted of one officer and twenty soldiers. In 1778 when Clark reached the spot there was not a British soldier on duty and the fort was in command of a Frenchman.

Fort Clark, Illinois, was erected in 1813 on the site of the future city of Peoria, Illinois, and about where the Rock Island depot now stands. For several years it gave its name to the locality and was a post of importance garrisoned by rangers and United States troops. At one time it sustained a severe Indian attack

The foundation of Cincinnati, Ohio, was Fort Washington, which was in existence until after the War of 1812.



MLA Source Citation:

Hammond, John Martin. Quaint and Historic Forts of North America. J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, London. 1915. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 17 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/america/strongholds-of-the-past.htm - Last updated on Aug 4th, 2012


Categories:
Topics: ,

Contribute to the Conversation!

Our "rules" are simple. Keep the conversation on subject and mind your manners! If this is your first time posting, we do moderate comments before we let them appear... so give us a while to get to them. Once we get to know you here, we'll remove that requirement.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Newsletter Signup

We currently provide two newsletters. Why not take both for a run?

Genealogy Update: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new, or significantly updated, collection or database on our website.

Circle of Nations: We send out this newsletter whenever we feature a new (or significantly updated) Native American collection or database on our website.

Once you've clicked on the Subscribe button above you'll receive an email from us requesting confirmation. You must confirm the email before you will be able to receive any newsletter.