Tag: Historic Sites

Project:1812 – The Forts of Maine

Project:1812 – The Forts of Maine

During the British invasion and subsequent occupation of what is today eastern Maine, there were several forts involved in the action. While many have unique histories, there isn’t much to give each one their blog entry. So I’ve decided, for the sake of you readers, to combine them all into a single post. In the interests of geography, I’ll be moving from east to west if you want to follow along the route on a map.

Project:1812 - Fort Furieuse
The historic sign is the only remains of Fort Furieuse in Castine, Maine
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

The small settlement of Eastport, Maine is located on the formerly contested spit of land named Moose Island. Located near the New Brunswick/Maine border, the US Army fearing British encroachment established Fort Sullivan in 1808. A single four gun circular battery with a powder magazine, blockhouse, and barracks. The island remained in the care of Major Perley Putnam and a small garrison of men from the 40th US Infantry. When the British showed up in the fall of 1814, Major Putnam surrendered without a fight. The British renamed the fort after the governor of Nova Scotia, John Coape Sherbrooke and left 800 regulars to prevent any American attempt at retaking the fort. When the war ended with the Treaty of Gent in 1815, the issue with the border remained unsettled, even though the treaty stipulated that every return to how it was before the war, the border wasn’t settled before the war. As a result, Moose Island and Fort Sherbrooke remained in British hands until 1818. When the American army returned the fort reverted to Fort Sullivan and the garrison would stay at the fort until 1873. The post remained intact until 1880 when the locals began to remove items for constructing other town buildings, today there is little left. A sign marks the location of the fort and a cannon from the war now sits in front of Shead High School, that sits next to the fort site. The powder magazine should still be there; I was unable to locate the ruins. The 1808 Barracks moved from the old fort site to Washington Street and now house the local historical society and town museum.

Project:1812 - Fort Sullivan
The Historic Sign marking the site of Fort Sullivan, I was unable to locate the ruins of the powder magazine
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort Sullivan
The 1812 era cannon on display
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort Sullivan
The 1808 Barracks at their new location
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Next along the route is Fort O’Brien in the Town of Machiasport, Maine. One of the oldest forts on the list, the post, was built in 1775 as Fort Machias by two officers in the Continental Army, Captain Jeremiah O’Brien, and Major Benjamin Foster. Established in response to a possible attack following the capture by American forces of the HM Schooner Margaretta. The British attack was swift and in 1777 chased off the defenders, but the British did not stick around, and the fort was reoccupied by 1781 under the name Fort O’Brien. With the end of the Revolution, the fort was abandoned and fell into disrepair. When border disputes in the early 19th century threatened to boil over the old post was rebuilt a stone and earth bastion mounted four guns. The fort never saw action during the British invasion of 1814 but was the final American post that was destroyed by the British after they had established the occupation. The British simply took the guns and demolished the position rather than commit the troops to occupy it. The American army would rebuild the post for the third time during the American Civil War mounting three 32-pound cannons along with a pair of rifled 24-pound guns. Due to the position the fort never saw action and was abandoned in 1865. Today a single brass Napoleon gun from the civil war is mounted on the earthworks; the powder magazine is still there as an overgrown mound. The site is designated a state park and sits behind Fort O’Brien School.

Project:1812 - Fort O'Brien
A close up of a Napoleon Brass Cannon from the Civil War Era
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort O'Brien
A wide look at the earthworks that remain at the site
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort O'Brien
The old powder magazine over grown
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

A fascinating fort on my journey was Fort George in Castine, Maine as it has the richest history of all the forts. Established in 1779 as the primary British post in the colony of New Ireland. Major General Francis McLean would hold out against a great American Siege in the later days of the American Revolutionary War. Fort George is also the largest fort visited, sitting on a ridge above the village of Castine, with a clear view of the Penobscot River. The American force of 45 ships and 200 infantry failed to dislodge General McLean and were compelled to flee upriver and burn their ships. The debacle known as the Penobscot Expedition would be a low point during the Revolution. The massive earthen walls would remain above the town, and when General Sherbrooke arrived in 1814, he would order the post rebuilt when he reestablished New Ireland. The 200 square-foot Fort would mount some 60 guns, and the British surrounded the town with a ring of smaller forts and artillery batteries. When the war ended the garrison marched out in 1815 with much fanfare from the townsfolk. The American Army would occupy the old British fort until 1819 when Fort Knox was completed further up the river. Today you can still see the massive earth walls as well as the ruins of a casemate and powder magazine. A small marker in one of the bastion identifies the site, and a lone cannon from the British occupation is just by the parking lot. The interior of the fort has a baseball diamond.

Project:1812 - Fort George
Casemate ruins at Fort George
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort George
The old Powder Magazine
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort George
Play Ball! What better use for a 200 square foot area than a baseball diamond!
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

The final fort that I visited was Fort Madison, also located in Castine, Maine. Established in 1808 during the border tensions between the United States and British North America the simple earthen bastion mounted four 24-pound cannons, a blockhouse, and brick magazine. It would be the only fort to engage the British during the invasion in the fall of 1814, the garrison commander; Lieutenant Andrew Lewis would fire a single volley from the heavy guns before beating a retreat. The British would operate the post as Fort Castine during the occupation. At the end of the war, the British destroyed Fort Castine along with the rest of their fortifications when they retreated in 1815. The American army would operate the post until 1819 before moving all operations north to Fort Knox. During the American Civil War, the site was rebuilt and manned by local volunteer troops who operated the site, calling it Fort United States. The Civil War-era earthworks still stand, and the site is a city park, an 1812 era cannon is located at the site as well.

Project:1812 - Fort Madison
The Historic marker for Fort Madison
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort Madison
A War of 1812 era 24-Pound Cannon that marks Fort Madison, it’s twin is now up at Fort George
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

Project:1812 - Fort Madison
Looking down at the Civil War Earthworks
Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford Pan F+ @ ASA-50 – FA-1027 (1+14) 5:00 @ 20C

While not much to look at, in reality, none of them having anything beyond some old cannons, earthworks, and maybe an information sign they still make up a strange and relatively unknown part of the War of 1812 and themselves weaved into the fabric of the tale. I do highly recommend visiting at least Castine, Maine as they have a thriving historical society that loves to share their town’s history with any who are interested.

Special Thanks to the Castine Historical Society for helping me on my journey and providing additional information and location details!

Written with Files From:
Collins, Gilbert. Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812. Toronto: Dundurn, 2006. Print.
Young, George F. W. The British Capture & Occupation of Downeast Maine, 1814-1815/1818. Print.
Web: castine.me.us/welcome/history/history-of-castine/

Project:1812 – Fort Shelby, Fort McKay, and Fort Crawford

Project:1812 – Fort Shelby, Fort McKay, and Fort Crawford

The small fur trading post of Prairie du Chien was founded long before the British or Americans came to the old northwest. But rather the post was founded by the French in 1685 and soon became a small post along the Mississippi trade route. Even after the British gained the territory at the end of the French-Indian/Seven Years War in 1763 the population remained French, but the loyalties shifted to the British and remained there even after the Treaty of Paris ceded the territory to the newly formed United States of America.

Project:1812 - The Forts of Prairie Du Chien
A reconstruction of one of the fort’s blockhouses

The first effort to fortify the town took place in 1814 when an expedition led by Governor William Clark (of Lewis & Clark Fame) established an American garrison in the small community. Governor Clark feared that the British may choose to enforce their influence in the community then march on St. Louis with nothing to stop them. While the community did nothing to resist the Americans they were not happy with the new garrison and alerted the nearest British outpost, Mackinac Island, of them. Clark’s fort; named after Isaac Shelby, governor of his native territory of Kentucky consisted of a warehouse annexed from the Mackinac Trading Company, two blockhouses and the northwest and southwest corners surrounded by a wooden palisade. The American garrison, under the command of Lieutenant Joseph Perkins of the 24th Regiment, was short lived in the fort. An expedition of militia and native troops dislodged the Americans after a three-day siege. The British were quick to rename the post after their commander, William McKay. For the rest of the War of 1812, the British remained watchful over Prarie du Chien from Fort McKay. The Americans would try, twice, to take the post back. Both efforts would fail far from the post. When word of peace reached the fort, and the terms of that peace the garrison was in shock. Everything was to return to how it was before the war. So the garrison followed the order to the letter and burned Fort McKay to the ground and marched out. The American army was quick to re-establish an outpost mirroring the original fort but this time naming it Fort Crawford in 1816. The garrison would serve the local population keeping the peace and enforcing trade regulations. It also served as the site for the signing of the Treaty of Prairie du Chien which would establish boundaries between tribal lands of the local natives. The fort was evacuated and abandoned in 1826 after the Mississippi River overflowed its banks. Two murders would see the army return to prevent the violence from turning into a full-blown conflict. And while it didn’t happen it was decided that the army would stay.

Project:1812 - The Forts of Prairie Du Chien
Stone footings from the first Fort Crawford

The trouble was that due to the location of the old fort. The flood had done serious damage to the work. There was additional flood danger not to mention a cesspool where diseases would flourish among the garrison. But the garrison would have to remain there while a new fort was built to the south of the town on the mainland under the watchful eye of Colonel Zachary Taylor, future President of the United States and Lieutenant Jefferson Davis, future President of the Confederate States of America. The garrison at the old fort was in good hands, Dr. William Beaumont was in charge of keeping the men in good health and took the opportunity to conduct research on the human digestive system, the knowledge he gained formed the basis of our modern understanding of the system, much of his work was conducted at the old Fort Crawford. The old fort was finally abandoned in 1832 when the garrison moved into their new stone barracks. The site would sit empty for a decade or so before being purchased by Hercules Louis Dousman. Hercules was a business owner and son of Michael Dousman, the man who helped keep the population of Mackinac Island safe during the British capture in the opening action of the War of 1812. Hercules would begin to establish a family estate on the site in the mid-1840s. The site would be passed along to his son H. Louis Dousman and his widow after his death in 1868. Under the junior Dousman, an Italian Styled villa was constructed on the property and occupied by his mother until her death in 1882. The Dousman family would continue to occupy the home, known as Villa Louis until 1913. The villa was restored and turned into a museum in 1930s thanks largely to the efforts of Hercules’ granddaughters, Victoria Dousman Bigelow, and Violet Dousman Young. The site was taken over by the state’s historical society in 1950.

Project:1812 - The Forts of Prairie Du Chien
Villa Louis as it stands today

The new Fort Crawford on the mainland would continue to watch over the area through the mid-19th century. The garrison would participate in the Black Hawk War and the titular Chief Black Hawk would surrender and become a prisoner of Fort Crawford. With the force relocation of the area tribes to Iowa, of which the garrison would again be a part. The need for the post decreased with the last troops marching out in 1856. When the American Civil War began the fort was used as a recruit depot and training station. It was also selected as a site for a US Army General Hospital. The Swift Hospital opened in 1864 and would serve close to 1500 Union troops during its single year of operation. With the hospital’s closure in 1865, the fort would never see military service again. The land was sold off in parcels, the buildings were either sold as homes or simply torn down for building materials. The Swift Hospital building was turned into a Roman Catholic private girls school. When the twentieth-century dawned all that was left was the ruins of the fort’s old hospital. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution started a fundraising campaign to purchase the ruins and the three-and-a-half parcels of land it sat on, and in 1925 they had raised all the needed funds. The old hospital was restored and rebuilt and in 1960 opened as a museum dedicated to the efforts of Dr. Beaumont and the fort’s history.

Project:1812 - The Forts of Prairie Du Chien
The second Fort Crawford’s hospital as it stands today as a museum

Today you can visit both sites. Historic Villa Louis features the 1868 Italian villa as well visitors can see a restored Blockhouse similar to the ones that once stood over Fort Shelby/McKay/Crawford as well as ruins and footings that were discovered during the restoration of the site. The Fort Crawford Museum was turned over to the City of Prairie du Chien in 1996 and has expanded to include all local history as well as the original exhibits about the fort and the work of Dr. Beaumont. The Swift Hospital building has long since been demolished in its place is a prison.

For more details on visiting these history sites, please check out their websites:
Fort Crawford Museum: www.fortcrawfordmuseum.com
Historic Villa Louis: villalouis.wisconsinhistory.org

Written with files from:
Ferguson, Gillum. Illinois in the War of 1812. Champaign, IL.: University of Illinois Press, 2012. Print.
Collins, Gilbert. Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812. Toronto: Dundurn, 2006. Print.
Web: villalouis.wisconsinhistory.org/About/History.aspx
Web: www.fortcrawfordmuseum.com

Photos: Hasselblad 500c – Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm 1:2.8 – Ilford FP4+ @ ASA-100 – Photographer’s Formulary Developer 23 (stock) 6:00 @ 20C