Fort Frederick was used during three conflicts

November 22, 2011|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • Fort Frederick was built to serve as a frontier defense and a refuge for area settlers during the French and Indian War.
Submitted photo

The Washington County Historical Society chose as its first preservation efforts in 1911 the Washington Monument and Fort Frederick because of their importance to both local and national historic events.

The history of the monument was covered in last month's column, this column will follow Fort Frederick's history.

Advocacy on behalf of the fort dragged on for 11 years, causing huge frustration among WCHS board members. The State of Maryland did acquire the fort, known as the "Gibraltar on the Potomac," and the surrounding forest lands in 1922.

Both structures were restored in the 1930s during the Great Depression, being identified by the Civilian Conservation Corps as projects needing attention. The CCC provided employment to a vast number of unemployed breadwinners by working on public works restoration and improvements. Their work was overseen by a combination of state and federal agencies.

Fort Frederick was built of stone, by order of Gov. Horatio Sharpe of Maryland. The fort was to serve as a frontier defense and a refuge for area settlers during the French and Indian War. The structure, completed in 1756, played a part in three separate conflicts during its use as a military outpost. The settlers did find safe refuge there, and a supply post was established at the fort to serve the English campaign from the time it was completed until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, including what was known as Ottawa Indian Chief Pontiac's War.

During the Revolutionary War, the fort again provided a safe haven for local residents and was reportedly used as a prison camp for Hessian and British soldiers.  Union troops used the fort during the Civil War as a post and a skirmish was fought there on Christmas Day 1861, marking one of the earliest Potomac River crossings in Washington County by Confederate forces.

Following the Civil War, the fort and its grounds were farmed by a black family for several generations. Descendants of that family still live in Washington County.

Exhibits at Fort Frederick State Park give a wonderful interpretation of the importance of its many functions.

George Washington, our county's namesake, made earlier surveys along the Potomac River and into its western headwaters identifying him as a desirable asset to the English campaign to retain the vast lands included in their more western claims at the time.  

Gen. Edward Braddock headed troops, including Washington, who passed through our area on his way to defend the frontier, as many of our roadside historical markers indicate. At this time, our area was part of Frederick County.

Lt. Col. Washington was part of the ill-fated attempt to capture Fort Duquesne in what is now downtown Pittsburgh. Then he found himself responsible for conducting a funeral service following the death of Braddock, which occurred on July 12, 1755, in Bedford County, Pa., just north of Cumberland, Md., near what was known as Fort Necessity.  

Washington had limited military experience and the men in the company, including the English regulars, were not accustomed to frontier warfare. This encounter with the French and Indians, too, ended in defeat. By the time the American Revolution began nearly 20 years later, his acquired knowledge of military strategy had been well-honed and he was the logical choice to command the Continental Army.

Harvey Bomberger, with a cadre of early preservationists at his side, clearly saw the need to keep and restore this wonderful edifice.  

The stories, books and activities that the fort inspires today prove those assumptions. Local author and professor Allan Powell has provided several volumes on the subject.

"Colonial Soldiers of the South, 1732-1774," a book written by Murtie June Clark, published in 1986, gives a muster list of the local men, ages 16 to 60, who were called to service in several distinct companies of the Maryland Militia under Capts. Jonathan Hager and Joseph and Moses Chapline. The Chapline brothers had settled in the Lower Antietam portion of what became Washington County.  

Joseph Chapline is believed to have supervised much of the construction of Fort Frederick and went on to found the town of Sharpsburg, naming it for his friend, Gov. Sharpe.

The muster rolls echo the names of many families still evident in Washington County and include some of the notables of the day such as Evan Shelby, Andrew Friend, John Swearingen, James and Richard Prather, John Powell, Andrew Rench, Henry "Keedee" and many more, including those bearing the maiden name of the author of this column.

In 1956, the Washington County Historical Society played a major role in organizing the 200th anniversary rededication of Fort Frederick. This event was a three-day celebration involving public school students from Washington and Frederick counties, the Municipal Band of Hagerstown, re-enactors from local Boy Scout troops and church organizations, the Maryland Historical Society, the Maryland National Guard and a number of elected officials, including U.S. Sen. J. Glenn Beall  and Maryland Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin.

The 250th anniversary was celebrated over three days in 2006 with a groundbreaking for the Governor's House/Officers Quarters, to finalize interpretation of the interior buildings constructed to house the companies assigned there.  The enlisted barracks were completed many years ago.

A footprint for the officers building exists and state funds were appropriated for the building in 2006. But, several submitted designs and their subsequent corrections, requested by the Maryland Historical Trust, have yet to allow this project to move to the construction phase.  

Again, local advocacy for the completion of this project has reached fever pitch with WCHS as one of the groups registering support from its position of vested interest. Recent discovery of earthquake damage at the structure is hopefully covered by state insurance.

Linda C. Irvin-Craig is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. She can be reached at 301-797-8782.

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