Fort Monroe Historic District

Historical Significance

Fort Monroe is located at Old Point Comfort, where a Dutch trading ship carrying the first "20-odd"  Angolan Africans to Virginia entered the colony in August 1619. The Portuguese, who were waging war in Africa, enslaved many of their captors and shipped them to Mexico for labor. The Dutch often intercepted these shipping lines and pirated the human cargo, in this case from an area that had been converted to Christianity and had its own central school system. These male and female Africans brought different culture, religion and foods to the Chesapeake Bay area, including the cultivation of rice, still important in many southern regions, such as South Carolina.

When Fort Monroe was under construction (1819 -34), a now enslaved population of blacks hired from local plantations performed much of the labor. Early in the Civil War at Fort Monroe, Major General Benjamin Butler made his famous "contraband" decision whereby escaping slaves who reached Union lines would not be returned to servitude. A large refugee population settled near the fort, providing recruits for two regiments of cavalry and one light artillery battery organized there. In 1864, the Army of the James was formed at Fort Monroe, including several regiments of U.S. Colored Troops. Abolitionist Harriet Tubman worked here as matron of the Contraband Hospital as the war ended. The regional headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau was established here after the war; its superintendent, Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, later founded Hampton University. One of that school's most famous graduates, Booker T. Washington, spent a summer earning tuition money at an Old Point Comfort restaurant. Two African Americans, John B. Jones and William R. Davis, served as lighthouse keepers at Fort Monroe. In 1935, the federal government established a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Fort Monroe for young black men.
The fort remained garrisoned until September 2011, when it was decommissioned and returned to the possession of the Commonwealth of Virginia under a 2005 BRAC decision. Fort Monroe is the fourth known fortification to have been built at Old Point Comfort since the settlement of Jamestown, and the newly expanded historic district (as of June, 2012) has the potential for significant archaeological resources, including prehistoric cultural deposits.     

Physical Description

Fort Monroe is the largest stone fort built in the U.S, and one of the oldest military posts under continuous use by the Army (1819-2011). The Casement Museum is located within the fort and explains the history of the fort, the Coast Artillery Corps, and the Civil War. 

Geographical and Contact Information

20 Bernard Road
Fort Monroe, Virginia
23651-0341
Phone: 757-788-3391
Fax: 757-727-3886

Images

Fort Monroe Aerial View

Fort Monroe Aerial View

Source: Creative Commons License: Flickr user Tidewater Muse View File Details Page

Moat surrounding Fort Monroe

Moat surrounding Fort Monroe

Source: Creatvie Commons License: Flickr user dbking View File Details Page

Casemate Museum Fort Monroe

Casemate Museum Fort Monroe

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Cite this Page:

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, “Fort Monroe Historic District,” African American Historic Sites Database, accessed May 28, 2017, http://aahistoricsitesva.org/items/show/152.
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