Early American Forts

Fort Ticonderoga(American Revolution Museum )

American military forts are the symbols of protection during times of unrest in any given location. In times of growth and conquest forts provided protection and surveillance. The worth of a fort was determined by its ability to defend and protect from outside attacks. The forts built in the United States were a result of land battles. As the United States grew larger and larger the demand for defending newly acquired land was a major priority, this fear resulted in the construction of so many forts. The variation in the design of a military fort was determined by several factors location, time period, and materials.

Jamestown Fort in Virginia 1608(MPI/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The earliest forts in the United States were built during the arrival of English settlers to Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Because wood was easily available on site the first forts were constructed from earth and timber. The forts protected the settlers from Native American attacks. As more and more settlers arrived so did the need for more land.

Views from Fort Ticonderoga

As new towns developed along the waterways that connected the interior of North America with the coastline so did forts. The protection of people and acquired property was a major priority in unsettling times during early American history. Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Stanwix are two examples of forts built for the protection of waterways in New York State.

View of cannon from an opening

From forts designed to protect waterways to those used to protect newly acquired land, each one is a result of prior failures. Fort design evolved over time due to the materials available and the counter measures used against it. Wood, the original material of early American forts, could withstand the punishment of arrows and spears. When the arrival of enemies with gun powdered weapons presented a problem the forts had to evolve in order to defend against them.

Fort Classification:

  • (1606 to 1790) First System Forts, these were forts left behind as a result of British and French conflicts against Americans that forced them out of the United States. These forts were built from wood and earth.

Fort StanWix

  • (1790 to 1807) Coastal Second System Forts, built of stone and earth these forts were located on islands or near water. The coastal forts were the first line of defense when entering a harbor. 

Fort McHenry Baltimore Harbor

  • (1807 to 1890) Third System Forts, The last of the stone and earth forts used the latest technology available in masonry construction, but later became useless with the arrival of planes and bombs. 


Fort Taylor

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