Rebel Fort

Historian and Samuel Smedley, Connecticut Privateer cover artist Bill Lee is very excited about his latest project:

[Lee] has been certain that a fort once stood in Black Rock Harbor in front of what is now known as St. Mary’s by the Sea in Bridgeport, based on maps created in 1779 by the British who were planning their invasion. …

Lee’s theory about the fort took a big leap forward recently when his friend, aviator and photographer Morgan Kaolian, snapped some aerial shots of the point at dead-low tide.

There, in the photographs, is the outline of what appears to be the same fort depicted in a map by for a Lt. Lawru of the British Army on July 7, 1779. Labeled “Rebel Fort” on the map, the shape of the fort mirrors that which appears in Kaolian’s photographs.

Nothing raises Bill’s dander more than dismissal of the fort, something both he and Kaolian have apparently encountered — although it’s never been clear to me if critics are denying the existence of the fort or merely bickering about its precise location. Certainly there was a Revolutionary era battery at St. Mary’s. The Public Records are full of orders sending men and munitions to the fortification “at Battery Point in Fairfield” (The Public Records of the State of Connecticut, vol. 2, 199), and Andrew Eliot, reverend of the Congregational church and an eyewitness to the July 1779 burning of the town, wrote that the eastward progress of the British along the shore was halted “by the cannon which played from Grover’s Hill” (Eliot’s letter is reprinted in Hurd, D. Hamilton, ed. History of Fairfield County, Connecticut, 283-284). Eliot also added:

Our fort yet stands. The enemy sent a row-galley to silence it, and there was constant firing between them all night. One or two attempts were made to take it by parties of troops, but it was most bravely and obstinately defended by Lieut. Isaac Jarvis, of this town, who had but twenty-three men besides himself.

This is why only a handful of houses survived in downtown Fairfield but Black Rock Harbor was untouched. The fort must have been placed close to the mouth of the Ash Creek — allowing the defenders to fire west across the creek at the marching troops — while still positioned to prevent the enemy from entering the harbor. The site of Bill’s ruin fulfills both requirements.

There’s been a great deal of development in that area, so it’s possible this particular ruin is not the fort. But I’m with Bill: now the burden of proof is on the skeptics.

Unfortunately, [Conservation Director Thomas Steinke] said, there’s been so much coastal erosion at the point by St. Mary’s by the Sea that it is unlikely that any other evidence such as cannonballs can be found. “That would have been washed away,” he said.

What an uninformed opinion. Cannonballs — even relatively small six-pound shot — don’t wash away; they sink and bury. Even if no shot is found, other artifacts and features can date the ruin. A simple Phase I investigation by the state archaeologist’s office or a CRM company would go a long way toward answering whether the rocks are a naturally occurring phenomenon, an old jetty, some other man-made structure — or the historic salvation of Black Rock Harbor.

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