America has many old and historical forts dotted around the country to explore. Fort Monroe is an old decommissioned base at Hampton Roads in Virginia at the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula. Its role was to guard the channel leading into the Chesapeake Bay. It is regarded as the largest fort ever built in the United States. A short drive from here is Virginia's Historic Triangle - be sure to see these historic locations while there.
This is long been a strategic location with defensive fortifications at the Old Point Comfort. The oldest defensive fortifications were built as far back as 1609 in the days of the Colony of Virginia. This is a fort and site that has almost as much history as many of the original Thirteen Colonies with at least 400 years of history. It has an intimate history with slavery in America and during the Civil War.
About The History Of the Fort
Fort Monroe was completed in 1834 and was named in honor the US President James Monroe.
- Completed: In 1834
During the American Civil War, the southern Confederate States of America seceded and chief among the states was Virginia. Virginia was the largest state and the home of the southern capital of Richmond. But despite the secession and the years-long war, Fort Monroe always remained under the control of the Union.
- Jefferson Davis: Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was Imprisoned At The Fort Following The War
While it ceased to serve a defensive role right after World War II, it remained as the US Army's Headquarters for Training and Doctrine Command until 2011. It wasn't until 2011 that the fort was fully decommissioned and shortly afterward it was proclaimed a national monument by President Barack Obama.
History With African American Slavery
It is important to remember the dark days of the nation's history along with the nation's more glamorous history. For another dark time in American history, see here about the Trail of Tears and where to follow the trails.
The fort has a long and complicated history with African American slavery. It was the site of the first African slaves (or any slaves) in the Colony of Virginia in 1619. At the visitor center, one can learn about the First Arrival story of these enslaved Africans and the Contraband Camp at Fort Monroe (it housed escaped slaves through the Civil War).
These first enslaved Africans had been captured by the White Lion an English privateer ship from a Spanish slave ship. The Spanish slave ship was the São João Bautista and had been on its way to sell them in the Caribbean and South America (in Spanish colonies). They were instead brought to Virginia and sold there.
As this was the first time slaves had been in the Virginia Colony, their legal status was uncertain at the time. The National Park Service states:
"These first Africans though traded enslaved on arrival, may have found themselves in a status much like indentured servants and in time freedom according to current research. In the future, we hope to have a more clear picture of the development of their story."
Day of Healing
On August 25, 2019, the Memorial Day of Healing - Nationwide Bell Ringing Ceremony was commemorated there. It marked the 400th anniversary of the landing of the first enslaved Africans to English settled North America that would go on to form the Thirteen Colonies.
Now the ceremony is held annually to commemorate this fateful day as a day of healing and reconciliation.
- When: August 25, Annually
- What: Ringing The Bells Simultaneously For Four Minutes (One For Each Century)
Visiting the Fort
Fort Monroe Opening Hours
- Standard Hours: 5:00 am to 12:00 am
- Days: 7 Days A Week (Hours Differ on Public Holidays)
- Cost Of Admission: Admission is Free
As at the time of writing the Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center and the Casemate Museum are open to the public. They are open Wednesday through Sunday. For up-to-date Covid-19 related information, check the National Park Service website or Fort Monroe Org. It is currently required to reserve free timed tickets to enter the Casemate Museum.
Beaches At Fort Monroe
There are miles of stunning beaches at Fort Monroe. It is one of the best places in Hampton Roads to enjoy stunning views of the important Chesapeake Bay. There are lifeguards provided by the City of Hampton on duty much of the year. They are normally on duty from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm and are present at two coves at Outlook Beach.
- Pets: Dogs Are Prohibited On The Beach Between May 15 and September 15
- Paradise Ocean Club: Offers A Private Beach With Food and Drinks To Enjoy
There are a number of restaurants and dining options at the fort. See here for a listing of the options.