Photo Credit: Fort Monroe Authority
By Carla Charter
FORT MONROE, VIRGINIA- Quarters 1, the oldest building and former Commanding General quarters at Fort Monroe National Monument is being restored by the National Park Service. Among the work being done is the repairing and replacing of the columns, the painting of the building and the replacing of its front step. “My goal is to use it as part of our tours and as a reception area,” said Terry E. Brown, Superintendent of the Fort Monroe National Monument
Quarters 1, as well as the fort itself, are steeped in American history. In 1862, Quarters 1 housed President Lincoln and his secretaries of war and treasury during the Peninsula Campaign as they directed the Union Strategy.
Another historical moment occurred at Quarters 1 during the Civil War, when three self-emancipating men, considered escaped slaves under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Frank Baker, James Townsend and Shepard Mallory were interviewed by the Union Commander Benjamin Butler there. The fort was a Union stronghold and the men sought asylum at the fort.
The return of the men to Confederate Colonel Charles Mallory of Virginia was demanded as they were considered his legal property. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law reinforced the requirement that the enslaved men should be returned to their slaveholder.
However, Butler reasoned that since these fugitives were from Virginia, which had seceded from the Union, federal laws and the U.S. Constitution did not apply. Instead Butler declared the men were ‘contraband of war’. The federal government supported Butlers decision and advised that any enslaved person accepted at Fort Monroe could be put to work for Union purposes. As a result, the fort soon became a haven for escaping enslaved people.
Other historical figures who have spent time at Fort Monroe included Harriet Tubman and Edgar Allen Poe. Black Hawk and other captured tribal leaders as well as Confederate President Jefferson Davis spent time as prisoners at Fort Monroe.
During the War of 1812 the British went past Point Comfort and burned Hampton, Virginia and Washington D.C. As a result the government decided a third system of fortifications along the eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast was needed. Thus, construction on Fort Monroe was begun in 1819 and completed in 1836. The labor force to construct Fort Monroe included military convicts and enslaved peoples.
The fort’s 2,394-yard perimeter encompasses 63 acres and it’s ramparts, casements and gates were enclosed by a wet moat. Fort Monroe is the largest fully moated masonry and earthen fort in the United States.
The military fort closed in 2011 and the National Park Service acquired the fort in 2015. Those interested in donating to the preservation of Quarters 1 can send a check to Fort Monroe National Monument 41 Bernard Road (Building #17, Lee’s Quarters), Fort Monroe, VA 23651-1001. The donation should be marked Quarters 1 Restoration. More information on Fort Monroe can be found at https://www.nps.gov/fomr/index.htm