Fort Norfolk was built between 1795 and 1806 and is the sole remaining example of President George Washington's 18th Century coastal defenses. Even before the fort was built, the citizens of Norfolk fortified the site during the Revolutionary War to defend their harbor.
Fort Norfolk was built where the Elizabeth River narrows and across the river from Fort Nelson. The two forts provided crossfire on any ships bombarding the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth or trying to launch an amphibious assault. However, they were too weak and Lord Dunmore was able to burn Norfolk in 1776.
In 1794 Congress authorized President Washington to built a series of forts and fortifications along the "maritime frontier" to protect 19 harbors. Construction began on Fort Norfolk in 1795 using earthen works built in a combination of the Vauban style star fort and a semicircular bastion. After the HMS Leopold attacked and boarded the USS Chesapeake off Norfolk, the fort was upgraded so
that the walls of the fort were reinforced to 12 feet high and 20 feet thick. The earthen work walls were replaced with brick and masonry. On the landward side a detached ravelin was constructed. The modifications were completed in 1810 and the fort was armed with nine 18-pound cannons.
|Diagram of preparations made in advance of the War of 1812; courtesy of Historic Fort|
During the War of 1812 a long chain was stretched between forts Norfolk and Nelson to prevent British ships from attacking the shipyard and harbors of Norfolk and Portsmouth. Soldiers were stationed at the fort during the war and were involved in the Battle of Craney Island in 1813. Fort Norfolk, however, never came under attack.
Today Fort Norfolk is a Virginia Historic Site and is open to the public for tours.
John W. Jennings, Sr. (1776-1858): War of 1812 Veteran