Fort Monroe was an Army installation from 1781 until September 2011 when it was deactivated as a result of the 2005 BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure Commission). Its major tenant, TRACDOC (Training and Doctrine Command) was relocated to JBLE (Joint Base Langley-Eustis) at Fort Eustis, VA. On November 1, 2011 President Obama declared Fort Monroe a National Monument under the Antiquities Act. The National Monument Park is located at the end of the peninsula where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Hampton Roads River in Hampton, VA. This location is part of an area that is plentiful in historical parks and monuments from the early colony of Jamestown, to the early American settlement of Williamsburg, to the French-Indian war areas of Yorktown and the entire area was paramount during the Civil War (1860 to 1865).
In 1608 the English explorer, Captain John Smith, on his way to the settlement of Jamestown, came ashore at the spot that would become Fort Monroe and stated that the area was ideal as a little isle for a castle and that the area brought him great comfort. The nickname for Fort Monroe is Old Point Comfort that remains to this day. In 1609 the settlers built a wooden fortification named Fort Algernourne (1609 – 1612).
In 1619 a Dutch ship, the White Lion, brought 30 Bantu African indentured servants from Angola to Old Point Comfort. Two among the first Africans were named Antonio and Isabella. In 1624 Isabella game birth to the first African child born in America.
The site was continually the home to future forts. The Fort at Old Point Comfort was built in 1632 and destroyed by a hurricane in 1667. Fort George was built in 1728 and destroyed by a hurricane in 1749. The buildings inside the fort that remained were continued in force until 1775. In 1781 a battery was built on the ruins of Fort George. In 1819, under declaration of President James Madison, the stone and brick fort construction began on what became the largest stone fort ever built in America. Construction was completed in 1834 and featured a moat completely encompassing the inner structures. It is the namesake for President James Monroe.
An Army Engineer, 1st Lt. Robert E. Lee, was stationed at Fort Monroe, 1831-1834, and was instrumental in the final construction stage. Lee was the future Confederate General that surrendered to General Grant at the end of the Civil War at Appomattox Court House in April 1865.
American Civil War Era (1860-1865) major events included:
In December, 1860 South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by Virginia in 1861. Fort Monroe remained part of the Union. On May 27, 1861, the post commander, Major General Benjamin Butler issued the Fort Monroe Doctrine that declared any slaves reaching the fort as contraband of war, not to be returned to bondage and made free men. 1862 saw the naval Battle of Hampton Roads between the first ironclad warships CSS Merrimack and USS Monitor. This battle ended usage of wooden warships. President Lincoln came to Fort Monroe during the war and declared that Norfolk, VA needed to be recaptured as Union territory. In April 1865 the Civil War ended with the surrender of the remaining Confederate troops by General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, VA. On April 26, 1865 Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured and imprisoned for 3 days in the Fort Monroe casement. He was then moved to more humane quarters where he stayed until released on bail in May 1867.
In 1892 Fort Monroe became the training site for military artillery. In 1973 Fort Monroe converted from being CONARC (Continental Army Command) to TRADOC.
Additional Historical Structures on Fort Monroe
- Old Point Comfort Lighthouse was erected in 1802 and remains in use today.
- Church of the Centurion was consecrated in 1858 and remains in use today.
- Hotels erect for tourists and dignitaries were all built on the same site since 1822, in the following order: First Hygeia Hotel (1822-1862); Second Hygeia Hotel (1868-1896); First Chamberlain Hotel (1896-1920) and the Second Chamberlain Hotel (1928-2003). The Chamberlain was renovated from 2003 to 2008 when it reopened as a senior citizen retirement home.
- The Casement Museum was opened in 1953 and remains a focal point of the Fort Monroe National Monument Park with its supplies and displays of artifacts spanning several hundred years.
- September 15, 2011 Fort Monroe was deactivated as a military installation and ownership returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- November 1, 2011 Fort Monroe was declared a National Monument Park and opened on November 4, 2011.
The current population of non-military civilians is composed of senior citizens living in the renovated Chamberlain Hotel and anyone that will rent houses and apartments inside the old fort. Rental property has only just begun and so precise numbers are currently not available.
Fort Monroe National Monument Park is open to the public as renovations of 170 buildings continue. Housing quarters within the old fort area are available as rental property. The historical value of Fort Monroe is priceless and tourists from around the world now have the opportunity to learn the story of where exploration began and how it progressed and survived through colonial years to become one of the 50 United States of America.