Sitting high on the hill above the Potomac River is a strong walled stone fort that has held a place in history for more than 260 years. Fort Frederick’s construction began in 1756, built with large stone walls backed by earth with four bastions. The fort was funded by money allocated by the legislature of Maryland and approved by Governor Sharpe. The fort was built to protect local settlers from attack and became a staging area for forces in the French and Indian War. The British 60th Regiment of Foot as well as local Militia Garrisoned the fort. The commanders of the fort regularly sent ranging parties out to prevent attacks on the fort. The fort itself never sustained a direct attack during the French and Indian War or Pontiac’s Rebellion.
During the American Revolution, Fort Frederick was used as a prisoner of war camp by the Continental Army and housed as many as 1,000 British soldiers and Hessian (German) Mercenary troops hired by the British. The prisoners came form the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Yorktown. After the truce was finalized, the British and Hessian soldiers were freed to return to their homelands. The fort would lay abandoned and the land here the fort stood would be sold in 1791.
As the American Civil War began, Fort Frederick again became a strategic interest for the Union Army. The fort overlooked the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, Both would be important for the movement of troops and supplies in the area of Washington DC. The First Maryland Infantry would occupy the area around the fort, On Christmas Day, 1861, Company H of the First Maryland Infantry would fight a Skirmish against invading Confederate Troops. The First Maryland would leave the area in February 1862. In October 1862, the 12th Illinois Cavalry would take residence of the area for a short time. After 1862, the military usefulness of the fort ended.
In 1922, the State of Maryland purchased the property where Fort Frederick stood, crumbling. Thanks to archaeological investigation and recover of some of the original plans the fort which was still standing in most places could be restored. In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps, part of the recovery from the Great Depression rebuilt the fort and garrison buildings inside the fort.
Today the fort is used for historic education about the lives of soldiers and prisoners of war during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Every Spring Fort Frederick hosts a market fair where people can see artisans and items bought and traded in the 18th century. On the day I visited, the living history staff were teaching children about the game Cricket and, as part of Labor Day weekend, they were showing how the walls of the fort were constructed, even giving the kids hands on experience building their own wall.