Fortress Monroe, circa 1861
On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation establishing Fort Monroe as our nation’s newest national monument. The site, which is considered to be the beginning point for slavery in what would become the United States, was also one place where the demise of slavery began. Dutch traders landed there in 1619, bringing with them the first enslaved Africans. Later, in the early days of the Civil War, three escaped slaves made their way to the fort, where they were granted refuge. The fort remained a Union stronghold despite its location within Confederate territory. Over time, about 10,000 escaped slaves made the dangerous journey to Fort Monroe seeking asylum. Some historians believe it was this exodus that inspired President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which officially freed all slaves in territories that were in rebellion against the Union.
Fort Monroe is located on a small peninsula in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, near where Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Because the British had sailed freely into Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812 on their way to ransack Washington, DC, the federal government decided to fortify the peninsula. Construction of the fort and its surrounding moat was completed in 1834, built in part by enslaved laborers. After the Civil War, Fort Monroe served as the place of imprisonment for Jefferson Davis, the deposed president of the Confederacy. It remained an active military base until 2005.
In establishing the Fort Monroe National Monument, President Obama used his power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to preserve significant natural or historic landmarks on federal lands. The presidential proclamation capped a lobbying effort by descendants of the slaves freed at Fort Monroe and others to have the site turned into a national park.
Image credit: Courtesy of the National Park Service
- Presidential Proclamation—Establishment of the Fort Monroe National Monument
Read President Obama’s proclamation establishing the Fort Monroe National Monument.
(Source: whitehouse.gov, November 1, 2011)
- Fort Monroe National Monument
Visit the official National Park Service Web site for the Fort Monroe National Monument. Check out the “Photos and Multimedia” link on the left of the page to see photos of the fort and to watch a video of the Oval Office ceremony at which President Obama established the monument.
(Source: National Park Service; accessed November 30, 2011)
- Obama Makes Former Slave Haven a National Monument
This article provides details about Fort Monroe and the presidential proclamation that established the fort as a national monument; includes photos from the Oval Office signing ceremony.
(Source: Reuters, November 1, 2011)
- Fort Monroe National Park to Be Led by a Longtime Fan
Read about the person selected by the National Park Service to be the first superintendent of the Fort Monroe National Monument.
(Source: Hamptonroads.com, November 2, 2011)
- Fort Monroe’s Lasting Place in History
Learn more about the history of Fort Monroe by reading this informative article.
(Source: Smithsonian.com, July 5, 2011)