Fort Monroe

20 Bernard Rd, Hampton, VA

NPS Photo



Known also as "Freedom Fortress," Fort Monroe was one of the few military installations in the South not occupied by Confederate forces during the Civil War. As the continuously held Union stronghold to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Fort Monroe played an important role in the conduct of the war in the Eastern Theater and along the Atlantic coast. Fort Monroe, a Third System fortification built between 1819 and 1834, is located in Hampton, Virginia. The site, approximately 565 acres of ground, includes the 63-acre fortress and is both a National Historic Landmark District and a National Monument. Built as the first permanent set of quarters at Fort Monroe in 1819, Quarters One is a large three-story, central block, doublepile residence with flanking, two-story wings. Quarters One is the site of the May 1861 contraband decision by General Benjamin F. Butler.

Enslaved workers of Confederate Colonel Charles Mallory were contracted out to work on nearby Confederate fortifications. On May 23, they sought refuge at Fort Monroe. Butler refused to return them to their owner as stipulated in the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and declared them confiscated property or "Contraband of War." In August of 1861, Congress passed the Confiscation Act providing a de facto ratification of Butler's action. News of this decision spread rapidly throughout the enslaved community and thousands successfully made their way to Fort Monroe where they labored in the defensive preparations in and around the fort. The American Missionary Association was the first Northern organization to aid the contraband. Upon arriving at Fort Monroe in 1861 and thinking of freedom for all and the future role of African Americans, Lewis Lockwood, one of its members, wrote, "On the contraband, under God, perhaps hinges the destiny of this Republic." By the time the War ended in 1865, over 10,000 African Americans had sought refuge at Fort Monroe. Butler's contraband decision placed Fort Monroe as a major starting point on the pathway to the freedom codified in Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. In 1863, a reading of President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation to the contrabands and free blacks proclaimed that the bondsmen who had made their way to Fort Monroe were thereby free forever.



National Park Service

Updated June 7, 2017

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