Monday, July 14, 2008

Fort Sewall, Marblehead, Mass.

Fort Sewall
N/E end of Front St.
Marblehead, Mass.

Originally a part of the Town of Salem, by 1622 fisherman were making use of Marblehead harbor and its surroundings. The first settlers arrived here in 1629 and soon established their own community. Years later, still seeking to become fully independent of Salem and looking to provide for their own defense, it was determined to build fortifications on what was then called Gale's Head. In 1644 the General Court provided two cannon and some ammunition and a Fort of simple earthwork construction was built.

Due to the fear of French raiders, the Fort was expanded into the size and layout that we find today. This work was completed in 1742. By the time of the American Revolution the fort had a few cannon, with some powder and it had a small garrison. But it was during the War of 1812 that Fort Sewall played in its most important, or at least its most famous, role.

On Sunday April 3, 1814 the U.S.S. Constitution was being closely pursued by two British frigates, the Tenedos and the Endymion. Outgunned by the combined firepower of the two vessels, the Captain of "Old Ironsides" chose the better part of valor and sailed into Marblehead harbor, under the protective guns of the Fort. The famous fighting ship was saved to fight yet another day.

It was in that same year (1814) that the Fort was named after Marblehead resident and Chief Justice of Massachusetts, Samuel Sewall. In 1860, with the outbreak of the Civil War and facing a new enemy, the town appropriated money to again make needed repairs to the old fort. Along with funds from the U.S. government the work was completed and the Fort was manned by men from Massachusetts.

In 1922 custody of Fort Sewall was given over to the Town of Marblehead for the creation of a public park. The cannon and the gun emplacements are now long gone. What you will find instead is a paved walkway around the "bowl" of the Fort, with benches for seating. Some of the offices and guard rooms remain, but entrance to the lower magazines is blocked off.

The park is open from dawn to dusk, providing an excellent view of Marblehead harbor. There are restrooms located on site, but parking is limited.

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