For almost 200 years, the U.S. Army was a good steward of Fort Monroe, but the transition to its new civilian use requires intensive planning to ensure that the fort is carefully preserved and skillfully adapted. The Fort Monroe Authority is leading the way. On November 1, 2011, President Barack Obama named the fort a National Monument – a key strategy to preserve the fortress with the National Park Service.
Fort Monroe has long been recognized for its military heritage associated with Robert E. Lee (who helped build the fort) and Jefferson Davis (who was imprisoned there following the war). But the fort has an underappreciated heritage related to the origins and ending of slavery in America. In 1619, the first slave ship to arrive in the English-speaking New World deposited its cargo of enslaved human beings where Fort Monroe now stands. In 1861, as the Civil War raged, Shepard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend – enslaved African Americans – sought protection at Fort Monroe, a Union stronghold. Union General Benjamin Butler declared them “contraband” of war. As word spread of the freedom seekers at Fort Monroe, more than 500,000 enslaved people followed in the footsteps of Mallory, Baker, and Townsend, leading to one of our nation’s most extraordinary – and until now, overlooked – chapters, and heralding the end of slavery in America.
- Prepare and implement detailed plans for conserving Fort Monroe’s outstanding scenic, natural, architectural, and cultural assets.
- Encourage sustainable economic development strategies so that Fort Monroe remains a vital community where people live, work, and visit.
Written by Jessica Pumphrey, Team Member
As we prepare for the long Memorial Day weekend, I wanted to share a fun activity for you and your family to enjoy. On Saturday, May 24 the Fort Monroe Authority and The Contraband Historical Society will host the 153rd anniversary of the “Contraband Decision” at Cannon Park. This daylong celebration is in honor of the three men who freed themselves by escaping to Fort Monroe on May 23, 1861 and asking General Benjamin Butler to allow them to stay at the fort. On May 24, 1861 General Butler agreed to allow them to stay as so-called “contraband of war” at Fort Monroe and work for their freedom. Their courage inspired other enslaved African-Americans to seek freedom behind Union lines. By the end of the Civil War some 10,000 people found freedom by way of Fort Monroe.
We encourage all those in the area to come out and enjoy this important day in our American history. Events include living history tours, children’s activities at the Casemate museum, dramatic readings, and more!
For more information, visit the Fort Monroe Authority website.
Today, is a great day for Fort Monroe! Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has approved the Fort Monroe Authority’s master plan to restore and revitalize historic Fort Monroe. The plan, which was developed by renowned international design firm Sasaki & Associates, will preserve key historic structures, conserve open space and ensure public accessibility.
Join us in thanking Governor McDonnell for his leadership in approving the Fort Monroe Authority’s master plan, a key step to ensuring that we are able to protect and properly interpret Fort Monroe as one of our nation’s major landmarks in African-American heritage. The fort’s restoration honors our past and opens doors for a dynamic new future at this iconic historic place.
Last week, Governor Bob McDonnell presented his proposed FY 2015/16 biennial budget to the General Assembly, with a projected $12.9 million for Fort Monroe restoration and revitalization. The budget also authorizes $22.5 million in bonds to be issued to the Fort Monroe Authority specifically to assist with necessary repairs of historic buildings at Fort Monroe.
Governor McDonnell’s financial support is the first of many important steps in securing sustainability at Fort Monroe. In addition to this commitment, we hope Governor McDonnell will approve the FMA’s master plan, which will create a self-sustaining community at Fort Monroe. This plan strikes a reasonable balance between historic preservation and compatible change, and we support it fully.
Please join us in urging Governor McDonnell’s approval of the Fort Monroe Authority’s master plan. Let’s secure a future for the fort that is as rich as its past.
The Fort Monroe Authority has achieved an important milestone. On October 24, 2013, the Authority’s Board of Trustees approved the master plan prepared by Sasaki Associates. Now the master plan goes to Richmond for Governor McDonnell’s final approval. Click here to review Sasaki’s presentation to the Board of Trustees.
Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, wrote a strong letter supporting approval of the master plan. Ms. Kilpatrick has been an essential leader in the 8-year effort to preserve and protect historic Fort Monroe following the Army’s decision to vacate the military post. Her letter explains the layers of preservation-based protections now in place for historic resources at Fort Monroe. Click here to review the programmatic agreement, memorandum of understanding, and design standards which protect Fort Monroe.
The National Trust supported approval of the Authority’s master plan. Our letter and testimony during the October 24 public meeting noted the importance of moving forward to rehabilitate and utilize the 180 historic structures within the National Historic Landmark site.
William E. Lowry on December 14, 2012
I was a member of the CONARC Band at Ft. Monroe from c. 1970 to 1972. I played French Horn and I'm trying to see if there might be photos of the band at that time. Any information you might share would be most welcome. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elisa on October 13, 2012
My husband and I visited Fort Monroe this afternoon. I also think it's a treasure that has fortunately been declared a national monument. I see a lot of potential to develop it into a national park in the future as it has so many ammenities. I too believe the land can be utilized for many uses for the public appreciation of history as well as outdoor recreation.
Emma on September 25, 2012
I love Fort Monroe, it is my favorite place to walk, jog, handout with my grandsons and enjoy the outdoor concerts. I am always seeing something amazing there, such as dolphins, giant turtles, super large tankers, submarines, birds feeding and just the beauty of it. I would love to see a more extensive area of upscale hotels
Rob Nieweg, Arlington, VA on June 09, 2012
When I was a boy, my grandfather and I would sit along the seawall to watch oceangoing vessels pass Fort Monroe. He was a maritime engineer who had sailed around the world. We now know that he made port in Norfolk in January 1915 on the Membland, a cargo ship torpedoed in February 1915 on the North Sea. Today, I lead the National Trust team that is working, with many partners, to preserve the National Historic Landmark. I’ve met many people with personal connections to the fortress, including those descended from the ten thousand women, men, and children who emancipated themselves at Fort Monroe. Everyone should visit.
Audrey P. Davis, Washington, DC on June 08, 2012
As a child, my father would drive to Fort Monroe and tell me about my great, great, grandfather William Roscoe Davis. In 1861, William R. Davis was one of the first contrabands to arrive at Fort Monroe, and he became superintendent of Contrabands. Fort Monroe is a beautiful site, and a place to contemplate issues regarding freedom, race and identity. My job involves preserving a contraband site in Alexandria, Va. My Contraband heritage inspires me daily.