Fort George, located in Castine, Maine, was built by the British Navy during the American Revolution. They constructed the fort in 1779 and then abandoned it only five years later. It became the site of an unsuccessful siege by the American Revolutionary forces. The British forces did reestablish Fort George for a short time during the War of 1812. The fort is a basic, square-shaped structure about 200 feet long on any side. Today, all that remains of the fort are the earthen palisades and some rebuilt walls. There is a small park on the site featuring a display canon, interpretive panels, and a playing field. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
The site of Fort George was
settled by various explorers at earlier times in history. The Dutch landed there
twice, the Spanish once, as well as many English explorers of the New World,
including Captain John Smith and Miles Standish. In 1779, during the American Revolution, the
British forces sent a contingent to the area to build a fort. The fort was built on the highest point of
the peninsula facing out into Penobscot Bay. The strategy behind constructing
Fort George was to protect the British interests in the Bay of Fundy and Nova
Scotia by sea, profit from customs duties collected from ships sailing up the
river, and to prevent enemy land action against lower Canada.
The British naval forces that
arrived in June 1779 to begin construction were led by General Frances McLean
and Captain Henry Mowatt. They brought 750 land forces and 3 sloops of war with
them. When the Americans learned that the British had started construction on a
fort at the entrance to Penobscot Bay, they established a band of soldiers to
take it over. This fort would cut off the Boston merchants from one of their
best sources of lumber – an economic catastrophe. Over a month after the
British arrived, Commodore Dudley Saltonstall and Brigadier General Solomon Lovell
of the American forces led a contingent of 37 ships equipped with 328 guns and
2,000 men. Unfortunately, the soldiers that were put together for this mission
were largely inexperienced. Almost 1,500
of them were pressed into service. The Penobscot Expedition’s (the largest amphibious
expedition of the war) plan of attack was made by civilian men. The leaders refused to work together, the
troops had received inadequate training, and these factors led to considerable
delay. The British successfully defended the fort. The Americans, however,
suffered a humiliating defeat at this stage of the Revolution.
By the time it was over, two of
the leaders were court-martialed. Commodore Saltonstall was tried aboard the
Frigate Deane and subsequently
dismissed from service. Paul Revere, the
famous Bostonian who warned of the British advance at the very beginning of the
Revolution, was one of the men whose reputation was tarnished by military charges
of disobedience and incompetence.
The British evacuated Castine in
January 1784 and abandoned Fort George. Thirty years later, they re-occupied the
site for a short time during the War of 1812. This time, the British held down the fort
without any opposition from the American forces. They were able to collect
customs duties from the ships traveling through the Bay and when the war was
over, they took all of the money with them.
The fort was abandoned a second time in April 1815 and later destroyed
by the town. In 1940, the state of Maine acquired the property. Researchers
began archaeological and historical examinations at the site and found numerous
artifacts from the war and even earlier periods. Parts of the fort were
restored in the early 1960s. Today, the remains of Fort George are used as a park
and playing field by local residents.