The Battle of Fairhaven, the first naval battle of the war, occurred nearby on May 14, 1775. Shortly after the battle, at the start of the American Revolutionary War, construction began on Fort Phoenix. The fort was engaged in battle several times, including epic events in 1778 and 1814. Today, it is a place where visitors can check out the remnants of the old stronghold or relax at the beach and playground. Fort Phoenix State Reservation was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The site where Fort Phoenix was
built saw the first naval battle of the American Revolution on May 14,
1775. The American forces recaptured two
of their own vessels that the British forces had gained control of the day
before. They also took thirteen
prisoners. The local militia was led by Nathaniel
Pope and Daniel Egery. Shortly after the
skirmish, the town commissioned Captain Benjamin Dillingham and Eleazer
Hathaway to construct a new fort on Nolscot Point. The fort was completed in 1777
and fashioned with eleven cannons. Some
of the cannon used at the fort were captured in an earlier battle in the
In early September 1778, the
British forces devastated the fort during a raid. The cannons, barracks, gun carriages and
magazine were destroyed. The next day, a
young soldier named Major Israel Fearing led a small contingent to the Fort and
repelled the enemies. From that point on, the fort was called “Fort Fearing.” It
was rebuilt and named Fort Phoenix, after the mythical bird who dies and is
reborn from its ashes. The fort was
rebuilt twice more, in 1798 and then again in 1808.
Fort Phoenix came under fire
again during the War of 1812. In 1814,
the British navy tried to force the local militia to give up their
weapons. The Americans fired back.
Eventually, the British ship (HMS Nimrod)
gave up and returned to sea. The fort
continued to operate throughout the Civil War. It was staffed by soldiers who
rotated between Fort Phoenix and the newer Fort Taber in nearby New Bedford. At the beginning of the Civil War, additional
cannons were installed. Five of these 24-pound cannons still exist on the site.
The for was decommissioned in 1876. Fifty
years later (1926), the land was purchased for the town by Lady Fairhaven. She
was the wife of successful engineer Urban H. Broughton of England, and daughter
of the town’s benefactor Henry Huttleston Rogers, an oil tycoon who amassed a
Today, Fort Phoenix is a state
reservation featuring a stretch of sandy beach along Buzzards Bay, with free
parking, a playground for children, and public tennis courts. Visitors can walk along the beach to the old
remnants of the Revolutionary era fort, which includes five cannons built in
the 1820s and several monuments. During
the summer months, the Fairhaven Office of Tourism offers a Fort Phoenix
Minuteman Presentation every Friday morning at 10:00 AM.
There is also a group that
gathers at the fort twice each year (Memorial Day weekend and then again in
September) to re-enact a revolutionary encampment. Visitors can see how the soldiers would have
lived while staying at the fort and waiting to get called into battle. They can watch the militia performs their
drills, cook by campfire, and witness several cannon and musket firing
demonstrations. The highlight of the
event happens at dusk, when the soldiers fire off the 24-pound cannons.