Fort Monroe is located at Old Point Comfort (now Hampton, Virginia), where two British privateer ships carrying the first "20-odd" Angolan Africans to Virginia entered the colony in August 1619. The Portuguese, who were waging war in Africa, enslaved many of their captives and shipped them to Mexico for labor. Privateers often intercepted these shipping lines and pirated the human cargo. These captive Africans brought different cultures, religions and foods to the Chesapeake Bay area that today form the basis of American society and culture.
When Fort Monroe was under construction (1819 -34), enslaved African Americans hired from local plantations performed much of the labor. Early in the Civil War at Fort Monroe, Major General Benjamin Butler made his famous "contraband" decision whereby self-emancipated African Americans who reached Union lines would not be returned to slavery. A large refugee population settled near the fort, providing recruits for two regiments of cavalry and one light artillery battery organized there. In 1864, the Army of the James was formed at Fort Monroe, including several regiments of U.S. Colored Troops. Abolitionist Harriet Tubman worked here as matron of the Contraband Hospital as the war ended. The regional headquarters of the Freedmen's Bureau was established here after the war; its superintendent, Brigadier General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, later founded Hampton University. One of that school's most famous graduates, Booker T. Washington, spent a summer earning tuition money at an Old Point Comfort restaurant. Two African Americans, John B. Jones and William R. Davis, served as lighthouse keepers at Fort Monroe. In 1935, the federal government established a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Fort Monroe for young black men.
The fort remained garrisoned until September 2011, when it was decommissioned and returned to the possession of the Commonwealth of Virginia under a 2005 BRAC decision. Fort Monroe is the fourth known fortification to have been built at Old Point Comfort since the settlement of Jamestown, and the newly expanded historic district (as of June, 2012) has the potential for significant archaeological resources, including prehistoric cultural deposits.
Fort Monroe is the largest stone fort built in the U.S, and one of the oldest military posts under continuous use by the Army (1819-2011). The Casement Museum is located within the fort and explains the history of the fort, the Coast Artillery Corps, and the Civil War.
Geographical and Contact Information
20 Bernard Road
Fort Monroe, Virginia