Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Fort William and Mary

Fort William and Mary was a colonial defensive post at New Castle, New Hampshire. First fortified in 1632 on the island of New Castle at the mouth of the Piscataqua River estuary, the fort guarded access to the harbor at Portsmouth. In the American Revolution the fort witnessed the first act of open rebellion in New Hampshire. On December 14, 1774 a local mob of several hundred from the Portsmouth area, led by John Langdon, stormed the post and seized the powder, which was distributed through several New Hampshire towns for the use of their militia. This action was duplicated around this time in many of the 13 colonies. Thus, the William and Mary incident can be viewed as typical.

The 1774 raid

Fort William and Mary was the only military post in the Portsmouth area, and was normally used only to store supplies and during militia training or drills. But, as tensions increased before the revolutionary war
Lord North's ministry had cautioned the colonial governors to secure arms, powder, and shot. Accordingly, in the summer of 1774 Governor John Wentworth installed a small garrison to guard it. Then on October 19, King George forbade the export of arms and powder to America. Like North's orders, this was kept confidential, but word of it reached the colonies.

The port at Boston had been closed and the city occupied. The Portsmouth Committees of Safety and Correspondence were aware that powder and shot had been seized elsewhere, including a recent action in Rhode Island. There were rumors that additional naval and troop support were expected from Boston, and might be used to expand the regular army's occupation. Then on December 13, Paul Revere brought word that the rumors of expected troops were true.

The next day, John Langdon made his way through Portsmouth with a drummer. When he had collected a crowd, he spoke to them. About 400 then became a mob that went with him to take the powder from the Fort. A single volley rang from the fort. and was answered by some shots from the crowd, but there were no injuries. They stormed into the fort, quickly overwhelming the garrison of six. Breaking into the magazine, they removed about 100 barrels of powder.

One day later, additional rebel forces came from throughout the colony, led by John Sullivan. The first surrounded the governor's home, but violence was avoided there, based on his giving in to their demands. That evening December 15, they returned to the fort, and removed all of the arms and supplies and some cannons.


Despite his assurances, Governor Wentworth had asked Boston for help, and the frigate Scarborough arrived on December 19 to assure his control with 40 guns and 100 marines. But, by the summer of 1775, the governor and his family had to take refuge in the fort. Finally giving up, the British dismantled the fort and took any remaining equipment back to Boston, along with Governor Wentworth. The captured supplies were later used by New Hampshire's forces in the Siege of Boston.

Fort Constitution

The earthworks were later used in the construction of Fort Constitution as a part of the harbor defenses for Portsmouth. It was manned and expanded during the
War of 1812 and the Civil War. The site is now the New Hampshire Fort Constitution State Park, and is open to the public.

External links