Fortified Arguments: Fortifications and Competing Spatial Views of Colonial North America

Author: ORCID icon
Humes, Alexander, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Edelson, S. Max, University of Virginia

This study explores the role that fortifications played in colonial America between 1675 and 1763: from several decades after the British arrival in the New World to the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris. This dissertation is framed around four case studies where colonial powers built forts: Saint Simons Island, Georgia; Pemaquid, Maine; Fort Toulouse, Alabama; and Fort Loudoun, Tennessee. Examining these fortifications allows us to ask the following questions: what constituted a fort and what were forts supposed to do in colonial America? While these forts served as trading post, military garrisons, and diplomatic centers at various times, local conditions dictated how these forts were constructed and improved. These conditions included physical characteristics such as whether the fort was on a coastline or far into the continent’s interior and more subjective considerations such as the expectation of attack from an adversary. Local conditions also affected the purpose of a fort. A fort meant purely for military purposes differed in design from one meant to be a trading post or genesis for a new settlement.

This study also shows general trends for each major power in colonial America in how they viewed fortifications in colonization efforts. The purpose, location, and design of British fortifications prior to 1763 reveals the empires’ expansionist nature. Spanish and French fortifications focused on holding the periphery of a central settlement or creating influence with local American Indian populations. Far from passive observers, American Indians took an active role in forts built near their nations. They helped determine where Europeans should build forts and sometimes were the deciding factor in whether a fort would survive. Finally, fortifications were not simply structures, and—as this dissertation will show—forts embodied all that these different peoples hoped, and feared, about the European presence in pre-1763 America.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Fortifications, Pemaquid, Maine, Colonial America, Military History, Fort Toulouse, Alabama, Fort Frederica, Georgia, Fort Loudoun, Tennessee
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