Story by John Thurber
Images from Maine Historical Society
This Exhibit Contains 10 Items
Built at the confluence of the Kennebec and Sabasticook rivers, over twenty years before the American Revolutionary War, Fort Halifax predates the birth of our nation. The fort was commissioned by Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, but named for the Earl of Halifax, who worked in the Treasury Department in England.
Being part of the Massachusetts colony, Maine was a buffer between the French controlled Canada and the British colonies in America. As an outpost in the wilderness of Maine, Fort Halifax was built at the outset of the conflict now called the French and Indian war.
Over two hundred and thirty years later the fort was reconstructed after a severe flood on April 1, 1987. The rebuilding of the fort included a number of original timbers and has been preserved for future generations as an important landmark in central Maine.
Built in 1754, Fort Halifax's location was chosen by Major General John Winslow. The site evolved into the community that still bears the general's name. Major General John Winslow was born on May 27, 1702 in Plymouth Massachusetts. His great-grand father, Edward Winslow came to the New World on the Mayflower and went on to become the Governor of Massachusetts. General Winslow was given command of the Kennebec Expedition in 1754 with the main purpose of building fortifications along this potential invasion route.
General Winslow's initial plan of the fort had to be discontinued by the commanding officer Captain William Lithgow, because of the limited manpower, expense, and the war between the English colonies and the French. The fort was made smaller to better suit the small force that manned the new outpost, which would command the river traffic, as any invasion from Canada would have to utilize waterways to cover the large distance.
Major General John Winslow was born on May 27, 1702 in Plymouth Massachusetts. His great-grand father, Edward Winslow came to the new world on the Mayflower and went on to become the Governor of Massachusetts. The town of Winslow took the name in 1777. General Winslow was given command of the Kennebec Expedition in 1754 with the main purpose of building fortifications along this potential invasion route.
Fort Halifax was not fully complete until 1756, two years after General Winslow started construction on the fort. In the winter of 1756 the fort was finally made weather-tight. Many hardships were endured during the construction phase. The manning of the fort was difficult; in addition the harsh winters made for brutal living conditions. Another adversity to overcome was the fact that the eighteen-mile supply chain from Fort Western and Fort Richmond in the winter was slow and arduous.
The French forces never attacked Fort Halifax, but several Penobscot Indian scouts were reported to have been seen, and the Penobscots attacked a small party of wood gatherers. The majority of the battles in the French and Indian War took place in the Hudson and Ohio River valleys. Fort Halifax successfully served its purpose as a deterrent to invasion and was manned for ten years after it was built.
A letter from Captain Lithgow to Governor Shirley has been preserved in the Massachusetts state archives in Boston. The letter is an urgent request for supplies that were desperately needed during the winter of 1757. The request was granted and relief supplies were sent along with a number of reinforcement troops. Captain Lithgow commanded the fort for twelve years until the last muster was assembled in 1766.
Following its decommission Fort Halifax served as a way station for General Benedict Arnold on his failed expedition to Quebec during the American Revolution. The fort was used for a number of non-military functions in subsequent years. It was slowly dismantled to build the growing settlement and the single surviving blockhouse was used as a boathouse, a storehouse, a cow barn, and a hencoop.
From 1924 until 1966 the Daughters of the American Revolution preserved the site of Fort Halifax. The Maine State Parks and Recreation Commission maintained the fort for its historical significance. In 1987 the Kennebec River overflowed its banks in a severe flood and the single remaining blockhouse was washed down river. Twenty-two original pine timbers were recovered, some of them found thirty-five miles away. The timbers were treated and used to reconstruct the blockhouse. The Maine Historic Preservation Commission along with many generous private donations aided in the reconstruction, and in the fall of 1988 the new blockhouse was complete and dedicated in a ceremony that drew hundreds of onlookers.