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The Bluff at Fort Frederick
The Bluff at Fort Frederick

(Courtesy of Beaufort County Planning Department, 2007)


Old Fort, Beaufort, S. C. (Postcard)
Old Fort, Beaufort, S. C. (Postcard)
Fort Frederick as it appeared in 1941. 
By Palmetto Studios
Beaufort District Collection

Fort Frederick
(c1726 - c1758)


Grace Morris Cordial
Historical Resources Coordinator

Beaufort County Library






Beaufort Needs a New Fort!

According to Verner W. Crane in The Southern Frontier, the English needed to protect its fledging colonies in America as part of its overall imperial defensive strategy.  The threat was two-fold:  other European nations with imperial aspirations, namely, the Spanish to the south, and the French in the interior beyond the Appalachian Mountains, as well as the threat from within America:  the numerous bands of Native Americans, who allied themselves with European nations as seemingly best for their particular tribal interests on any given day. 


The intrigue between the Europeans and Native Americans led to the Yamassee uprising in 1715, part of a broader Native American reaction to European incursions.  By 1715, the English knew that a new system of defenses along the southwestern border of the Carolinas was absolutely critical to their hopes for lucrative American colonies.  Indeed, a crucial financial issue for the South Carolina General Assembly during this period was how to pay the expenses of defense and how to best manage the Indians and benefit from trade with them. 


During the period 1716 to into the mid-1720s, three key forts for defense and trade were established:  Fort Moore, near present-day Augusta, Georgia; Fort Congaree, near present-day Columbia at the intersection of the Cherokee and Catawba Indian trade paths: and “Beaufort Fort,” a small installation designed to protect the inland passage to Florida and St. Helena Sound.  Unfortunately, these forts proved to be of little use against the other European powers and too widely spaced from each other to be of much use against Indian raids. 


Extract of map in Crane's Southern Frontier


As early as 1716, tiny Beaufort Fort was garrisoned with 28 soldiers, supplemented by some friendly Tuscarora Indians.  Beaufort Fort had two scout-boats one of which was to patrol the inland passage searching for hostile Indians (and runaway slaves) while the other was to remain at the fort on watch for trouble.  In the event of an emergency, such as capturing a runaway slave, both boats could be launched.  By 1723 Beaufort Fort, described by David D. Wallace as “a trifling little fort erected at Beaufort,” was in a decaying state.  Although appropriated £400 to see to repairs, Beaufort Fort continued in its lagging condition.  The threat of Spanish and Native American incursion on what the English viewed as their property continued, although with some waxing and waning of the intensity of the immediate threat. 


Beginning in 1726, the Yamassee went on the warpath again attacking isolated plantations and traders, including an attack on Alexander Dawson’s plantation on Hilton Head Island and at “Bloody Point” on Daufuskie Island.  The inadequacies of Beaufort Fort were apparent by this point and the plans to build a newer fort about three miles south of the settlement at Beaufort Town, commenced.  It took five years before funding was found for the new fort. 


The replacement to Beaufort Fort was subsequently named Fort Frederick.  However, Fort Frederick has been called a number of different names throughout its long history.  Besides Fort Frederick, it has been referred to as “Fort Prince Frederick,” “Spanish Fort,” and “Old Fort,” and even “Smiths Fort.” 


Who the Fort Was Named For
(Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1707-1751)

Fort Frederick was named for Prince Frederick Louis, son of George II of England and his wife, Carolina of Ansbach.  Prince Frederick Louis never ascended to the throne because he died in 1751 before own his father’s death in 1760.  Frederick Louis’s son became King George III in 1760. 


Building Fort Frederick


The South Carolina Commons House of Assembly appropriated monies for the construction of a new defensive work and barracks on the Port Royal River in 1731.  [Now called the Beaufort River.]  The Commons House wanted to build a fort to control the access to the inland passage to Florida thereby thwarting the imperial plans of the Spanish and French.  The scout boats were expected to patrol the Port Royal Sound and the mouth of the Savannah River and even to range further southward when needed.  Three years later, the General Assembly had set aside £2000 for “the commissioners on the fort and barracks building at Port Royal to be paid when it shall be finished and approved by the General Assembly.” 


Though Fort Frederick was intended to protect the entrance to Port Royal Sound against potential Spanish, French, and Native American attacks, its usefulness as a defensive structure was minimal due to poor selection of the actual site for the fort.  Militarily, Fort Frederick was vulnerable to attack on the west by higher ground; on the east, the walls almost ran into the Port Royal River.  Although local legend suggested that it had been built by the Spanish, a myth perpetuated into the early 20th century by postcards, Fort Frederick never had any direct connection with Spain neither as a builder of the fort nor as an attacker on the fort.  Indeed, little Fort Frederick served as little more than a storehouse during the majority of the years it was in limited use. 

The fort was built of tabby, a building material of lime, sand, and oyster shells. It was small in size, being 125 feet by 75 feet.  The walls were five feet high and four to five feet thick at the top.  It may have had a moat a moat but since that part of the fort is now submerged underwater, this is speculation.   Along the eastern wall facing the Port Royal River was a battery of cannons.  Inside the walls were at least two buildings, a magazine costing less than £100 in which to store munitions and provisions and a barracks for the men to sleep in.  Today the ruins of Fort Frederick are purported to be the oldest tabby structure in South Carolina.


View of the fort wall from the river side. Close-up of tabby wall showing oyster shells in the structure.
Tabby walls at Ft. Frederick

(Photographs by

Michael Broam,

Beaufort County Library Staff)

During the Port Royal Sound Survey, 1997, a barrel well was discovered about 56 feet from the north side of the fort.  The date of the installation of the barrel well is undetermined so it could well date to the original use of Fort Frederick (1730s), the plantation period (1785-1860), or the Federal occupation of the site (1862-1866).  Further excavation is required.

Manning Fort Frederick

Personnel at Fort Frederick varied from two militiamen to almost one hundred British regulars.  Staffing was dependent upon the perceived security threat.  Between 1734 and 1736, Fort Frederick was garrisoned by a unit of British regulars who were later transferred to Fort Prince George, another frontier defensive installation about 35 miles north of Savannah.  From 1736 to 1738, provincial soldiers manned the facility. 

Six provincial soldiers were stationed at Fort Frederick in 1736 according to records published in the Journal of the Commons House of Assembly.  The commander of Fort Frederick in January 1737 was John Chevillete. His position as commander would end about two months later because the General Assembly eliminated the position of commander as “unnecessary.”  Nevertheless, Fort Frederick would continue to be manned, albeit sparsely and sporadically.  The Council Chamber report of 1 April 1737, noted in the Journal entry for December 14, 1737, states “that Capt. Lyford with a Serjeant [sic] and three

  Black and white photograph of the fort,  courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
(Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History)

and three Men under his Command be continued to take care of Fort Frederick and the Magazine and Stores there.”  The gunner (at an annual salary of £150 per year).and three soldiers (monthly payment £8 or £72 per man per year) were enough staff to “take proper Care of the Stores and Artillery there.” Shortly thereafter, the provision allotment was increased by £3 per man.  It was also agreed to provide £25 per month for a doctor to take care of the men stationed at the fort.  Up to £60 could be spent purchasing medicines for the men.

Among the stores housed at Fort Frederick were scarlet cloth, 100 barrels of rice, 100 bushels of pease, and 500 barrels of corn.  Three hogsheads of Rum, a barrel of sugar, and a suit of colors were also inventoried for the Commons House of Assembly.  “The Estimate of the Charges on the operation of Fort Frederick” between 26 March, 1738 until 25 March, 1739 was £371, wages and provisions. 


A few men stationed at Fort Frederick were mentioned by name in the Journal of the Commons House of Assembly: Col. Alexander Hext, Mr. Dart, Mr. Levingston, John Chevillete, John Floyd, and Capt. Lyford.

British regulars returned to Fort Frederick in 1738 and stayed until approximately 1744.  After 1744, Fort Frederick was only intermittently garrisoned.  Four years later, Governor James Glen derisively described Fort Frederick to the Duke of Beaufort in a letter dated October 10, 1748 as: 


”Some years ago two assemblymen were, by vote, empowered to make a fort at Port Royal and for that end received about 1100£ sterling of the public money.  It is injudiciously situated, monstrously constructed and made of oyster shells, and is called a Fort, but a garden fence is as strong.  It is really worse than nothing, for it may tempt ignorant people to take shelter in it in case of an enemy, and it will certainly prove a snare to those that go, whereas in case they are not able to make a stand, they may have a chance to escape if they betake themselves to the woods.”


"Ruins of Old Spanish Fort near Beaufort, S.C."  

"Ruins of Old Spanish Fort near Beaufort, S.C." 

Postcard by C.T. American Art, A-86613

Beaufort District Collection    

Fort Frederick was replaced by Fort Lyttleton in 1758.  Fort Frederick was only used as a military installation for approximately 20 years.  


Other Uses of the Property


John Joyner bought the property in 1785. His grandson, John Joyner Smith, (1790-1872), inherited the property upon his grandfather’s death in 1796. Smith grew sea island cotton on the seven hundred acres of “Old Fort” Plantation. In 1850, Smith harvested sixty-five bags of sea island cotton using the labor of 130 slaves.

During the Civil War, Old Fort Plantation was confiscated by the US Federal government. In 1862, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, a unit of former slaves and freedmen under the command of Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson were stationed at Smith’s Old Fort Plantation. The Union forces referred to the camp of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers as Camp Saxton. In a diary entry dated December 1, 1862 shortly after his arrival in South Carolina, Col. Higginson wrote:

Yesterday was the first soft & relaxing Southern day, with a haze like ours in May. Gen. Saxton has lent me a house & I ride through the plantation to a strange old fort of which there are two here, like those in St Augustine built by a French explorer about the time of the Pilgrims …They are built of a curious combination of oyster shells & cement, called Lupia & are still hard & square, save where waterworn. One is before this house & a mere low redoubt.

  "Old Spanish Fort Grove, " reproduction of Engraving by Crosscup & West, Philadelphia


Reproduction of Engraving by Crosscup
& West, Philadelphia

Beaufort District Collection

Extract from Plat of Smiths Plantation, showing the "Spanish Fort", c1862
The United States government purchased about 127 acres along the west bank of the Beaufort River in 1945 to erect a naval hospital at an estimated total cost of $7.2 to $10 million.  According to the Beaufort Gazette issue of August 2, 1946, the 300 bed hospital building was to be sited “within 200 yards of the soil where the original Spanish settlement was made.  In colonial days, Port Royal’s residential area was clustered about the spot.”  The newspaper was perpetuating a commonly held fallacy that Fort Frederick had a connection to the Spanish.   

Extract from Plat of Smiths Plantation, showing the "Spanish Fort", c1862

Beaufort District Collection

"'Old Fort,' Beaufort, S. C., Built originally by English, early in the 17th century." Postcard, Beaufort District Collection   "The Spanish Fort at the Old Grove, Beaufort, S.C." Postcard published by Charles G. Luther,  Beaufort District Collection
"'Old Fort,' Beaufort, S. C., Built originally by English, early in the 17th century." Postcard, Beaufort District Collection   "The Spanish Fort at the Old Grove, Beaufort, S.C." Postcard published by Charles G. Luther,  Beaufort District Collection
"Old Spanish Fort, Beaufort, S. C.," Postcard by H.L. Woehler, 1777, Beaufort District Collection   "Old Fort, Beaufort, S. C." Postcard by Palmetto Studios, 1941
"Old Spanish Fort, Beaufort, S. C.," Postcard by H.L. Woehler, 1777, Beaufort District Collection   "Old Fort, Beaufort, S. C." Postcard by Palmetto Studios, 1941
Beaufort District Collection


At the time of the United States government’s purchase, there were approximately fifteen late 19th and early 20th century houses and outbuildings on the site that had to be razed before construction of the Naval Hospital could begin.  As we know from the narrative above, during the colonial days the area near Fort Frederick was as abandoned as the fort itself had been. 


The Beaufort Gazette’s Centennial Supplement of April 12, 1997 reported that between 1946 and 1949, 700 workers poured 20,000 cubic yards of concrete, laid 4 million bricks, and erected 3500 tons of steel to build the hospital.  The Naval Hospital was dedicated on April 29, 1949. 


An historical marker for Fort Prince Frederick was placed on June 26, 1979 under the auspices of the Beaufort County Historical Society.  The plaque states:


Historical marker at Fort Frederick.  



Fort Frederick

Circa 1735-1758

Named after Frederick Prince of Wales son of George II of England.  One of the largest tabby forts ever built.  It was the main defense of Beaufort until replaced by Fort Lyttleton at Spanish Point.  Fort Lyttleton was destroyed during the Revolutionary War.


(Image courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History)  


Seventeen years later, Penn Center and the Michigan Support Group sponsored a historical marker regarding the Civil War uses of the site.  The front of the plaque describes the scene on Emancipation Day, January 1, 1863, while the reverse side commemorates Camp Saxton.


Fort Frederick is now a Heritage Preserve. 

Section from "Port Royal, South Carolina" (postcard)

Caption in part reads:

Founded in 1873, the town of Port Royal is located between Beaufort and Parris Island. Seven flags have flown over the area, namely Spain, France, England, Scotland, United States and the Confederacy.  Pictured is ... tabby remains of Fort Frederick (1732).

Postcard by Photo Arts, Inc. - 28433

Beaufort District Collection


Section from "Port Royal, South Carolina" (postcard)


Location of Fort Frederick

Fort Frederick is located a short walk towards the Beaufort River from Pinckney Road on the United States Naval Hospital grounds.  The Naval Hospital is located near the junction of Ribaut Road (SC 281) and Lady’s Island Drive (SC 802).

The Department of Natural Resources oversees the preservation of Fort Frederick through its Heritage Trust Program.  Artifact collection, digging and metal detecting are prohibited.  Climbing or walking on the ruins leads to further deterioration of this fragile cultural resource.  The public can gain access to the Fort Frederick site from the Beaufort River or by going through the grounds of the United States Naval Hospital.  Security procedures for entering a military reservation must be followed.  For additional information, please go to the Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve website.  ( 


Sources of Information for the Article

  • “Beaufort: The Original Plan and the Earliest Settlers,” by H.A.M. Smith, South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, vol. 9 (1908), pp. 141-160. 
  • Beaufort County Historical Society Scrapbook, 1979.  On file in the Beaufort District Collection. 
  • Beaufort District Landmarks and Historical Sites by Francis Marion Hutson.  Paper presented before the Beaufort County Historical Society, no date.  On file in the Beaufort District Collection. 
  • "Beaufort Naval Hospital opened in 1949," Beaufort Gazette, April 12, 1997.
  • Colonial Forts of South Carolina, 1670-1775 by Larry E. Ivers, Published for the South Carolina Tricentennial Commission, 1970. 
  • The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Christopher Looby, University of Chicago Press, 2000. 
  • Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve,” website, Accessed Sept. 26, 2007. 
  • “The Forts of Beaufort, Pre-Revolutionary: Why They Were Where They Were When They Were. A Paper Given Before the Beaufort County Historical Society, June 30, 1959, by Howard E. Danner.”  On file in the Beaufort District Collection.
  • "Ground is Broken for Naval Hospital," Beaufort Gazette, August 2, 1946.
  • The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Volume 1: 1514-1861 by Lawrence S. Rowland, Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers, Jr., University of South Carolina Press, c1996.
  • The History of South Carolina (3 vols.) by David Duncan Wallace, American Historical Society, 1934. 
  • Journals of the Commons House of Assembly, 1736 – 1744. 
  • The Last Foray: The South Carolina Planters of 1860: A Sociological Study by Chalmers Gaston Davidson, South Carolina Tricentennial Commission, 1971.
  • National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, (photocopy of submitted documents, 1974).  On file in the Beaufort District Collection.
  • Notes by Grace Morris Cordial, taken from a Beaufort County Library Program on “Fort Frederick and Stoney Creek Battery,” presented by Christopher Judge, Heritage Trust Archaeologist, Department of Natural Resources on Sept. 14, 2005.  The lecture was part of the “Discovering Military Sites Archaeology” series co-sponsored by Beaufort County Planning Department, Beaufort County Parks and Leisure Services, Parris Island Museum and Beaufort County Library.  On file in the Beaufort District Collection vertical file, “Fort Frederick.” 
  • South Carolina Highway Historical Marker Guide, Published by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 2d ed., rev., 1998. 
  • The Southern Frontier, 1670-1732 by Verner W. Crane, Duke University Press, 1928.
  • The Story of Sea Island Cotton by Richard Dwight Porcher and Sarah Frick, Wyrick & Company, 2005.
  • “Underwater Archaeology: The Fort Frederick Barrel Well,” by James D. Spirek, Legacy, vol. 3; #2, (July 1998), pp. 24-25.  On file in the Beaufort District Collection vertical file, “Fort Frederick.”  
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