Native Americans had been fortifying themselves in both wood and stone long before the arrival of Europeans, and continued to do so. Iroquois towns,
surrounded by double or triple wooden palisades and other defenses, were referred to as castles by Europeans. The Narragansett of Rhode Island built
several forts, including an elaborate wooden fort in the Great Swamp, which, in 1675, was destroyed by the colonists, who took heavy casualties in doing
so. Another impressive Narragansett fort was the stone fort known as Queen’s Fort. Both these fortresses show evidence that native peoples incorporated
European ideas about fortification into their own military tradition.
English settlers came from a country where fortresses were relatively little used. Most British American cities were originally unfortified or lightly fortified,
which gave them greater geographic flexibility as opposed to being confined in heavy fortifications. Among the few exceptions were New York (originally
Dutch), Charles Town, and Savannah.
Continental Europeans were experienced in fortress building, and they constructed the most impressive strongholds in North America. The great stone
fortress of San Marcos at the Spanish town of St. Augustine was built from 1672 to 1687 on the site of previous wooden forts to protect Spanish Florida
from English aggression. San Marcos was built in the classic square shape, with bastions extending from the corners to enable gunners to attack
besiegers at any point. It held dozens of cannons and hundreds of soldiers, and withstood attacks from James Moore in 1702 and James Oglethorpe in
One of the few early attempts to build an elaborate, European-style fortress in British North America was Old Saybrook, built during the 1630s. The
engineer Lion Gardiner led the project under the governor of Connecticut, John Winthrop Jr. The fortress was never completed.
The French were the great fortress builders of colonial America. France had the best engineers and the most advanced techniques. British forts were built
somewhat haphazardly, with little central direction. Until the eighteenth century, French forts followed lines south and west from the mouth of the St.
Lawrence, south and west through the Great Lakes, and down the Mississippi.
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