Lowell National Historical Park Supt. Michael Creasey and Asst. Supt. Peter Aucella have both called attention to the President Obama’s announcement of the newest National Park at Fort Monroe in Virginia, which mentions the historic decision by Lowell’s own General Benjamin F. Butler to declare Southern slaves as contraband of war and “served as a forerunner of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.”—PM
THE WHITE HOUSE, Office of the Press Secretary: For Immediate Release November 1, 2011
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE FORT MONROE NATIONAL MONUMENT BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Known first as “The Gibraltar of the Chesapeake” and later as “Freedom’s Fortress,” Fort Monroe on Old Point Comfort in Virginia has a storied history in the defense of our Nation and the struggle for freedom. Fort Monroe, designed by Simon Bernard and built of stone and brick betweenm1819 and 1834 in part by enslaved labor, is the largest of the Third System of fortifications in the United States. It has been a bastion of defense of the Chesapeake Bay, a stronghold of the Union Army surrounded by the Confederacy, a place of freedom for the enslaved, and the imprisonment site of Chief Blackhawk and the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. It served as the U.S. Army’s Coastal Defense Artillery School during the 19th and 20th centuries, and most recently, as headquarters of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
Old Point Comfort in present day Hampton, Virginia, was originally named “Pointe Comfort” by Captain John Smith in 1607 when them first English colonists came to America. It was here that the settlers of Jamestown established Fort Algernon in 1609. After Fort Algernon’s destruction by fire in 1612, successive English fortifications were built, testifying to the location’s continuing strategic value. The first enslaved Africans in England’s colonies in America were brought to this peninsula on a ship flying the Dutch flag in 1619, beginning a long ignoble period of slavery in the colonies and, later, this Nation. Two hundred and forty-two yearslater, Fort Monroe became a place of refuge for those later generations escaping enslavement.
During the Civil War, Fort Monroe stood as a foremost Union outpost in the midst of the Confederacy and remained under Union Army control during the entire conflict. The Fort was the site of General Benjamin Butler’s “Contraband Decision” in 1861, which provided a pathway to freedom for thousands of enslaved people during the Civil War and served as a forerunner of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Thus, Old Point Comfort marks both the beginning and end of slavery in our Nation. The Fort played critical roles as the springboard for General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign in 1862 and as a crucial supply base for the siege of Petersburg by Union forces under General Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 and 1865. After the surrender of the Confederacy, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was transferred to Fort Monroe and remained imprisoned there for 2 years.
Fort Monroe is the third oldest United States Army post in continuous active service. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It provides an excellent opportunity for the public to observe and understand Chesapeake Bay and Civil War history. At the northern end of the North Beach area lies the only undeveloped shoreline remaining on Old Point Comfort, providing modern-day visitors a sense of what earlier people saw when they arrived in the New World. The North Beach area also includes coastal defensive batteries, including Batteries DeRussy and Church, which were used from the 19th Century to World War II.
WHEREAS section 2 of the Act of June 8, 1906 (34 Stat. 225, 16 U.S.C. 431) (the “Antiquities Act”), authorizes the President, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and to reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected; . . . NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by section 2 of the Antiquities Act, hereby proclaim that all lands and interests in lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States within the boundaries described on the accompanying map, which is attached to and forms a part of this proclamation, are hereby set apart and reserved as the Fort Monroe National Monument (monument) for the purpose of protecting the objects identified above. . . .
All Federal lands and interests in lands within the boundaries of this monument are hereby appropriated and withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, leasing, or other disposition under the public land laws, including withdrawal from location, entry, and patent under the mining laws, and from disposition under all laws relating to mineral and geothermal leasing. Lands and interests in lands within the monument’s boundaries not owned or controlled by the United States shall be reserved as part of the monument upon acquisition of ownership or control by the United States. . . .
Nothing in this proclamation shall be deemed to revoke any existing withdrawal, reservation, or appropriation; however, the monument shall be the dominant reservation. Warning is hereby given to all unauthorized persons not to appropriate, injure, destroy, or remove any feature of this monument and not to locate or settle upon any of the lands thereof.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.