Black Rock Fort / Fort Nathan Hale / Fort Wooster Park: New Haven, Connecticut — November 28, 2022

“The fortification built on trap rock of basaltic formation, and in early times, may have been surrounded by water, and during southwest gales the natural dykes or beach from it to the Palisades in Fort Hale Park must have been constructed from sand and pebbles carried up with southwest winds, and so may the northern beach or dyke have been built to King’s Island, nature so constructing a barrier which has kept out winds and tides, allowing the meadows to grow where shoal water formerly existed. This theory is based on the knowledge that freshets and high tides have forced a passage through the ‘beach’ at Sandy Point which was until then a long sandy point, dry at high tide with vegetation growing thereon. In 1829 this debris was carried into the harbor, forming the Pardee Bar, and a portion was carried further and distributed along the shore above King’s Island, and the action of the winds and tides has distributed this debris of sand and shells as far north as ‘Cranes Bar,’ half a mile distant.

The first mention of this site was in 1657, it being a prominent object standing in bold relief on the northern point of the crescent-shaped Morris Cove. It was first talked of for defensive purposes, as the records show, by order of the Colonial Court, Feb. 20, 1657, brothers Andrews and Munson being empowered as commissioners to treat with the Indians, in exchange for the lands therefor, and it is very probable that it was soon after made a Military or Coast Guard Station, as the General Court held at New Haven the 23 of June, 1659, desired ‘William Russell and Thomas Morris to attend their trust about the great guns at the fort, and see that they be fit for service, and it was left with the townsmen to see that it be done, and to agree with them what an allowance they shall have from the colony;’ and some of the great guns sent to the waterside in time of alarm were no doubt placed here, as we note in the Colonial records that there was a reservation for fort and roadway thereto, when a sale of town lands to John Morris was made, south of the Indian lands and just north of Harrison Rocks (the Palisades). Here was a cart-way which was used to reach the shore until the New Haven Chemical Works opened their highway, which led also northward inside the bank to the Black Rocks, and over this, before the Government road was purchased of Isaac and Kneeland Townsend (between the bank and the meadows to King’s Island), was hauled the cannons and ammunition which were used in Colonial times at Black Rock Fort, for the defense of New Haven approaches.

The Black Rock Fort of the American Revolution was constructed early in the year 1775, on the site of an old one and manned with cannon made at Salisbury, Conn., by orders of the General Court of Connecticut, and history not only proves true, the testimony of people who were living at the time of the Revolutionary War, and known to the writer, but adds absolute proof of the value of the defense which drove frequent marauding parties of British and Tories from our harbor when they came to forage and destroy. The writer takes this opportunity to give his own theory, why Gen. Tryon landed his two divisions at Savin Rock, and Morris Point. Sir Henry Clinton, Commander-in-chief of the British forces stationed at New York, in his instructions to Maj. Gen. Tryon says, ‘the landing (at New Haven) seems good on the east side or tongue of land (Morris Point) nor can you be assaulted on your retreat, for you must when landed, by a rapid march, get possession of the Rebel Works two miles to the northward (Black Rock now Fort Hale), on a bluff commanding the harbor, and then your ships may enter to it (the harbor).’

The colonial government, immediately after the Tryon raid of Connecticut in 1779, ordered twelve hundred and fifty men distributed to the different military posts on the sea coast, and ninety-four officers and men were ordered to the New Haven forts, viz. the Black Rock Fort; the Earth Works on Beacon Hill; the slight batteries on Mount Pleasant (Mosquito fort); the Ferry (site of East and Bridge street corners), and the battery of heavy guns on Long Wharf Pier, which then was not connected with the shore end of the wharf and was manned by sailors, while the harbor was patrolled by whale boats or row gallies manned with fifty men each and a swivel gun forward, which seemed to give good protection to the shipping of the port.”

“This ancient fortification on Beacon Hill is now within the city limits and overlooks one of the finest views of land and sea in New England. From the ramparts of these old earthworks may be seen land in fifteen Connecticut towns, besides in many more on Long Island in the State of New York. From this superb and sightly spot, in clear weather, the mountains west of Hartford, 37 miles distant to the northward, may be seen and the Long Island hills 25 miles southward are visible, giving from point to point a prospect of between 50 or 60 miles with the naked eye. Here on this hill in Indian times was the fire place of the Quinnipiac Indians, from which they sent up great clouds of smoke to attract to their harbor the early Dutch traders, and here also was their Palisade Fort and northward their burying ground, while under the hill near the Fresh Meadows was their powwow place. This hill at the early settlement of the New Haven Colony was used to light beacon fires in case of alarm and during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 a beacon was exhibited to give warning to the citizens of the town and surrounding country of the approach of the enemy’s ships.”

“Beacon Hill is also noted for the stand which the patriots made there in the forenoon of July 5, 1779, while Gen. Tryon’s British invaders were landing. It was held until after the engagement at ‘Raynham’ (which occurred about noon of that day), when, outnumbered by British, Hessian, and Tory troops (three regiments), supported by two pieces of artillery, these brave defenders were obliged to retire. Tryon made this hill his headquarters during the invasion and, immediately after his retreat, it was occupied by the Patriots under Gen. Ward with the regiments of Colonels Cook, Russel, Worthington, and Sage, one thousand strong. This body, together with a field piece from East Haven Green, greatly distressed the enemy till at length they quitted the hill about noon, July 6, on the approach of our troops, who immediately occupied the hill and brought the field piece to bear, between which (the enemy and an armed galley off Black Rock Fort) was kept up an enlivening, incessant and continuous fire all the afternoon and until every armed ship of the invaders had quitted the bay.”

-Excerpt and images courtesy of, Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, “A pictorial history of ‘Raynham’ and its vicinity,” by Charles Hervey Townshend, 1900

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