Fort Adams

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Fort Adams
Newport, Rhode Island
Type Coastal Artillery Post
Site information
Controlled by United States
Site history
Built 1798–1799; 1824–1857
In use 1799–1824; 1841–1953
Materials granite, shale and brick
Garrison information
Captain John Henry
Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Kendrick Pierce
Brigadier General Robert Anderson
Colonel Henry Jackson Hunt[1]
Fort Adams
Fort Adams is located in Rhode Island
Fort Adams
Nearest city Newport, Rhode Island
Coordinates 41°28′30″N 71°20′28″W / 41.47500°N 71.34111°W / 41.47500; -71.34111Coordinates: 41°28′30″N 71°20′28″W / 41.47500°N 71.34111°W / 41.47500; -71.34111
Built 1799, rebuilt 1824
Architect Simon Bernard(1799), Joseph G. Totten(1824)
Governing body State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
NRHP Reference # 70000014
Significant dates
Added to NRHP July 28, 1970[2]
Designated NHLD December 8, 1976[3]

Fort Adams is a former United States Army post in Newport, Rhode Island, established on July 4, 1799 as a First System coastal fortification, and named for then-incumbent President John Adams. Its first commander was Captain John Henry, who was later instrumental in starting the War of 1812. Today, the fort is part of Fort Adams State Park.


The first Fort Adams was designed by Major Louis de Tousard of the Army Corps of Engineers. This fort mounted 17 cannon and was garrisoned during the War of 1812 by Wood's State Corps of Rhode Island militiamen.

After the War of 1812, there was a thorough review of the nation's fortification needs and it was decided to replace the older Fort Adams with a newer and much larger fort. The new fort was designed by Brigadier General Simon Bernard, a Frenchman who had served as a military engineer under Napoleon. Bernard designed the new Fort Adams in the classic style and it became the most complex fortification in the Western Hemisphere.

Construction of the new fort began in 1824 and continued at irregular intervals until 1857. From 1825 to 1838 construction was overseen by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Gilbert Totten, the foremost American military engineer of his day. In 1838 Totten became chief engineer of the Army and served until his death in 1864.[4]

A section of historic Fort Adams in a neglected state (1968)

The new Fort Adams was first garrisoned in August 1841, functioning as an active Army post until 1950. During this time the fort was active in five major wars (the Mexican–American War, American Civil War, Spanish–American, World War I and World War II) but never fired a shot in anger.

At the start of the Mexican–American War the post was commanded by Benjamin Kendrick Pierce, the brother of President Franklin Pierce.

From 1848 to 1853, Fort Adams was commanded by Colonel William Gates, a long serving veteran of both the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. The fort's garrison was ordered to California and many of the soldiers lost their lives when the steamer SS San Francisco was wrecked, but not sunk, in a North Atlantic storm on December 24, 1853.

Civil War[edit]

The War Department was concerned about the political sympathies of residents in Maryland during the American Civil War, so the United States Naval Academy was moved in 1861 from Annapolis to Fort Adams. In September 1861, the academy moved to the Atlantic House Hotel in Newport and remained there for the rest of the war.

Among the midshipmen assigned to the Naval Academy while it was at Fort Adams was Robley D. Evans who was wounded at Fort Fisher, North Carolina in 1865, commanded the battleship Iowa during the Spanish–American War, and later commanded the Great White Fleet on the first leg of its epic around the world voyage. Among Evans' classmates at Fort Adams were future Rear Admiral Charles Sigsbee, who commanded the battleship Maine, and future Captain Charles Vernon Gridley who commanded the cruiser Olympia at the Battle of Manila Bay.

In 1862 Fort Adams became the headquarters and recruit depot for the 15th Infantry Regiment. This regiment, along with several others, was organized into a regiment of three eight-company battalions, with the 3rd Battalion formed at Fort Adams in March 1864.

From August to October 1863, Fort Adams was commanded by Brigadier General Robert Anderson, who had commanded Fort Sumter when it was attacked by Confederate forces in April 1861.

20th Century[edit]

As time went by, the fort's armament was upgraded to keep up with technological innovations. Major kinds of ordnance used at the fort included muzzle loading cannon in the 19th century, breech loading, rifled artillery pieces in the early 20th Century and anti-aircraft guns during and after World War II.

Thornton Wilder, author and playwright, whose 1973 novel Theophilus North is set in Newport, served a three-month enlistment in the Army's Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Adams during World War I. Wilder rose to the rank of corporal in the Army.

Fort Adams also served as the headquarters for all fortifications in Narragansett Bay, as well as, a training center in both world wars.

In the Second World War a peak strength of over 3,000 soldiers were assigned to the Harbor Defenses of Narragansett Bay. In September 1940 the 243rd Coast Artillery Regiment of the Rhode Island National Guard was mobilized and sent to Fort Adams to reinforce the Regular Army's 10th Coast Artillery (United States). The two regiments garrisoned several coast defense forts and anti-aircraft installations under the Harbor Defenses of Narragansett Bay. As the war progressed, the number of troops was gradually reduced to about 500 by the end of the war in 1945.

Another section, 1968

State Park[edit]

In 1953, the Army transferred ownership of Fort Adams to the Navy, which still uses some of the grounds for family housing. In 1965, the fort, and most of the surrounding land, was given to the state of Rhode Island for use as Fort Adams State Park. In 1976, Fort Adams was declared a National Historic Landmark, in recognition for its distinctive military architecture, which includes features not found in other forts of the period.[5] In 1994, the Fort Adams Trust was formed, which provides guided tours at the fort and oversees ongoing restoration work at the fort.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower lived at the former commanding officer's quarters (now called the Eisenhower House) during his summer vacations in Newport in 1958 and 1960.

From the early 1950s until the mid-1970s Fort Adams fell victim to neglect, the elements and vandalism.

Through the efforts of State Senator Eric O'D. Taylor, in the 1970s Fort Adams was cleaned up and open for tours and was used for the filming of the PBS television movie The Scarlett Letter. The tour program was cancelled about 1980 due to budget cutbacks by the State of Rhode Island.

Since 1981, the Fort Adams grounds have been host to the Newport Jazz Festival, and the Newport Folk Festival.

In the early 1990s, Fort Adams was subjected to an environmental remediation program which made the fort safe for public access. About this time, the Fort Adams Trust was formed to oversee public programs and restoration of the fort.

In 1995 the Fort Adams Trust began giving tours at the fort from May to September. Since that time, the fort has had several areas of the fort restored as well as having its land defenses cleared of overgrowth.

In 2012, the park was the official venue for the America's Cup World Series in Newport.

Notable persons associated with Fort Adams[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Duchesneau, John T., Troost-Cramer, Kathleen (2014). Fort Adams: A History. The History Press. p. 36. Retrieved September 17, 2014. 
  2. ^ Staff (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  3. ^ "Fort Adams". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-29. 
  4. ^ Ann Johnson, "Material Experiments: Environment and Engineering Institutions in the Early American Republic," Osiris, NS 24 (2009), 53–74.
  5. ^ "NHL nomination for Fort Adams" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2015-02-17. 

External links[edit]