Fort Frederick’s role in the Emancipation Proclamation

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By VICKI BROWN

Just 47 miles away from Colleton County, at 601 Old Fort Road in Port Royal, S.C., sits a crumbling piece of history.

An old tabby wall surrounds three acres of what was once Fort Frederick, the oldest surviving tabby fort in South Carolina. But that is not its only claim to fame: its most important contribution to history would come over 100 hundred years later with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Built by the British colonial government and named for the English Monarchy’s Frederick Prince of Wales, Fort Frederick was completed in 1735.

South Carolina was the southernmost colony in British North America. Fort Frederick was located near the southern tip of the colony on Port Royal Sound, one of the deepest natural harbors on the east coast of the continent.

The fort protected the town of Beaufort, founded in 1711. Beaufort was the second settlement in the Province of Carolina after Charles Town (now Charleston) in 1670. Rice production and trade with Native Americans tied to the Atlantic triangular trade had made the region prosperous.

Fort Frederick was intended to protect the entrance to Port Royal Sound against potential Spanish, French, and Native American attacks.  But it was a poor site for a fort, so 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, mixed together and poured into wooden molds. It was small in size, being 125 feet by 75 feet. The walls were 5-feet-high and 4-to-5-feet thick at the top.

Fort Frederick was replaced by Fort Lyttleton in 1758. In total, it was only used as a military installation for approximately 20 years. But, little Fort Frederick would soon become even more famous and contribute greatly to America’s history.

On Jan. 1, 1863, people walked across a dock over the top of Fort Frederick to hear the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the Southern states.

Standing or sitting on those old 100 year-old tabby walls, on New Year’s Day 1863, a crowd estimated to be in the thousands and made up of both whites and freed slaves listened as the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud for the first time in South Carolina and the confederacy.

Fort Frederick now serves as a concrete monument and memorial to an incredible moment in American history.

Closed to the public for decades, Beaufort County and SCDNR have been working to create a park with parking areas, a picnic pavilion and interpretive panels on display near the tabby ruins.

The fort is open from sunrise to sunset daily. Parking is limited and there are no restrooms in the park.

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