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Marblehead MassachusettsFort Sewall is a unique earthwork fortification positioned to defend Marblehead for over three centuries. In 1644 the provincial government granted permission to build an earthwork fort at Gale's Head and provided two guns. Several later modifications were in response to rapid colonial developments in New England.
The fort's location at the tip of the northern headland served a strategic defensive purpose as its guns could be aimed across the narrow entrance to Marblehead Harbor, This profitable colony deserved protection because by 1660 Marblehead was declared in London to be "the greatest townie for fishing in New England".
Such success could tempt pirates, the French or the Dutch to attack. To protect the fishing fleet, the town often allocated as much as half its budget to the fort's maintenance. The provincial government provided additional guns and tax abatements to the fishermen and traders.
The next threat to the town was English suppression of rebellious patriots during the Revolutionary War. Nowhere was the spirit of independence stronger than in Marblehead. Women and the elderly manned the fort while the militia joined Colonel John Glover's Marine Regiment. Sailors went to sea in Marblehead's newly christened ships of "ye navy".
In 1776 a marauding British vessel bent on burning New England seaports approached Marblehead. Their spyglasses revealed frantic activity around the fort's cannon, so the British withdrew - never to know that there was no powder to fire the fort's guns.
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Following the victorious Revolution Marblehead in 1794 ceded its fort to the new United States Government. The federal government enlarged and improved the fort to its peak condition, earning recognition by federal officials, including President James Madison. His Vice President was Elbridge Gerry, a Marblehead patriot who loaned money to the town to maintain the fort during the American Revolution.
It was during the War of 1812 that Marblehead rescued the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides). The warship was about to be attacked by three British frigates until the Constitution's skipper, guided by a Marblehead pilot, brought her through the rocky channel and anchored safely under the guns of Fort Sewall.
The fort had been named for native son, Samuel Sewall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court.
When the war ended there was a reduction in the garrison at Marblehead's fort. It fell into serious disrepair. During the Civil War fear of attacks by European sympathizers of the Confederacy caused the fort's restoration to fighting condition by 1863.
In 1890 Marblehead was made the custodian of Fort Sewall. In 1898 the Spanish American War prompted renovation plans which ended as quickly as the war.
Fort Sewall was ceded back to Marblehead in 1922 for use by "the public forever". Marblehead recognizes the ancient 1644 fort as an impressive historic site for the town and nation.
Please respect our historical heritage