Thursday, August 30, 2012

Old Point Comfort

According to the Proclamation that established it
as a National Monument in late 2011,
Fort Monroe was founded on a peninsula of land named "Pointe Comfort"
 in 1607 by Captain John Smith, leader of the Virginia Colony,
the New World venture known locally as the Jamestown Settlement.
It has been said the name "Pointe Comfort" expressed
the settlers' relief at finding a strategic location near the channel,
 a kind of lookout post on the harbor
to protect the eastern boundary of their upriver colony.

In 1609, Fort Algernon was established
(and later caught fire and burned down)
on the Point where subsequent palisades and forts stood before Fort Monroe.
But Old Point Comfort holds a number of other distinctions in American history.
I was very surprised to learn that
Old Point Comfort was where the first African slaves
were brought to the United States in 1619,
traded for supplies by the Dutch ship that held them in chains.
Ironically, Fortress Monroe, a Union fort in the middle of Confederate territory,
 later provided refuge for runaway slaves,
a fact which has been interpreted as influencing
Lincoln's proclamation for Emancipation.
But the history lesson made me wonder
who accepted the African slaves as trade
and what location they were taken to.
There is a fascinating article about the Point's history
written by Adam Goodheart  for "The American Scholar":
that I recommend to anyone interested in this era.

Old Point Comfort has remained
a strategic military, commercial, and recreational area
for hundreds of years, and that history remains evident today.
From the Point, one can see cargo ships entering
and departing the port of Hampton Roads:

The Old Point Comfort Marina near McNair Street 
is a picturesque reminder of the Fort's connection to the sea:

But nothing says "nautical' like the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse
which has been in operation in one form or another since the late 1770s.
The building of the lighthouse pictured below was completed in 1803.

Now that Fort Monroe has been designated a national monument,
Virginia should amend the name of the Historic Triangle, currently
Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, and call it the Historic Quadrangle.
Fort Monroe on Old Point Comfort is a rare place,
one that set the course of American experience over four centuries.
And that's pretty historic.

No comments: