Fort Ontario
Oswego, New York, USA


Built: British: 1755
British:1759, British: 1782
US: 1839-1842, US: 1863-1870
Used by: Great Britain, USA
Conflicts in which it participated:
French & Indian War,
American Revolutionary War,
War of 1812

Conveniently located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, Oswego was a popular place for the French, British and Americans alike to attack and destroy things in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The British started the fun by building the Fort of the Six Nations there in 1755.

The Iroquois Indians were known at the time as the Six Nations of the Iroquois, referring to the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora tribes that joined together to become one.


A British plan for an upgraded Fort Ontario, 1764. Click on it, it's huge.
The first Fort Ontario was a wooden, eight-pointed stockade armed with small swivel guns and garrisoned by 300...and was completely destroyed (along with all other British defenses at Oswego) in August of 1756 by French troops under the Marquis de Montcalm (1712-1759) in one of his early successes against the British in the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

Obviously feeling the spot to be of vital importance, the British built the second Fort Ontario in the same location in 1759. They were more serious about the project this time, making a much larger fort: Big enough for 500 men, made of earth and timber, with strongpoints on nearby high ground to act as redoubts...impregnable! Several setbacks during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), however, caused the demoralized British to abandon Fort Ontario in 1778, leading to its destruction by American troops based at nearby Fort Stanwix shortly thereafter.

Still convinced of a desperate need to fortify Oswego, the British reoccupied the area in 1782 and rebuilt Fort Ontario for the third time...only to turn it over to the US in 1796.

The fort's new owners did nothing to keep the fort up, however, and during the War of 1812 (1812-1815) the British finally got their chance to attack and destroy Fort Ontario in May of 1814, which one suspects was all they really wanted to do in the first place.

The young United States finally got to join the prestigious Fort Ontario Construction Club in 1839: An earthwork version of the fort was built from 1839 to 1842.

Fears of British intervention during the US Civil War (1861-1865) brought yet another construction crew to Oswego. Starting in 1862 Fort Ontario was built to the high degree of lovely perfection that we see today. The new version wasn't completed until 1870, five years after the war was over. Further work was planned, but as the 1870's progressed, Congress began systematically yanking the funding on a great number of fortification projects: Fort Ontario was no exception.
Fort Ontario's Civil War-era casemates: Thanks to Fortwiki.com for the picture!

Thus began yet another long period of decline for this (by this point less than) vital defense. In 1901 Fort Ontario was abandoned.


Thanks again, Fortwiki.com!

Marker on a stone outside the fort. Impressive track record!
Did the British swoop back in and reoccupy Oswego? It sure seems like they should have, but they missed their chance by 1903 when the US Army began expanding the post to battalion size. Dozens of new buildings were built outside the walls of the fort, which was left unused until 1928, when its buildings were converted to an officer's club and apartments for junior officers.

By 1941 some 125 buildings stood at Fort Ontario. From 1944 to 1946 the fort was used as a refugee camp for Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the US government's only such facility. Disagreements as to whether the refugees should be allowed US citizenship after the war kept them in a state of limbo until February of 1946, when citizenship was approved.

Fort Ontario was then used to house US veterans of the Second World War (1939-1945) and their families until 1949.

Today, the restored Fort Ontario is open to the public as a state historical site. Budget woes have recently prompted the Governor of New York to call for the fort's closure, and Oswego residents are doing what they can to ensure that it stays open...perhaps they could invite the British to reoccupy it?