The present fort at the Colonial Pemaquid site is actually the rebuilt western tower of Fort William Henry, the second of three forts built and destroyed on the site. During a turbulent period of more than 100 years, Pemaquid was variously under the control of a series of private proprietors based in England and in Massachusetts, and the colonies of New York, Massachusetts Bay, and the Dominion of New England.
The first fortification, Fort Charles, was built in 1677, under orders of the New York governor, Sir Edmund Andros, to protect a new settlement in Pemaquid. This followed the destruction of an unfortified settlement a year earlier. Fort Charles was a two-storied wooden structure surrounded by a stockade. It fell to an Indian attack in the spring of 1689.
Fort William Henry was built of stone in 1692, when Massachusetts governed the Pemaquid area. Its massive western bastion was 29 feet high, with 28 gun ports, and surrounded the large rock which had been used by attackers in the 1689 debacle. Walls around the compound ranged from 10 to 22 feet in height and were six feet in width at some points. Despite its impressive dimensions, the fort commander surrendered it in 1696 to combined French and Indian attackers, who then destroyed it.
The third fort, Fort Frederick was built in 1729 out of the ruins of Fort William Henry. Its buildings were free standing rather than attached to the outer walls, which were eight to ten feet high and five feet thick, built of stone, lime, brick and turf. It was twice successfully defended against attacks in 1747, but was decommissioned in 1759, and may have been dismantled by the town of Bristol in 1775, so that it could not be used by the British during the American Revolution.
By 1902, the State of Maine had acquired the fort site, and in 1908 carried out reconstruction of the tower and base of the outer walls of Fort William Henry. Historian John Henry Cartland, who had investigated the area, spearheaded the reconstruction, using many of the original stones.
A permanent exhibition housed on the second floor of the Fort, “Guns, Politics, and Furs: Pemaquid and the Defense of the Eastern Frontier 1677 – 1761” was opened in June 2005. The exhibit showcases Colonial Pemaquid’s extensive archaeological collections as well as personal records and illustrations on the complex story of three forts on the site, and the events surrounding their construction and destruction, during the period 1677 through 1761.
The three fortifications, Fort Charles (1677-1689), Fort William Henry (1692-1696), and Fort Frederick (1729-1761), played an important role in protecting New England’s northeastern frontier from attack by the region’s Wabanaki Indians and the French. “Guns, Politics, and Furs” delves into the varied and complex relationships that developed between the English, Indian, and French inhabitants of this fluid, inter-cultural borderland. Visitors learn that these people saw each other not only as potential foes but as trading partners and in some cases, friends. These relationships were driven by a complex mix of cultural attitudes, individual practical considerations, and local and international events.