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A Short History of Fort George, St. George’s, Grenada
© J. David Zimmerman, Portcullis Limited

Louis XIV of France    By the end of the 17th century England, France and Spain had all laid claim to the lands and islands of the Caribbean. Imagining that great wealth was to be found, the superpowers of the time scrambled for possession and settlement of the region, with disastrous results for the indigenous people. The Amerindians of Grenada did hold off attempts at occupation by English adventurers in 1609 and French colonists in 1638, but the island was finally ‘settled’ in 1649 by a privately raised military force from Martinique. As always, the European invasion was aided by the availability of muskets and cannon. The French invaders also appear to have brought a defensive weapon in the form of a prefabricated fort. Thought to have been transported in sections just small enough to be floated ashore and rapidly manhandled into position, the wooden "house", a palisade and a ditch, all called Fort Annonciation, provided sufficient shelter from Carib attacks to firmly establish the colony. Tobacco and indigo were the first cash crops. The Grenada colony (L’Isle de la Grenade) prospered, and in 1674, to protect substantial economic interests, His Most Christian Majesty Louis XIV (1643-1715) took over the administration of Grenada from the various commercial enterprises which had been in charge since the 1650’s.

    The original town, port and a more substantial fort, "the Great Fort", all named St. Louis, ostensibly after his Majesty’s canonised predecessor, Louis IX (1226-1270) remained on the eastern side of Grenada’s natural (volcanic) harbour until an expanding town moved west. Another fort was built in 1666 on the promontory opposite the original town and forts. Named Fort Royal, the new structure was designed by Engineer François Blondel and garrisoned by "independent" colonial infantry companies (Compagnies franches de la Marine) who were hutted outside the walls. These troops reported to the Ministry of Marine (Navy Department) which oversaw both the French navy and colonial administration. In 1705 a new Vauban-style fort was designed for Grenada by Jean de Giou de Caylus, Chief Engineer of the Islands of America (the French West Indies). It was built between 1705-10, on the site of the first Fort Royal. It retained the Royal name and can be seen today.

1762 English version of 1710  French Plan    The second Fort Royal protected French interests for 50 more years. In 1762, Grenada was occupied by "...a small (British naval) squadron under Commodore Swanton, with the Fifth Brigade under Brigadier Walsh, and the corps of light-infantry, commanded by Colonel Scott.", all sent by General Monckton who had just reduced Martinique. In 1763 Grenada was ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Paris. A British engineer described the former French fort. "...Fort Royal (is) built at the entrance to the harbour which it defends. It is of an irregular figure with Four bastions & a kind of horn work toward the Country(,) the Curtain of which is covered by a Ravelin.*[*the whole mounted with thirty seven pieces of Canon (sic)."] "…The Fort itself and the little outworks to it are built of masonry and there is no ditch (,) covered way (or) glacis to any part of them."

Main Battery on West Terreplein    Other 18th century records located for Portcullis Limited in the British Public Record Office reveal various requests for repairs to Fort Royal (the French name having been retained by the British). In 1764, "To pointing, harling, Cleaning and Repairing the walls and platforms of Fort Royal----£400". In 1769, "...The parapets of Fort Royal and the revetment should be repaired...". In 1770, a letter from the local infantry commander, Major Bruce, 70th Regiment of Foot, to Lord Barrington, Secretary at War, complained that the barracks for his troops were insufficient and that "...things in the Fort (,) as well as itself, which if not looked after and the proper repairs done, it will soon cost the Government an immense sum, whereas taken in time it will be trifling.".

    The Major added, "...I have made the strongest representations to General Melville (the Colonial Governor), and he has, as far as is in his power, ordered the Engineer--notwithstanding, nothing is done--the Engineer Captain, H(arry) Gordon being constantly in the Country at his Estate; pays no attention to the Fort at all." He might also have included a note about supplies in his complaint, as an inventory of "...Ordnance Stores at Fort Royal, Grenada...", dated April 1, 1773, reveals appalling deficiencies in guns, ammunition and equipment.

    The real test for Fort Royal began on February 6, 1778, when the newest King of France, Louis XVI (1774-1792) signed a treaty of "Amity and Commerce" with those North Americans in rebellion against the British Crown. Shortly thereafter, the Toulon fleet under Vice-Admiral the Count Charles-Henri d’Estaing departed for the American theatre of war. The British knew that the French fleet had disappeared into the Atlantic, but had no way of knowing where the invasion force was bound. An exchange of letters between a new British Chief Engineer and the new British Governor of Grenada shows that an attack on the British colonies in the West Indies might be anticipated, and that no time was to be lost in repairing Fort Royal and other fortifications where maintenance had been ignored for over a dozen years.

Southeast Bastion    15 May, 1778. "...A return of the work proposed and recommended to be immediately executed for the better defence of Fort Royal." Written by Captain Robert Morse to Lord Macartney, the document says, "...In the Fort--The Banquets (sic) in the front toward Hospital Hill to be repaired and raised- The parapet of the Southeast Bastion to be raised & thickened to cover the buildings & Guns in the South curtain, which are commanded by Monckton's Redoubt--New doors to be made to the Sally ports--The Banquets & platforms of the Ravelin to be repaired and two Guns mounted in it--A parapet of masonry to be built from the extremity of the East face of the Ravelin to the shoulder of the Bastion, to shut up that entrance into the fort leaving only one through the Glacis--The brush wood weeds &ca. around the fort to be cleared away."1778 Wall

    All who have experience with bureaucracies know that a request for work does not necessarily indicate approval for work to be done, much less guarantee funding to actually accomplish that work. We can assume in the case of the effort proposed for Fort Royal that it was of considerable importance, as Governor Macartney responded to Captain Morse on the very next day! " May 16, 1778: I this day received and took into consideration your Report, dated yesterday, of the Works proposed, and recommended by you, to be immediately executed for the better Defence of Fort Royal; I am now to acquaint you, that I approve of the same and desire that you will without delay carry into execution the works therein proposed and recommended." The Governor also told Captain Morse that the Assembly of Grenada had voted £600 "...for the purpose." The result was a series of defensive structures, many of which can still be seen today! The "...three Eminences near the Fort..." which were "...to be occupied..." nearly 15 years earlier, were finally entrenched, and the occupants of Fort Royal waited.

Fort George Point and Hospital Hill    And d’Estaing did come to Grenada. His fleet of 24 ships of the line, a dozen frigates plus auxiliaries, with over 1,300 troops arrived off the coast on 2 July, 1779. British forces consisted of 130 officers and men of the 48th Regiment of Foot, two dozen Artillery recruits, 300 or 400 Grenada Militia and 200 volunteers, including sailors drafted from ships in the harbour. The British, realising that the "three Eminences" which "..overlook'd.." Fort Royal were to be crucial in a land operation, had finally occupied them all, leaving just a few troops in the fort, where the heaviest guns pointed out to sea. Most of the British troops were stationed on Hospital Hill, the high ground 800 yards north and slightly east of the fort.

French invasion of Grenada, 1779    The French landing force, composed of Dillon’s Regiment, detachments from the Auxerrois, Martinique, Cambresis and Foix regiments and the 1st Legion Volontaires-étrangers de la Marine; along with the grenadiers of the Viennois and Hanault regiments and the chasseur companies of the Champagne regiment, landed north and west of Fort Royal (out of range of the fort’s guns) on 3 July, 1779. Early on the morning of the 4th, the French made a feint with 200 men on the western side of Hospital Hill, where they were expected. At the same time, three columns of 260, 300 and 180 French troops, turned the British position and assaulted the northeastern side of the hill, trampled the palisade at the base and overcame three consecutive trench lines. The Hon. George Brizan, describes the result in his book, Grenada, Island of Conflict. "The British forces finding themselves hopelessly outnumbered rushed down the side of Hospital Hill facing the sea, past the Catholic church (of 1690, the site of the Anglican church today) and ran for cover in (what is now) Fort George". In fact, the withdrawal was planned. The French concentrated their forces and on the morning of July 5, 1779, turned abandoned and undestroyed British guns on the fort below, with predictable results. This effort, combined with a fleet action on the 6th saw Grenada and Fort Royal once again become French.

    In September of 1779 Count d’Estaing left an occupation force in Grenada, returned to the coast of North America via Saint Domingue (now Haiti) and in cooperation with an American army lay siege to British-occupied Savannah in the Colony of Georgia. After many days of bombardment and a failed frontal assault on October 9, 1779, the Americans marched north and the French withdrew to their ships. Among the French soldiers who distinguished themselves by covering the withdrawal of the attacking force, were the Corps de Chasseurs-volontaires de Saint Domingue. This volunteer unit, composed of free Black men, was the first such group in the annals of the French armed forces. Among the volontaires was a young Henry Christophe, later King of Haiti. After Savannah, most of the nearly 600 Chasseurs-volontaires returned to Saint Domingue, but a detachment of 148 men of the Corps (including Christophe?) sailed directly from Savannah to Grenada, arriving in St. George’s and Fort Royal on 1 December, 1779.

    The eighth article of the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1783, ended the American Revolution and returned Grenada to the British. French troops were withdrawn or discharged in place. They were replaced by British troops who of necessity, had left the new United States. One of these units was the Carolina Corps, raised in 1779 from American and Caribbean-born free Black men who had remained loyal to the Crown. 300 men (plus wives and children) of this corps landed in Grenada in 1783. They were still there in 1793. It was during this second British occupation the name of Fort Royal was changed to Fort George; probably in 1784 or 1785 in honour of King George the III’s Silver Jubilee.

Old HospitalRear view of the Old Hospital    Around 1790 the British seem to have built a hospital within Fort George.  Service by European troops in the West Indies invariably resulted in exposure to mosquito-borne Yellow Fever which while endemic, was survivable. Unfortunately many new recruits, already debilitated by a long sea voyage were infected and "finished off" by doses of raw rum (probably laced with lead from improper distillation) which their comrades smuggled into the hospital. At least the patients at the Fort George Hospital were safer from enemy fire than from rum, as the outside wall of the fort was used for the rear wall of the hospital.  Even their food was safer; the seaward wall of the hospital kitchen being two feet thick. Hospitals notwithstanding, there were some 45,000 soldier deaths from tropical diseases in the Caribbean between 1796 and 1802. In 1796 alone, 41% of all British troops sent to the region died of disease.

West India Regiment    In 1792 French Revolutionaries executed King Louis XVI. The new Republican Government sent Commissioners to the Windward Islands in 1794 to reorganise French armed forces and promote revolutionary activity in the region. Some of Grenada’s French speaking citizens welcomed the opportunity to strike back at the British plantocracy and in 1795 Julian Fedon, a so-called free coloured and owner of Belvedere plantation, led an insurrection by a mixed force of petit blancs, other free coloureds, his own freed slaves and other slaves, in a rising which the British were at first unable to put down. Supported from French Guadeloupe with arms and ammunition, the insurgents quickly controlled the entire island, except for the capital, St. George’s and Fort George. In June of 1796 General Sir Ralph Abercromby landed a large force, among which were units which would become the First West India Regiment, formed by combining the Black Carolina Corps and Malcolm’s Royal Rangers. In Grenada itself another Black corps, the Loyal Black Rangers, was formed. Many of the Black soldiers had already served in Grenada and many had over 15 years of military experience, but most were left in garrison in St. George’s while "...ill-prepared white troops floundered in expeditions into the interior". The Black troops were eventually put to work with other British regiments, the 9th, 27th, 57th, 58th and 68th Foot, Lowenstein’s Chasseurs, Royal-Étrangers and local Militia, and by December of 1796 the principal bands of Fedon’s insurgents had been tracked down. The Loyal Black Rangers, Second West India Regiment and 60th Foot continued mopping-up operations until 1800.

Grenada General Hospital, Old barracks 1819, 1796-1798     Given the fear of renewed violence or invasion and the lack of space in the Artillery barracks in the fort proper, a brick barracks with a tile roof was erected behind the fort in 1796-98. It was designed to hold two sergeants and two-hundred rank and file. In 1802 a "Barrier Guard House" was erected at the foot of the (nominal) glacis to house a duty subaltern (a junior officer) and twelve rank and file. The "Guardhouse" is gone, as is the 1796-98 barracks, which was destroyed during the building of the new Grenada General Hospital.

    By 1812 Fort George was being kept in better repair. Military activity in North America seems to have permitted quick attention to a leak in the forts water supply. Part of the official report reads as follows. "Fort George--(The cistern) in the North Bomb Proof (is) thirty five feet six inches long, fifteen feet eight inches wide, and sixteen feet deep (and) contains sixty nine thousand, two hundred and sixty eight Gallons, (which is) doubtful at present, from constant issuing of water through the Escarp Wall in front of the Cistern into the (nominal) Ditch, supposed to be occasioned by the Shock of an Earthquake – the Water to be emptied out to ascertain the defect which has been done, is as follows."

Postern Door in Hornwork Curtain"On examination of the Cistern, we find the whole of the Pavement at the bottom is loose and particularly the upper end , above the Cistern Pool, is cracked in a direction from East to West in a most extraordinary manner, many parts of the Rock where the terrace is worn off and under the Pavement in the bottom and about five feet high on the West side, is perfectly soft, but we are of the opinion that the leak is in the North end at the Bottom, directly under the (Postern) Door way, as on trial with a Drill, the rock is of the soft nature before described, and the water leaks through the Gun Carriage Shed, in the (nominal) Ditch directly under the Cistern in the direction mentioned. It is proposed to take up the present pavement (and) wherever the rock is soft in bottom or sides, to cut it away and fill up with Masonry, to relay the Flag Pavement in a good Bed of Terrace, to face up about 16 feet long by 5 feet high, with bricks on the West side, and give where wanted, two good coats of Terrace…".

Ground floor ceiling East Barracks     A week after the report and estimate to repair the cistern, the Resident Engineer's office forwarded another estimate to London; "…for a new lower floor and five Beams and a new floor to the Loft in the Barracks occupied by the Royal Artillery, over the Ordnance Stores in Fort George. "At present the lower Floor is paved with Bricks to prevent accidents by Fire, it is proposed to pave over the new floor with Twelve Inch Tiles." It is no surprise that beams and flooring needed to be replaced, as some do today.  Grenada’s subterranean termites still have a phenomenal appetite for unprotected wood.

In 1819 the garrison in Grenada was increased to the point that more accommodation was needed for troops. A large stone barracks, two stories high with a tile roof, was built to house one general officer, three captains, three subalterns and one hundred and fifty rank and file. Like the smaller 1796-98 barracks, it was erected behind Fort George.  A shingle-roofed stone stable was built at the same time to accommodate the officer’s mounts.

     By 1822 Grenada was a major post, the entire town filled with structures supporting the military establishment. By 1827 the Grenada forces needed even more space and received permission to build "…a shed over No. 2 Magazine in Fort George & forming a loft in it, for the purpose of affording additional Store Room for the Deputy Storekeeper…". In 1830 the "Principal Medical Officer…" at Fort George recommended to the Officer Commanding the Troops…" the "…fitting up (of) Jalousie Windows in the Artillery Barracks at Fort George…" (to replace solid wooden shutters). Given that the average temperature in Grenada is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C.) with high humidity, consideration by the C.O. and the Medical Officer for the comfort and health of their troops was indeed commendable. But those two officers quickly heard from London that this kind of independent activity would not be tolerated. Horse Guards wrote to Grenada’s commanding general: "…I have the honour to acquaint you that the Respective Officers have been informed that their proceedings are extremely irregular in executing a service upon a Letter addressed to the Commanding Officer (of troops) without his having taken it upon himself to request its execution; but that the Board has been pleased to sanction their proceedings in the present instance, at the same time cautioning them to be more careful in future and desiring that all services of this nature may be foreseen and provided for in the Annual Estimate or delayed a subsequent year."

Sally Port from Parade    By 1832 however, Grenada had evidently become a military backwater and in an effort to save money the Engineers storage yard and half-a dozen warehouses at Engineers Point were abandoned, the "Storehouseman" discharged, and the "…whole of the stores…moved to (the former 1819 barracks at) Fort George." There was also room in the former 1798 barracks to provide new quarters for the Commanding General’s aide-de-camp, Fort Adjutant, Ordnance Clerk and Deputy Assistant Commissary General who had been quartered elsewhere in St. George’s. A "Guard Room" was built nearby which "…will tend not only to the protection of the Stores, but also to that of the Fortress which is quite open at this point." "quite open" might refer to a sallyport close to the former barracks, which is still (2000) without the required doors.  Despite the fact that Fort George was no longer a major post, advances in methods of cooking had penetrated the Army. After centuries of cooking over open fires or in kettles suspended in a masonry fire box, a request for "…a New Cooking Kitchen in the Citadel. Fort George." had been generated by Army Circular No. 242. Dated July 4, 1843, it directed the use of "Steam Fitments in Soldiers Cooking Kitchens." Enclosed was a list of "fitments" including the "Boiler Elliptical 15 Gallons. 22 X 16 ¾ and 16 ½ in. deep. Weight Iron cast 164 lbs."

Soldier's graves    Despite improvements in the preparation of food and attention to better ventilated living quarters, water sources remained suspect. On Saturday, 10 June, 1854 cholera appeared among Artillerymen at Fort George. The two or three ruined graves at the foot of the east hornwork bastion may date to that period or to an artillery accident 20 years earlier. An archeological investigation is planned.  Local health officials believed that the disease was caused by "extremely unsanitary" conditions at the fort as well as a lack of air circulation, so the remaining Artillery troops were "removed to an airier place", the fortifications on Richmond Hill. The move was of little help. Not only did the disease devastate the Artillery but killed many of the men of the 69th Regiment of Foot, recently arrived from Trinidad. It then spread to the general population. Because of the acute shortage of doctors a cholera hospital was set up in the former barracks buildings behind the fort (but not in the Artillery barracks within the walls where the cholera epidemic began). After the epidemic those barracks became the Colony Hospital and with various improvements are occupied by the Grenada General Hospital to this day.

Light 3 pounder    The cholera epidemic may have been the last gasp of the British military in Grenada as the rest of the Fort George complex appears to have been turned over to the civil government the same year the epidemic ended. The Grenada Police Force had been established in 1836 and with the militia (and the army as back-up) were responsible for civil order. In 1847 Her Majesty Queen Victoria sent a four gun battery of brass light three pounders to the Grenada Volunteer Artillery. Two are currently at the Grenada National Museum and two are at Fort George. Reproduction field carriages are needed.  The Grenada Police Force, now the Royal Grenada Police Force, and the Grenada Militia seem to have shared the facilities at Fort George for a number of years. In 1918 new space was needed and a two story reinforced concrete building, some 30 x 30 feet, was erected in 1919-20 on the hornwork terreplein. Until recently it was identified as the Police Administration Building. It was probably at this time that the 1778 parapet, embrasures and merlons protecting the citadel terreplein were removed for ease of access to the rear of the structure. In 1915 a reinforced concrete flagpole had been erected on the northeast end of the citadel terreplein. Flagpole Base - 1915 and 4 pounderBadly spalled and truncated, the doubled masts are still over 60 feet tall. Given the height of similar flagpoles the original concrete masts probably reached 95 to 100 feet. Depictions of the fort from the 18th century (1780) show a single flagpole on the northwest bastion. Drawings of Fort George from the sea, produced by a British officer in 1826, show two single flagpoles, one flying the national flag and one bare. In other fortifications of the period one flagpole seems to have been reserved for signals to merchant vessels and ships of war.

    In 1967 the West Indies Act was passed by Britain’s Parliament which gave Grenada internal autonomy, with external affairs looked after from London (called Associated Statehood). By 1974 Grenada was in political turmoil as Britain prepared to grant full independence to the island nation, and in March of 1979 the government of Grenada was overthrown by members of a political organisation called the New Jewel Movement. The Constitution of Grenada was suspended under People’s Law Number One. People’s Law Number Seven established a People’s Revolutionary Army , whose members were vested with the same powers of arrest and search as those vested in the Royal Grenada Police Force. Fort George was made the Headquarters of the People’s Revolutionary Army and renamed Fort Rupert in memory of Rupert Bishop, the father of Grenada’s new Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.

Soviet BTR-60PB APCInterior Parade West Wall    By October of 1983 factions of Grenada’s Marxist government were at odds and Prime Minister Bishop was placed under house arrest by units of the PRA. On October 19th,1983, a large number of Grenadians went to the Prime Ministers residence, pushed past Soviet/Cuban supplied armoured personnel carriers and freed Prime Minister Bishop. The crowd accompanied the Prime Minister and some of his political supporters to Fort Rupert, where the small garrison was disarmed. Prime Minister Bishop was meeting with his supporters when three BTR-60PB armoured personnel carriers from the PRA motorised company arrived at Fort Rupert.  Prime Minister Bishop was captured after a short fire-fight. He and seven of his supporters were taken into the citadel, placed against the west wall of the parade on either side of a basketball backboard-support and shot.

Aerial view of Fort Rupert (Fort George) - 1983Soviet ZU-23 at Fort Rupert (Fort George)    On October 25, 1983, US troops landed in Grenada. For two days the fort was strafed sporadically as it housed two ZU-23, 23mm and possibly two M-53, 12.7mm antiaircraft guns. Damage to the ancient structure was minimal.  On the 27th, Fort Rupert was occupied by elements of the US Marines 2/8th BLT. Shortly thereafter, Fort Rupert was renamed Fort George.

 References & Bibliography
Public Record Office – Kew:


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