American Fortresses and Society

Fortification was expensive, requiring a considerable commitment of labor and materials that was sometimes in danger of being reassigned to other
projects. The original fortress at Plymouth, a wooden palisade enclosing settlers’ houses and a blockhouse, was later cannibalized for its wood, which was
used for more houses. Shortly after the Dutch purchase of Manhattan, the Dutch West India Company’s ambitious plan for Fort New Amsterdam at its
southern tip had to be considerably cut back when the governor of the colony, Peter Minuit, diverted laborers and building materials to building houses for
the colonists. The hastily built fortress had to be reconstructed in 1633, but many of the workers sent over from the Dutch Republic were drafted into the
colony’s military forces, and the work was finished by the company’s slaves. Even then, the expert Dutch builders and engineers had to sue the company
for their wages. Nor did the expense of a fortress stop when building was completed. A fortress was useless unless garrisoned, and establishing a
permanent fort meant a long-term commitment to adequately man it.

Expense was not the only reason colonists did not always welcome fortification. They sometimes saw a fortress not merely as protection from Native
Americans or rival colonists but as a way for the central government to exert its power over local communities. In Virginia, Governor William Berkeley’s
plan to build a chain of nine fortresses along the frontiers of Virginia aroused considerable opposition from frontiersmen, who feared that the central
colonial government would prevent them from waging war on local Native Americans. The fortresses, which were never built, were one of the factors
precipitating Bacon’s Rebellion.

Quakers opposed fortification as they did other warlike activities; even the construction of a redoubt to protect Philadelphia from privateers was preceded
by a heated debate. The Swedish traveler Peter Kalm, visiting Wilmington in 1748, observed that such was the fear of privateers that even the Quakers
were helping fortify the town. He noticed that many Quakers did not actually work on the defenses, but aided financially and helped get things ready.
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