Fort George – Slaves’ Gateway to the Spanish Colonies

Ed Whelan

While Grenada is a popular tourist destination and one of the most beautiful islands in the West Indies , it is also a historic island, once one of the most strategic islands in the Caribbean. Fort George is a testament to the island’s important role in the history of the West Indies and is one of the most impressive examples of military architecture in the region.

History of Fort St George

Christopher Columbus first sighted Grenada, but it was never colonized by the Spanish as the native Amerindian tribes resisted several attempts to settle the island. The first European country to colonize it was the French, who established plantations on the island, worked by African slaves .

Designed by Francois Blondel, construction of Fort George started in 1666 when Grenada was a French colony. The fort was originally known as Fort Royal and was built to guard the main port on the island. The fort was redeveloped in the early 18 th century by the French architect de Caylus as Grenada became crucial in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Capture of Granada, 1779 engraving by Jean-Louise De Marne (Public Domain)

Capture of Granada, 1779 engraving by Jean-Louise De Marne ( Public Domain )

In 1762, the British obtained the island under the Treaty of Paris, which marked the end of the Seven Years War. They renamed the fortress ‘Fort George’ in honor of the British monarch George III. The French briefly re-occupied the fortress during the American Revolution, after they defeated the British at the naval battle of Grenada in 1779, but it was returned to the British as part of the peace settlement that ended the American Revolutionary War.  

During a slave revolt in 1796, the fort became the last bastion of the British on the island. Over time the fortress became less important to the British and was abandoned in the 1830s after a cholera outbreak killed many of the garrison. It was later used by the local militia and police force.

In 1974, Grenada became independent but was unstable. In 1979 the fort was taken over by a Marxist party and renamed. Over two dozen people were massacred in the yard by leftists who had seized power in a coup in 1983. In the same year, the USA invaded the island and Fort George was strafed by American helicopters.

The Military Design of Fort George

The fort is located on a steep hill above the capital of Grenada, which allowed the garrison to fire on any ships attempting to seize the port. The design was based on the fortresses built by Vauban in France, in the 17th century.

Fort George, Grenada (CC BY 2.0)

Fort George, Grenada (CC BY 2.0 )

Fort George today is regarded as the finest example of a Vauban style bastion in the Americas.  Bulwarks or bastions are situated at the corners of the fort which is built in the shape of a pentagon. The walls were built in ditches to reduce exposure to cannon fire.

Vauban’s original fort is still largely intact. The addition of the bastions meant that there were no blind spots, enabling the defenders to fire on any attackers no matter the direction of their assault. Fort George allowed the defenders to lay down interlocking fire zones that inflicted heavy casualties.

The building had a number of barracks and a magazine as well as artillery platforms where original cannons can be seen. Some of these, dating back to the 19 th century were gifts from Queen Victoria. The British added a number of buildings to the fort, including a new magazine, barracks, and a hospital to deal with the many cases of Yellow Fever among the garrison.

How to see Fort George

Fort George is accessible by a short hike up a steep hill that looks out over the capital of Grenada, St George’s. There may be an admission fee charged to enter the attraction. Although it sustained some damage in a recent hurricane, the fort is authentic, and some parts of the fort are still used by the local police force. Accommodation is plentiful near the fortress in St George.

Top image: Fort George with artillery cannons overlooking St. George’s   Source: Eqroy / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

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