By Mindy Lucas
About 50 people gathered on a cold and foggy morning recently for a ribbon cutting and grand opening for Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve in Port Royal.
The six-acre site, which includes a park and remains of a Colonial-era tabby fort, provides grand sweeping views of the Beaufort River.
Built by the British in the early 1700s, the ruins are thought to be part of the oldest surviving tabby fort in South Carolina. Though it never saw any action, the small fort played an important role in the early planning of the defense of Beaufort, considered the Southern frontier of British North America.
However, its real claim to fame may arguably be for an event that happened more than a hundred years later, during some of the most pivotal years in American history.
On Jan. 1, 1863, the Union-occupied site became the setting for a New Year’s Day celebration that included a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Thousands poured in to attend the celebration – including many formerly enslaved African Americans, or freed men, and newly recruited soldiers in the 1st South Carolina Regiment of Volunteers, later renamed the 33rd United States Colored Troops.
Twelve oxen were barbecued and hundreds of loaves of bread were baked, enough for 5,000 people, according to written historic accounts from the time. After the proclamation was read to a jubilant crowd, those present broke out into the singing of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.”
“The most dramatic moments of that story went right across the old ruins of Fort Frederick,” said local historian Larry Rowland, as he walked the grounds recently.
Beaufort County owns half of the property, which includes the public access point, parking areas and picnic pavilion, though Port Royal will maintain the park.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources owns the other half, which includes the historic tabby fort ruins. The department conducted an extensive archaeological excavation of the site in 2015, which produced pottery, arrow heads and other artifacts dating back thousands of years.
County and city officials said a “Phase II” plan for the park will include a boardwalk and kayak launch.
To read more about the history of Fort Frederick, read our feature story “A Hallowed Place” in this week’s Lowcountry Weekly.
IF YOU GO
Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve is at 601 Old Fort Road, in Port Royal. The park and preserve is open from dawn to dusk Monday through Sunday.
In addition to the historic tabby ruins, the park/preserve features a picnic pavilion with picnic tables available on a first-come first-serve basis and several interpretive panels where visitors can read more about the history of the area.
Watch a 25-minute documentary on the history of Fort Frederick.
Pictured at top: Port Royal Mayor Joe DeVito, center, S.C. Department of Natural Resources archaeologist Sean Taylor, right, and Beaufort County Councilwoman Alice Howard cut the ribbon to officially open the Fort Fredrick park Friday at the site of the old ruins near the U.S. Naval Hospital. At far left are Port Royal Town Councilman Darryl Owens and former mayor Sam Murray. Photo by Bob Sofaly.