|Historic Site of Fort Billingsport
Clonmell Rd. and North Delaware St.
Map / Directions to Fort Billingsport
|Now a public park, located between the oil refineries along the Delaware River. In addition to several small monuments, there are picnic tables, and a great view of the Delaware River.
Fort Billingsport - The First Federal Land Purchase
When the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, it created the new country of the United States of America. The following day, Congress made the new country's first federal land purchase, a one-hundred-acre plot of land located at this site on the Delaware River, where Fort Billingsport was then constructed.
Fort Billingsport was part of a series of defenses created to keep the British from sailing up the Delaware River to reach the national capital at Philadelphia. The defenses included two other forts in the area, Fort Mercer about ten miles upriver from here on the New Jersey side, and Fort Mifflin on the other side of the Delaware River.
In addition to the forts, a system of obstructions called cheaveaux de frise were placed in the Delaware River. These were large boxes with long wooden spikes stuck out of them, to impale the British ships which might make it up the Delaware River. One row of these, known as the lower cheaveaux de frise, stretched from Fort Billingsport to a group of American ships on the other side of the river.
If the British attempted to remove the cheaveaux de frise, it would require a great deal of time and effort using two ships. Having Fort Mercer on the shore alongside meant that in the time it would take the British to attempt to remove the cheaveaux de frise, cannon fire from Fort Mercer could sink their ships.
The British learned of these defenses and, realizing that they could not sail their ships up the Delaware River, decided to invade Philadelphia by a different route. They sailed up the Chesapeake to a point where they could disembark and then march fifty miles to Philadelphia. Although this route was longer and required the lengthy march, it avoided the cheaveaux de frise and allowed the British to take Philadelphia on September 26, 1777.
British Attack on Fort Billingsport
With British forces in Philadelphia, the situation changed greatly for Fort Billingsport. The fort had been built as part of defenses to keep the British out of Philadelphia. It was not designed for the situation of having them already in Philadelphia.
When the fort was constructed, it was assumed that any attack would come from downriver, because the British roundabout way of taking Philadelphia had not been anticipated. Therefore, its defensive walls faced downriver, leaving the fort insufficiently protected from an attack from other directions.
Also, with the British in Philadelphia, they were able to bring cannon to the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, opposite Fort Billingsport.
Realizing these facts, on September 28, two days after the British occupied Philadelphia, General Washington ordered the evacuation of the men stationed at Fort Billingsport to Fort Mifflin across the Delaware River. Unknown to Washington and the troops at Fort Billingsport, approximately 1500 British troops had that same day begun marching from Philadelphia with the intent of capturing Fort Billingsport. They crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey about ten miles south of Paulsboro, and then marched toward Fort Billingsport. Along the way they encountered and exchanged fire with New Jersey militia under Brigadier General Silas Newcomb. The New Jersey militiamen were greatly outnumbered, and they retreated.