Fort Mechanic: A Product of “Patriotic Zeal”

Category: Blog, History, Museum

Today, the Edmondston-Alston House sits at 21 East Battery in downtown Charleston as an integral part of the Middleton Place Foundation. Prior to Charles Edmondston’s construction of the house from 1820-25, the land was occupied by Fort Mechanic. The unique history of this fort amplifies the spirit of perseverance that the Edmondston-Alston House embodies to this day.

The construction of Fort Mechanic originated in response to the seemingly-distant conflict of the French Revolutionary Wars. When France and Britain declared war on each other in 1793, the United States government felt threatened enough to reinforce the country’s coastal fortifications, many of which had been neglected since the American Revolution and desperately needed attention. The initial plan proposed by the federal government advocated for new infrastructure at more than a dozen coastal ports, including three sets of a battery, a redoubt, and a blockhouse for Charleston alone.1 Military engineer Paul Hyacinthe Perrault took charge of these renovations on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, and soon after his arrival in May of 1794, work began on the repair and establishment of four fortifications in Charleston: Fort Johnson, Fort Moultrie, Fort Pinckney, and Fort Mechanic.

Despite a limited budget from the federal government, this project was considered urgent to many South Carolinians who worried that “if the present eventful European contest should terminate in the dissolution of the French republic, [there is] no doubt but the craving appetite of despotism, will be satisfied with nothing less than American vassalage, in some form or other.”2 As a result, the Charleston Mechanical Society offered free work to help complete the construction of the new fortification on East Bay. By November of 1794, the Charleston mechanics had finished their work and presented the completed wooden fort to Governor William Moultrie, who honored the workers by naming it Fort Mechanic.3 Since the American conflict with Great Britain gradually cooled in the last years of the eighteenth century, Fort Mechanic was never actually necessary for defense.

In 1804, the Antigua-Charleston hurricane caused massive destruction to the city’s fortifications, including Fort Mechanic. In his address to the South Carolina House of Representatives on December 5th, Governor John B. Richardson described the “decayed and ruinous situation” of Charleston’s forts.4 This situation was not addressed until naval tensions with Great Britain rose again in 1806, inspiring a federal project for a “second system” of coastal defenses which intended to strengthen the existing fortifications with stronger materials. By 1809, the site of Fort Mechanic was transformed from a wooden to a masonry fortification with barracks that could house fifty men.5

When the War of 1812 began, Fort Mechanic finally had its chance to become militarily-relevant. Initially manned by Charleston militia units, it eventually became a station for the United States Army. Although Fort Mechanic never actually fired against the British during the war, it still served as a bastion for patriotic sentiments. For example, on July 4, 1812, American troops shot off fireworks from Fort Mechanic.6 The fort became inactive following the War of 1812, and since the land that it was built upon was privately owned, houses began to spring up around it. In 1817, William Holmes sold part of his tract of the land to Charles Edmondston, a shipping merchant hailing from the Shetland Islands of Scotland. Fort Mechanic was razed the following year, and once the seawall was added in 1820, construction began on the Edmondston-Alston House, an imposing three-story Federal-style home.

The house has only changed families once, in 1838, when it was sold to Charles Alston, a rice planter from Georgetown, South Carolina. Today, the Edmondston-Alston House operates as a house museum, furthering the Middleton Place Foundation’s mission of inspiring a deeper understanding of ourselves and each other through our shared American history. Although Fort Mechanic does not stand today, the Edmondston-Alston House has similarly witnessed numerous instances of social change, political strife, and natural disasters. Withstanding them all, the Edmondston-Alston House survives today as an emblem of perseverance and American zeal, an attribute that it certainly shares with Fort Mechanic, its predecessor on the soil of 21 East Battery.

By: Katie Gardner

1 Arthur, Robert, “Early Coast Fortification,” The Military Engineer 53, no. 354 (1961): 279.

2 Republican Society of South Carolina, “Declaration of the Friends of Liberty and National Justice,” August 20, 1793, Library of Congress,

3 Charleston City Gazette, November 18, 1794.

4 The Charleston Daily Courier, December 5, 1804.

5 “Fort Mechanic, Darrell Battery,” Preservation Society of Charleston,

6 “Fort Mechanic, Darrell Battery.”


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