Courtesy of Dr. Edward Harris, Executive Director, National Museum of Bermuda
With over 90 forts spanning more than three centuries, Bermuda was once one of the most fortified nations in the world. The citadel of its defences was the Parish of St. George’s, at the eastern end of the archipelago where the original capital of Bermuda, the Town of St. George, was also located. The majority of Bermuda’s forts were found in that parish, although substantial works can be found in the western parishes — particularly at Royal Naval Dockyard in Sandys Parish.
Underscoring their importance, the forts of St. George’s Parish are now a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, along with the town itself, which was established in 1612, as were the first forts. Unlike James Fort in Jamestown, Virginia, and other first English forts in the Americas that were built from timber and thus subject to decay and dissolution, the early Bermuda forts were built in stone. Several of them still exist from the first decade of settlement, making them the earliest surviving British fortifications in the New World.
Those forts maintained the defence of St. George’s and thus the rest of Bermuda well into the American Revolutionary War, but great change occurred once the conflict ended, as the British lost all of their seaports on the east coast of what became the United States of America. Because Bermuda was conveniently situated between English Canada and the British West Indies, it became an ideal naval base, known as the “Gibraltar of the West,” from which a watchful eye was kept on the new country across the Gulf Stream.
New forts to match new types of artillery were constructed throughout the 19th century, but in 1807, the United States and Britain became allies, so all the fortifications were for nought. During World War II, the U.S. took over the coastal defence of Bermuda. Their two bases continued in operation after the war against the new enemy of the Soviet Union. After almost four centuries of defence preparedness, the end of the Cold War in 1991 meant the end of Bermuda as a military entity. Today, the remaining historical forts serve to defend Bermuda as assets in the vital economy of heritage and cultural heritage.