Fishguard Fort – Invading Americans

Sitting on a spur of rock Fishguard Fort provides a commanding and protective arm over any approach from sea into the old harbour of Lower Fishguard, or Abergwaun. It was built in 1781 after a failed attempt by an American privateer to blackmail the town into paying a ransom of £1000. Stephen Manhant was commissioned by the US Government to attack British targets as part of the war of independence. A native of Boston, Manhant, obtained a ship called the Black Prince and started his campaign. In 1778 the inventor Benjamin Franklin had been sent to France, effectively becoming America’s first ever ambassador, and he encouraged French attacks on Britain. The French were only to happy to help fund Manhant on this campaign and the Black Prince was refitted at Dunkirk.. Then sailing under a French flag, the Black Prince set sail to do as much damage as possible. It seems the campaign was very successful, sinking more than 30 British ships over a 3 month period. The prisoners captured during this campaign were used to secure release of American prisoners.

In 1779 Manhant targeted Fishguard, threatening the town with destruction unless they paid a ransom of £1000. A huge sum in those days. The town refused to pay, I’m not sure if this was due to the fact they didn’t have that amount, or if it was bravado. After being rebuffed, and told to go away possibly supported by a few choice words in Welsh, The Black prince started to bombard the town. St Mary’s Church and a number of houses were damaged. But Manhant didn’t have it all his own way. A local ship fired back, supported by canon fire from the shore. Discouraged by the lack of easy pickings, Manhant and the Black Prince sailed away in search of other prey, presumably one that didn’t fight back..

Goodwick to Fishguard Fort

To protect the town from further attack a  proposal was made in 1780 for a battery with eight 9-pound cannon. This was met with enthusiasm by the authorities in London, then a remote and long way away. Reluctantly the Privy Council approved the building of a fort, but only if the town would pay for the construction of the fort and gunpowder for the canon. In the end the costs were met by the then Lord-lieutenant, Sir Hug Owen, and guns were finally installed in 1785. The fort comprised a gunnery platform with a rock-cut ditch in front, a 12′ (3.66m) wall across the rear, a magazine and guard-room (presumably not in the same building). It had no water supply, a slightly limiting factor in case of a protracted siege. Initially the fort was maned by three invalided gunners from Woolwich, London, and eventually became the head quarters for the local militia, known as the ‘Fishguard Fencibles’.

Goodwick to Fishguard Fort

The fort didn’t see any action until more than 10 years later. But in 1794 during the war with France, local volunteers with instructed in the use of the guns. But this being the UK, and we all know how well prepared we are for a war, there was no ammunition and hardly any gunpowder, so I’m not to sure how much practice there was, or how effective it would have been. Sounds to me of the Dad’s Army series 250 years later. Then on the 22nd of February 1797 the French arrived, intent on landing a force of 1400 soldiers with the plan of marching through Wales collecting supposedly disaffected Welshmen on the way. In order to preserve the only three rounds they had in the fort, the gunners fired blanks at the ships attempting to enter the harbour. This was enough and the French turned around and landed instead at Carreg Wasted a bay to the south.

The commanding officer Lt-Col Knox left 30 men at the fort the next day with instructions to spike the guns and dump the ammunition, while he retreated to Haverfordwest to raise the militia, but the defenders immediately abandoned the fort, and it took no part in the rest of the action. The invasion turned out to be a farce, and the just 2 days later the French surrendered. The fort remained manned by the invalided servicemen until 1802. There were still 5 guns there in 1805 but there is no further mention of the fort as a defensive installation thereafter.

Today the restored walls show the overall layout of the fort, with 5 guns still defiantly pointing out to sea, in a pretend defence of the shore. The store house remains and is providing a great spot for wild flowers to grow on the roof and  in the walls.  Situated on the Coastal path it is a great place for a coffee stop.

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