The American Revolution in North Carolina

Fort Johnston

July 18, 1775


Patriot Cdr:

Col. Robert Howe
British Cdr:

Capt. John Collett
Killed:

0
Killed:

0
Wounded:

0
Wounded:

0
Captured:

0
Captured:

0
Original County: 

Brunswick County
Present County:

Brunswick County

Located within the city limits of Southport, North Carolina, Fort Johnston is still a US Army Military Reservation consisting of a few buildings, and it serves as the headquarters and residence of the commander of the Sunny Point Military Ocean Terminal. Fort Johnston is one of the oldest active military installations in the United States; it has been maintained since the 1740s. It also has the distinction of being the smallest working military installation in the world.


Fort Johnston was built in the 1740s to protect Brunswick Town from Spanish incursions in the mid-eighteenth century. The fort was named after Royal Governor Gabriel Johnston.

In early 1775, local native Robert Howe began training the Brunswick County Militia, much to the dismay of Royal Governor Josiah Martin. As the growing rebellion heated up, Governor Martin fled from the governor's mansion in New Bern and initially sought refuge within the walls of Fort Johnston. When he learned of a planned Patriot attack on the fort, he then moved on board the British sloop of war Cruizer, just offshore of what is today modern Southport.

Governor Martin left Capt. John Collett in charge of the fort, but he told Martin that he would not be able to defend it with the few men he had. Governor Martin ordered the guns to be dismantled and moved to a position on the Cape Fear River that could be protected by the British sloop-of-war HMS Cruizer.

On the night of July 18th, Cornelius Harnett, Col. Robert Howe and his Brunswick County Regiment of Militia, along with Col. John Ashe and his New Hanover County Regiment of Militia, marched into the abandoned fort and burned it in full view of Royal Governor Josiah Martin aboard the HMS Cruizer. Five hundred men were observed inspecting the fort the next day, but the Patriots could not get to the heavy guns along the shore since they were within range of HMS Cruizer's guns.

Col. Robert Howe and his men remained at the fort for a short time but did not rebuild it. Capt. John Collett, no longer having a fort to command, sailed to Boston where he raised a company in the Royal Fencible American Regiment.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. Robert Howe - Commanding Officer

Brunswick County Regiment of Militia, led by Col. Robert Howe, with an unknown number of men

New Hanover County Regiment of Militia, led by Col. John Ashe, with an unknown number of men

Cornelius Harnett, plus others unnamed

Total of about 500 Patriots

Capt. John Collett - Commanding Officer

Unknown number of men

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© 2009 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved