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sign for Fort Dobbs 

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have visited attractions that were primarily out-of-doors and generally not that far off the highway. Fort Dobbs State Historic Site meets those requirements, being nearly at the intersection of Interstates 40 and 77, just north of Statesville, North Carolina. Most forts in the South were associated with the Revolutionary or Civil Wars. Fort Dobbs is a French and Indian War fort! It is the only state historic site associated with that period in North Carolina. The site is similar to Oconee Station in South Carolina, visited last October and described in an ARGH article, in that it is mainly a blockhouse and it is situated on what was back then the frontier, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.   

Marker at Fort Dobbs
State historical marker notes the fort’s place in the French and Indian War.
blockhouse at fort dobbs
The main structure at the fort is a massive blockhouse.

By 1750 settlers had begun to populate the western frontier of North Carolina, mainly driven by immigration along the Great Wagon Road, and in 1756 Governor Arthur Dobbs decided a fortification was necessary to protect these new settlers from French instigated Native American attacks. Governor Dobbs stated the fort would be a place of “retreat” for the “back settlers,” as this area was “beyond the well settled area” with no other place on the frontier that would offer any protection. Without a fortification, the “Indians might pass them and murder the inhabitants, and retire before they durst go to give them notice.”   

The historic site includes examples of everyday technology that would have been used around the fort. The is a cob bread oven that would have been used to prepare food. Cob (commingled clay, sand, and straw) was a common building material for ovens, as it serves a large mass that absorbs and retains heat. The oven had no chimney; a fire was allowed to burn inside with the smoke billowing out the door. Once the oven was heated, the ash and coals were raked out and the retained heat would cook the bread or other food. A small blacksmith shop sits next to the cob oven.

cob bread oven
The cob bread oven.
blacksmith shop at fort dobbs
A small blacksmith’s shop with primitive tools.

The History

The background is the French and Indian War. The British and French were enemies over the first half of the eighteenth century, culminating in the Seven Years War (1756-1763). A subset of that conflict in the New World involved New France and the British colonies over control of the land on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. It involved the frontier settlers, the military, and the Native Americans allies of each side. In early 1754 France desired to expand its control of North America, by unifying its Canadian lands with Louisiana. This would be accomplished via a series of military posts stretching from the Great Lakes down the Ohio River Valley. The same lands were claimed by the British as within the Province of Virginia. Virginia called for assistance to respond to the intrusion and North Carolina was the first state to offer military assistance by sending troops to participate in the Ohio expedition. As the war raged on, tensions developed between the French-allied Cherokee and the British, and, after dozens of Cherokee warriors were killed by the Virginia provincials, hostilities grew to open warfare. North Carolina needed to protect its frontier.            

Fort Dobbs was that protection and was the sole permanent frontier provincial fortification in the colony of North Carolina. Construction occurred over 1755-1756. The fort served as the military headquarters for a company of frontier soldiers (roughly 50 men) and as a refuge for settlers in danger of attack. The protection would come from a large blockhouse, described as:

"A good and Substantial Building of the Dimentions following (that is to say) The Oblong Square fifty three feet by forty, the opposite Angles Twenty four feet and Twenty-two, In height Twenty four and a half feet as by the Plan annexed Appears, The Thickness of the Walls which are made of Oak Logs regularly Diminished from sixteen Inches to Six, it contains three floors and there may be discharged from each floor at one and the same time about one hundred Muskets the same is beautifully scituated in the fork of Fourth Creek a Branch of the Yadkin River."

Daniel Boone
Daniel Boone is associated with the fort. Some of his family took shelter in the fort and he may have served as a North Carolina frontier provincial soldier.
View at fort dobbs
The view from one of the loopholes. A loophole is a protected small opening in a blockhouse that
allows for defense by protecting a rifleman while he is firing upon the enemy.
Fort Dobbs had three floors and each floor had 100 loopholes.

There was a Cherokee attack on the fort on the night of February 27, 1760 by more than 60 Native Americans. The attackers were repelled. The British suffered one casualty (a colonial boy) and two men wounded. About a dozen Cherokee were wounded or killed. Colonel Hugh Waddell, commander of the North Carolina provincials described the attack to Governor Dobbs as:

“We had not marched 300 yds from the fort when we were attacked by at least 60 or 70 Indians ... We recd the Indian's fire: When I perceived they had almost all fired, I ordered my party to fire which We did not further than 12 Steps each loaded with a Bullet and 7 Buck shot, they had nothing to cover them as they were advancing either to tomahawk or make us prisoners ... the Indians were soon repulsed with I am sure a considerable Loss, from what I myself saw as well as those I can confide in they cou'd not have less that 10 or 12 killed and wounded ... On my sided I had 2 Men wounded one of whom I am afraid will die as he is scalped, the other is in a way of Recovery, and one boy killed near the fort."

The British had substantially won the war by the end of 1761. Only 30 soldiers needed to remain at the fort. Gradually the frontier moved west of the fort and the Colonial leaders demobilized the troops and abandoned the fort.  By 1766 the fort was reported to be in ruins.    

Tours inside the blockhouse are given throughout the day by an interpretative historian. Having such a qualified tour guide made for a fantastic overview of the fort. Below are four views of the blockhouse inside, including the enlisted bunks and officer’s quarters.

inside the blockhouse inside the fortinside the fortinside the fort

The site includes a visitors center with displays and items that would have been in the fort (see below). The center includes displays with historical background. There are restrooms and a picnic area. 

cannon at fort dobbs rifle at fort dobbs

There are few historic sites related to the French and Indian War. That makes this site particularly interesting and unusual. It is the perfect place to slip off the interstate and learn some American history. 

Author/Photographer. Tom Straka is an emeritus professor of forestry at Clemson University. He has an interest in history, forestry and natural resources, natural history, and the American West. Pat Straka is a consulting forester and the photographer on most of their travel articles. They reside in South Carolina and have also lived in Mississippi and Virginia.

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