The remains of the old Fort are still visible at this site off of the Old Post Road, at end the end of Fort Ninigret Road. Located high above Charlestown (Ninigret) Pond, the land has steep banks on the south side and projects into the pond. A surrounding wall of stone and earth outlines the original palisade, which contains approximately 3/4 of an acre and appears in the form of a square.
There were three bastions, twenty feet square, one on each of the three angles or corners, which completely covered the ditches and walls of the fort. It appears that the main entrance to the fort was reached at the south corner, near the pond, and the only corner without a bastion.
There have been many archaeological excavations performed on this site over the past 150 years. Evidence tells us that the first settlement at this site was approximately 700 A.D. The first written record of activity here occurs on May 24, 1637, when Col. John Mason and his troops marched from Wickford to Connecticut (along the old Pequot Trail) to fight the Pequots. This ancient trail, 80 years later, would become the base of the Old Post Road, which ran through Charlestown, along the coast. As Mason proceeded on his journey, he was reinforced by a large party of Narragansetts sent on by Miantinomo. Mason and his men arrived at the fort in the evening for an overnight. It was garrisoned by a large body of Niantics, who would not allow him and his troops to enter the fortification. Undoubtedly, it was a strong and well-fortified position. Here then, is one particular instance on record, where the condition of the Niantic fort was known to the English.
After numerous excavations and studies, we know that the Royal Ninigret Sachems dwelled here, and were buried here. In 1912, a very large study was conducted by archaeologist H.H. Wilder. The burying plots were disrupted and analyzed. Many of the items, including human remains were exhumed and sent to other locations for analysis, destroying what was once a sacred location of the Niantic people.
At this site as well, the Dutch traded with the Niantic Tribe and many Dutch artifacts were found within the graves. It is believed that European contact here may go as far back as the late 1500s, as a Spanish cannon and sword dating to the late 1400s (see picture on display) was unearthed not far from the site of this fort.
The Charlestown Historical Society has a copy of Wilder's historical research and will be studying its contents. We will provide updates within the museum display as we learn more about this event.
Indian tradition records that this site was the Royal Burial Ground of the combined tribes of the Narragansett and Niantic Indians, a burial place of privilege for the Indian sachems, or chiefs, and their families. As such, it is one of the few remaining traces of a once-large and powerful Indian nation in New England.
Before it was protected as a park, the site was subject to abuse by the local citizenry. Without consent, a group of nine local persons opened one of the graves in May, 1869, in order to ascertain how the Indians buried their dead and to collect relics. Covered with large, flat stones, the tomb was found to contain a log coffin. Two logs had been split to serve as top, bottom and sides and were bound together by iron chains. A brass kettle was found at one end, and an iron kettle at the other, along with numerous tribal relics. Legal action was brought against the men by members of the tribe, but the accused were exonerated. A published history of the area in 1887, states that much of what was found was sent to Brown University, although the whereabouts of these artifacts is no longer known there. The same history claims that there was a subsequent exploration by a Dr. Parsons of Providence.
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