Fort Pickering in Salem, Massachusetts

Fort Pickering is a historic military fort on Winter Island in Salem, Mass. It is one of two forts built in Salem, the other being Fort Lee on Salem Neck.

Fort Pickering is about 2 acres in size and is located on the eastern and southern side of Winter Island, which is a 38-acre-island on the western side of Salem Harbor and is connected to Salem Neck by a causeway.

The fort is a horseshoe shaped fort that is open on the west side. The walls are constructed out of granite exteriors with earthen mounds behind them and are about four and 15 feet in height. The barracks are an earth covered mound in the southeast corner of the fort with granite lined entrances. Directly below the fort is a rocky beach.

A military fort was first established on this site in 1643 but it wasn’t fully completed until nearly a decade later after the Massachusetts General Court contributed money towards its completion in 1655.

The early fortifications of the fort were simple, unsophisticated structures made out of earth and wood.

Fort Pickering was first used for military purposes in 1663 when it was a strategic coastal defense post for Salem Harbor during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

In 1666, work still continued on the fort and every adult male over 16 years of age in Salem was required to work on its construction.

Illustration of Fort Pickering, published in the Pictorial Fieldbook of the War of 1812 in 1869
Illustration of Fort Pickering, published in the Pictorial Fieldbook of the War of 1812 in 1869

In 1699, the fort was officially named Fort William, after King William III.

In 1704, the fort was renamed Fort Anne, after Queen Anne, and it was rebuilt by royal engineers in 1706. It was later renamed Fort William again.

In 1774, the fort served as a garrison for the 59th British regiment under the command of Colonel Hamilton who later participated in the Battle of Bunker Hill in June of 1775.

After the British abandoned Boston in 1776, the fort was occupied by American forces who renamed it Fort Number Two and used it to protect the large fleet of American privateers in Salem Harbor.

The fort was maintained throughout the 18th century but did not see any military action, even when the Revolutionary War broke out in Massachusetts in 1775.

The fact that it saw no military action throughout the various wars in the region highlights its effectiveness as a deterrent against British invasion of Salem Harbor.

In October of 1794, the fort was ceded to the Federal government and rebuilt under the direction of Sieur de Rochefontaine (Stephen Rochefontaine) an engineer in charge of fortifications in the New England area. The newly rebuilt fort was constructed out of masonry and sods with a brick citadel for the garrison to live in. These restorations were completed in 1796.

In 1799, the fort was restored a second time and on October 30, 1799, it was renamed Fort Pickering in honor of Colonel Timothy Pickering, the U.S. Secretary of State who was born in Salem at the Pickering House.

In August of 1814, the fort underwent a third restoration. The fort was manned again during the American Civil War and rebuilt and expanded by the Department of War in 1863/1864 to include powder magazines and additional earthworks.

The fort was manned again during the Spanish American War in 1898 but was later abandoned after that war ended.

In 1871, a lighthouse was built at the site and was named Winter Island Light.

In 1972, ownership of Fort Pickering was returned to the City of Salem and it became a city park called Winter Island Marine Park.

On February 8, 1973, Fort Pickering was added to the National Register of Historical Places.

In 1994, the National Register designated the various historic sites on Winter Island and Fort Pickering as the Winter Island Historic District and Archaeological District. These sites include the site of the Enos Brigg’s shipyard, built in 1799, the Winter Island Lighthouse, built in 1871, and the Coast Guard Air Station Salem, built in 1935.

In 2016 and 2017, the plant overgrowth at Fort Pickering was removed and the site was restored.

“Salem’s Military Past.” Preserving Salem,
“Fort Pickering Lighthouse.” MACRIS, Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System,
“Fort Pickering – Fort William – Fort Anne.” MACRIS, Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System,

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *