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When the Vice President Accepted the Call of Duty

February 22, 2017

I love when I do a little exploring and come upon something far greater than I expected. Such was the case back in December when I found Fort McClary in Kittery, ME.

After a morning’s drive to get here and a midday spent at the outlets, I was looking for an opportunity to go out and get some pictures.  At one of the stores they had a tourist map which mentioned Fort McClary and “great views”.  I’m always one to check out a fort and great views, so we took a short drive.

I was really surprised by what a great park it was.  There is quite a bit of the fort left intact, including the circa 1844 blockhouse.  The wonderfully mild weather for late December made it a great day for exploring and taking pictures.

Blockhouse

The site dates from 1689 and like many defensive structures it changed over times to meet the evolving threats. It is strategically located to protect the harbor in Portsmouth, NH. Originally built for the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Maine originally being part of Massachusetts), it was manned by a garrison run by a prominent local settler. As he was a Tory during the American Revolution, it was taken over by colonists. Massachusetts gave the land to the Federal government in 1808. It was named Fort McClary for a New Hampshire native who served at Bunker Hill. The fort stayed in use until after World War I. It saw little in the way of military conflict during its time.

The most interesting fact I learned (thanks to signage at the site) concerned the 15th Vice President of the United States, Hannibal Hamlin. Despite being the Vice President under Lincoln during his first term, he is not as well recognized as members of Lincoln’s cabinet (of which he was not part, which was apparently common at the time). Hamlin was in the Maine Coast Guard (as a private) and in 1864, shortly before the elections, his unit was called to active duty. Despite being given permission to not serve given he was the Vice President, he thought it would set a good example and reported to duty – at Fort McClary. The only special treatment he was given was being permitted to quarter with the officers.

Cannons on display

The fort also offers a wonderful view of two lighthouses in the harbor:

Whaleback Lighthouse

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

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