Citizens fortified Jones Point area
June 13, 1996
by Pamela Cressey
When we first read about Jones Point from mid-18th century documents, we see that it was virtually an island during high tides, separated from the mainland by a pocoson. It was put to agricultural purposes by early owners, and remained on the periphery of the town and economic activity. But by the Revolutionary years, Jones Point’s commanding view of the Potomac River brought it to the attention of the citizens for military use.
Alexandrians started worrying about their protection from British ships in 1776. T. Michael Miller writes in his article on Jones Point that townspeople "feared reprisal raids by Royal Governor Dunmore who had made sorties up the Potomac River...." In September of that year, George Masion and other local people from Fairfax and Alexandria sent a petition to the Virginia Council requesting funds for defense.
The petition stated "their defenseless condition, tho accessable to Ships of War under forty or fifty Guns only, and praying that they might be permitted to purchase at the public expence [sic] sixteen Iron Cannon, vizt ten eighteen pounders and size nine pounders to be mounted on two substantial Batteries which had been lately erected on advantageous situation...." They also asked for "two small Forges for casting the nine pound shott, with a sufficient Quantity of Ordinance Stores ...taking care not to exceed thirty five pounds per Tonn, for the Cannon, ...and to procure the other Articles as cheap as possible...."
While there is no evidence that either battery was erected on Jones Point, Mary Powell’s 1928 history of Alexandria does note that an Alexandria Militia artillery company guarded a water battery there "where some of the guns abandoned by Braddock were mounted."
George Mason was a strong proponent for the speedy procurement of cannons for Alexandria. He wrote John Hancock in October 1776 to ask if he would "represent their Case to the honorable Congress" for cannons made by Messrs. Hughes of Frederick County Maryland "(who are the only Persons on this Part of the Continent to be depended on for Cannon)."
Beyond the need for human safety, Mason’s request was motivated by economic concerns. He wrote John Hancock: "...the sooner it can be granted to better; as the fortifieing [sic] the said Town will be very advantageous to the Trade ...and give considerable Encouragement to foreign Adventures, by affording them Protection at a good Port...."
Apparently, the request to the Congress went unanswered. In March 1980, a British privateer came up to the Alexandria harbor and attempted to capture a ship. The unsuccessful privateer was captured later. Alexandrians bemoaned their "defenceless situation" and requested the loan of "2 barrels of Gun powder and 2 nine pounders which we got from Annapolis by land." By November, Governor Thomas Jefferson tried to improve defenses and noted the need for "placing 2 or 4 guns at the principal ports... to protect shipping ... from sudden enterprises of privateers." He named Alexandria, Portsmouth, Hampton, York and Hobbs Hole as the ports requiring protection.
Just a few months later in May 1781, James Hendricks wrote Jefferson that a "considerable part of the work . . . towards the completion of the Battery is already executed...." Apparently both a fot and blockhouse were planned. Were they ever constructed? It is possible, since the 1791 Gilpin map has a fot-like structure drawn across Jones Point. Were more forts to come on Jones Point?
Photo Caption: the 1791 Gilpin map depicts a rectangular fort shape with parapets facing both up and down the Potomac River.