Manuscript Collection: US Army Hospital Meteorological Diary

Fri, 06/02/2017 - 1:15pm -- mfarias

Fort Wolcott was the primary fort protecting Newport, Rhode Island from 1703-1836. Over the years it had many names and served different military forces, later aided by the United States Army Hospital on site. The collection we are featuring today consists of one incredibly detailed meteorological diary maintained by the US Army Hospital at Fort Wolcott on Goat Island in Newport Harbor.


The cover of the Meteorological Diary, 1833-1835
From the Collection of the Redwood Library

In 1798, President John Adams signed into law the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen, which helped fund medical care and build additional hospitals for seamen. A year later, Congress extended the Act to cover every officer and sailor in the U.S. Navy. The Act led to the gradual creation of a loose network of locally controlled marine hospitals along coastal and inland waterways, such as the one at Fort Wolcott. According to the History of Fort Wolcott by John T. Duchesneau, the first name for Fort Wolcott was Fort Anne, which lasted from 1703 until 1732. It was named after the Queen of England at the time and served the needs of the colonies under the guidance of England. After a period of disuse and disrepair, the fort was rebuilt in 1732 and renamed Fort George, which lasted until 1775. Fort George was determined to be a more serious operation: “In February 1740 Colonel John Cranston was appointed captain of the fort. He was assisted by a lieutenant, a gunner and eleven men who served at the fort full time as well as another 38 men who could be called to the fort in an emergency.” In 1745, architect Peter Harrison was paid 75 pounds to prepare two sets of detailed plans of the fort, one of which was sent to the King and the other to the Colony’s governor. He also prepared a plan for a new fort to replace Fort George, but it was never built. The existing Fort George was found to be one of the most formidable forts in the colonies. For this reason, in 1774, the Assembly voted to remove most of the canons from the fort and move them to Providence, in fear of the British occupying Newport and gaining control of the arsenal.


Images of Fort George/Fort Wolcott (Source: John T. Duchesneau)

The rebellious people of the colonies renamed the fort “Fort Liberty” in 1775; although when the British occupied Newport and assumed control of the fort in 1776, they continued to address it as Fort George. When the British left Newport in 1779, they left the fort behind for the French to use during their time in Newport from 1780-1781. In 1785, the fort was renamed Fort Washington in honor of the first President. This name held until 1798 when it’s name was changed for the last time to Fort Wolcott, in honor of Oliver Wolcott Sr. (1726-1797) who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, served as governor of Connecticut (1796-1797) and was a Major General in the Connecticut Militia during the Revolution. His son, Oliver Jr., was Secretary of the Treasury during the Jefferson administration and would also serve as Connecticut's governor. The active service of the fort was ended in 1836. The new Fort Adams, on the main island, took over defending Newport from sea attacks in 1841.

 Top: Full Month of January, 1833 - Bottom: March 1833 Winds & Weather
From the Collection of the Redwood Library

The diary presented here dates from January 1833 to August 1835, towards the end of the active life of the fort. In consists of a detailed daily recording of the weather, wind direction, and temperature maintained by the hospital. Entries from January 1833 to December 1834 are recorded as "weather at Newport, R.I.," and January to August 1835 entries are recorded as "weather at Fort Wolcott, R.I." These records also include remarks and monthly summaries of the weather and illnesses, such as scarlet fever and influenza. Their recordings were useful for both a strategic, military understanding, and also for noticing health patterns in the people at the hospital and on the fort. Records like this provide so much detail on such a narrow scope, but it can be expanded to a wide range of useful applications, even just by observing them today.