Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Fort Lernoult

Fort Lernoult (also known as Fort Detroit and then Fort Shelby) was constructed during the winter of 1778-79. It replaced Fort Pontchartrain. Originally a British outpost during the American Revolution, this fort changed hands several times between British and American forces and played a prominent role in the War of 1812. During the time the fort guarded Detroit, the town grew from a small British outpost to a bustling American city. The fort provided the military presence that helped the city to grow and prosper.

During the Revolutionary War, U.S. Colonel George Rogers Clark set his sights on capturing Detroit from the British, so British Captain Richard Lernoult ordered his troops to construct a new fort on a hill outside of the town, since Fort Pontchartrain was in disrepair. Construction on Fort Lernoult was completed in April 1779. Though hastily constructed, the fort, named after its commander, was a formidable defensive structure. It housed close to 400 men and was armed with several dozen cannon.

An attack on Detroit never occurred during the Revolution and the Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially passed Detroit into the hands of the Americans. Nevertheless, the British refused to surrender the post and troops remained at Fort Lernoult. It wasn’t until the Jay Treaty of 1796 that the British agreed to abandon Detroit and move to Upper Canada.

The following day, American troops under Colonel Jean François Hamtramck arrived at the fort. The Americans constructed new buildings and made improvements to the fort. The fort was officially renamed Fort Detroit in 1805, the same year that the entire village was destroyed by fire. Fort Detroit was one of the few structures to survive.

Fort Detroit was a strategic outpost during the War of 1812. On August 15, 1812, British General Isaac Brock landed a force on the American shore and demanded surrender of Fort Detroit. The next day Territorial Governor William Hull, fearing massacre from Brock’s Indian allies, surrendered the fort without much of a fight, and the fort once again passed into British hands. In September 1813, the British abandoned Detroit due to the advancing Americans following the Battle of Lake Erie. The United States reoccupied the fort and renamed it Fort Shelby after Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky, who helped lead the American invasion force under William Henry Harrison.

Though Fort Shelby remained in the city, the American military presence waned over time. In 1826, the last troops left Fort Shelby, and it was soon demolished. As the city expanded, artifacts of the fort were continually uncovered, providing a link to Detroit’s past. The center of the fort is at the present-day intersection of West Fort and Shelby streets.



Map of Detroit showing Fort Lernoult, 1805

Excavation of Fort Lernoult, 1962

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