With dusk settling earlier each day and leaves transforming from greens to golds, there is no denying that fall has arrived. Students have been in school for well over a month by now, and football season is in full swing, but the most thrilling part of the fall is just starting – Halloween season! Yes it’s true, Halloween falls on a single day (or night, more appropriately!) but the celebrations of ghosts and ghouls begin way before the 31st of October.
Like many of the states in the Northeast, Delaware boasts a long history; one that dates back to an early colonization and a presence in both the American Revolution and the Civil War. As any believer of the paranormal knows, with history comes ghosts and Fort Delaware, located on Pea Patch Island on the Delaware River, is perhaps one of the First State’s most ‘historical’ sites.
The history of Fort Delaware begins with Pea Patch Island. The island was first identified as an ideal defensive site in 1794 by French military engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Military officials attempted to fortify the island during the War of 1812 but their efforts resulted in only a seawall and a series of dykes. Between 1817 and 1859, three different fort formations were erected on Pea Patch Island – a star, a polygon, and a pentagon. From 1848 to 1859, the pentagon formation was constructed and remains on the island today.
Structure and Defense
The pentagon structure of Fort Delaware was outfitted with an imposing line of defense. Built with granite and brick, the Fort’s walls stand 32 feet high and boast of width of 30 feet. A 30 foot wide moat circumvents the entire area. Protecting the fort and the Delaware River are three tiers of guns – the maximum capacity was reached in 1866 when 156 guns occupied the floors. A garrison was added during the Spanish-American War.
Fort Delaware stepped into the military spotlight with the inception of the Civil War. Though built primarily as a means of defense, Fort Delaware was utilized as a military prison for captured Confederate soldiers, convicted federal soldiers, and local prisoners. In 1862, 6,000 prisoners-of-war occupied the Fort. In 1863, following the Battle of Gettysburg, the prisoner count soared to a number of 12,500 soldiers. As its population grew, so did its structure. Ancillary buildings such as officer’s quarters, prisoner barracks, a chapel, and additional support structures began popping up around the Fort.
Death and Disease
Approximately 2,500 prisoners died within the limits of Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island. For a Civil-War era war camp, the conditions at Fort Delaware were decent; however, that did not eliminate the threat of disease. An unfortunately common occurrence, death by disease pervaded military camps during the Civil War and Fort Delaware was no exception. In 1863, a smallpox epidemic broke out and claimed the lives of 252 men. Inflammation of the lungs, diarrhea, Typhoid, malaria, scurvy, pneumonia, and erysipelas (inflammatory skin infection) were cited as causes of death among the prisoners. The only violent deaths recorded on the island involved that of drowning and gunshot wounds.
So what kind of paranormal activity has been experienced on Fort Delaware? With 2,500 souls lingering within the island’s limits, the possibility for paranormal activity is sure to be expected. Visitors have reported hearing voices, experiencing drops in temperature, seeing ghostly figures, and feeling tugs on their clothing while in specific rooms of the Fort. The Mess Hall, Kitchen, Laundry Room, and Officer’s Quarters are especially active areas.
The paranormal activity at Fort Delaware became so prevalent that various paranormal investigation teams have studied the property. Delaware Ghost Hunters and SyFy’s popular Ghost Hunters teams have both investigated Fort Delaware.
Fort Delaware Today
Fort Delaware ceased to exist as a prisoner camp after the Civil War. The Fort continued to receive structural enhancements through to the Spanish-American War and was manned during both World Wars. The site was closed in 1944 and the State of Delaware acquired the fort from the U.S. Government in 1947. In 1951, Fort Delaware and all of surrounding Pea Patch Island became a state park known today as Fort Delaware State Park. Presently, the park provides tours of Fort Delaware which include fort tours, historical interpretation programs, overnight camping visits, and also serves as a host for various community events throughout the year.
Interested in learning more about Fort Delaware or investigating its haunted past? Visit Programs at Fort Delaware State Park for a schedule of paranormal investigations with Delaware Ghost Hunters.