north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     North Carolinians recognized early during the American Revolution that the bay at Cape Lookout was an excellent harbor, but without fortifications, it could just as well serve as a target for invasion as a safe port for the Americans. When the French privateer Captain Denis de Cottineau steered his frigate Ferdinand into the harbor in February 1778 he, too, noticed the site’s potential. In fact, as he fled the British warship Emerald, de Cottineau believed that the whaler’s cabins along the shore were the makings of a rude fort. The commander of the Emerald was apparently deceived, as well, since he chose not to purse his quarry. Since the Ferdinand required extensive repairs, de Cottineau decided to construct a small fort to protect his vessel and its cargo.

     De Cottineau was in America with a cargo of supplies to aid the fight for American independence. Also on board the Ferdinand was Luis-Antione Jean-Baptiste, le Chevalier de Cambray who was a captain of artillery with engineering skills. De Cambray surveyed the area and believed Cape Lookout offered an advantageous military position both to the state of North Carolina and to the Continental forces. Thus, in their general endeavor to aid the cause of American independence, the two men determined that a permanent fort should be constructed and undertook the project immediately and largely at their own expense. His crew and “six countrymen” provided the labor.

     Since the state was having difficulty in arming the fort, de Cottineau donated six cannons and two swivel guns with ammunition to the fort. He and de Cambray requested only letters of recommendation to the Continental Congress asking for a commission in the Continental Army. The fort was completed and garrisoned by mid-May 1778. As de Cottineau prepared to leave North Carolina he did make claims for some of his expenditures, and was ultimately allowed about 940 pounds. The installation was named Fort Hancock by the Frenchmen, possibly in honor of the man on whose land it was built. The fort never saw military action, though it was often “spotted” by British vessels, and it was dismantled in 1780.

William L. Saunders and Walter Clark, eds., Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, various references
Jean Bruyere Kell, North Carolina’s Coastal Carteret County during the American Revolution, 1765-1785 (c.1975)

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north carolina highway historical marker program

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