The Society of Descendants of Militia Officers

serving from 1607 to 1861


In New England the threat of attack by Native Americans extended well into the late 1700s.  As a result inhabitants of towns and villages needed a style of fortification that allowed the residents to resist from strongpoints that did not require a permanent guard but could be immediately manned, and that were of sufficient strength to resist attack by relatively small numbers of attackers armed only with personal weapons.  Because the threat was occasional, rather than continuous, the fortifications had to have a practical use on a day-to-day basis.
Enter the Garrison, or Garrison House, a style of architecture unique to New England.  A Garrison was a two story dwelling, constructed of heavy planks, with an overhanging second story.  Windows were protected by loopholed shutters, making each garrison house essentially a blockhouse.  A  number of these stout buildings survive today.

Evidence suggests that, in at least some towns, the owners of Garrisons were formally identified as military commanders and residents of unfortified dwellings were assigned to nearby Garrisons in case of attack.   Although lists are of men assigned, the actual occupancy would have been much higher in a crisis, as the men represent households.  To give an idea of how common this type of fortification was, Lancaster, Massachusetts identified 10 Garrisons in 1704 with as few as 4 and as many as 9 men assigned to each.  Pete Payette identifies (in the American Forts Network website) 166 named Garrison Houses in New Hampshire, with many more not identified.  The town of Dover alone had as many as 50 Garrison Houses in 1689.

There is at least one reference to Garrisons outside of New England.  During the Tuscarora War of 1711-1714, Captain Farnefold Green of the Bath County Regiment wrote to the Governor of North Carolina reporting that the people in his county were all in Garrisons.  These do not appear to have been the New England house style fortification, but rather fall within the broader range of settler forts composed of temporary strengthening of regular houses and the addition of protective palisades.