No traces now exist of the original Fort Johnson which stood at Windmill Point on James Island. Fort Johnson was designed and built in 1708 by Huguenot refugees to protect the English colony of South Carolina from attack by Spanish and French forces. It was named after the Proprietary Governor of the Carolinas, Sir Nathaniel Johnson. A second fort was built in 1759 and portions of its "tabby" walls, made from sea shells, are still visible today. The fort played a role during the Stamp Act crisis. The citizens of Charles Town were incensed at the arrival in the colony of the offensive stamps. Lt. Governor William Bull, fearing violence in the streets, sent the hated stamps to Fort Johnson for safekeeping. The garrison at Fort Johnson was strengthened, and there the hated stamps remained until Parliament rescinded the Act.
Early in the Revolutionary War, Fort Johnson was seized by the rebellious colonials. Though the fort did not play a particularly important role in the military history of the revolution, this early skirmish is remembered because for the first-time local troops used a South Carolina flag.
In 1776, this fort was occupied by three companies of South Carolina troops under Lt. Col. Motte. During the American Revolution, the fort remained in colonial hands until 1780 when British forces advancing on Charleston found it abandoned. A siege map of the period shows it as destroyed, but whether by enemy action or by storm has not been determined. A third fort, built in 1793, was abandoned temporarily in 1800 after a storm breached its sea wall. Some work apparently was done during the War of 1812, but another storm in 1813 almost destroyed the fort. By 1827, little remained of the fort.
By the late 1820’s the fort was dropped from reports of United States fortifications, although between 1820 and 1830 a free-standing brick magazine was constructed on the eastern side of the reservation as was an armed Martello tower on the western side. The wooden interior of this tower was burned in 1859. By 1864, all except the tower foundation had been destroyed. The magazine is still intact and in excellent condition.
In early 1861, South Carolina state troops erected two 10-inch mortar batteries of two mortars each and an earthwork of three guns. Fort Johnson is probably best remembered today as the place the signal shot which opened the bombardment of Fort Sumter was fired from the east mortar battery on April 12, 1861.
After the war, the fort served as a quarantine station run by the city and state.
The federal government took over the operation in 1906, and the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina took it over in the 1950s. The majority of the Fort Johnson property was transferred to the S.C. Wildlife and Marine Resources Department in 1970. A small portion of land was retained by the College of Charleston for the Grice Marine Laboratory, which is currently used as a teaching and research facility. The Medical University, the successor to the Medical College, kept title to a large dwelling on the northwestern point.
-Fort Johnson 300 Anniversary, Nic Butler, Nov 2007
-Story of Ft Johnson, P&C, June 2007, Robert Behre