Jamestown Historical Society

The Art of Old Fort Dumpling

For over 100 years Fort Dumpling stood at the southeast tip of the main part of Conanicut Island looming over 85’ granite outcroppings that dropped to the sea. Erected in 1798, Fort Dumpling was a massive elliptical stone tower measuring 180’ by 81’ and was built on a plateau just large enough to hold it. The beauty and enigmatic nature of this castle-like fortification were long remembered after it was no longer used for defense. Artists could not ignore it and it was depicted by some of the most important artists of the 19th century.

This recent donation of a steel engraving of the Old Fort, as it was often referred to, is likely of a painting by William G. Wall known to have painted other views of the Fort. It shows a reverence for the subject almost spiritual with its inspiring streams of light radiating from behind the crown. The serene nature of the image with its calm water and silent boats reminds us how idealized the fort was in artistic portrayals.

Click on these images below to see them in our online catalog.

This delightful 19th century watercolor of the Old Fort comes from a small booklet titled “The Dumplings, A Summer Sketch” illustrated by Mary Mason Brooks. Poetic lines on the page romanticize the ruin and its charming appeal leads us to forget the Fort’s military purpose.

A watercolor by John Price Wetherill shows the Fort in a naturalistic setting without the sentimentality found in other works. One can appreciate the stark rolling landscape and can imagine 19th-century visitors climbing the hillside to picnic and take in the panoramic view which spanned from Fort Adams to Castle Hill, Beavertail, and distant Block Island.

Demolished in 1898, nothing remains of the Old Fort except in our collective artistic memory.

Click on this link to see other images of Fort Dumpling from our collection.

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