The fort is believed to be the oldest tabby structure in South Carolina. It was built in its strategic location along the Beaufort River to serve as a defense against possible attacks by the Spanish, and as an outpost that could signal to the upriver settlements of “Beaufort Town” (via cannon fire) whenever a ship approached from the river’s entrance on Port Royal Sound. In fact, a portion of the fort’s walls now extend into the river, a result of it’s changing course slightly over the intervening 200-plus years. The fort was occupied by regular British troops until 1757. It’s role in Colonial-era history would be relegated to just a footnote, but the property would also later become a major part of this region’s Civil-War era history, after federal troops occupied the South Carolina Sea Islands shortly after the beginning of the war. By that time, the old fort’s walls had become a part of “Smith’s Plantation” and were used as supports for a crude dock used by boats serving the planation. When federal troops advanced on Beaufort, local plantation owners retreated to safety, and Smith’s Plantation eventually became “Fort Saxton,” a key stronghold for the federal army in the Lowcountry and a gathering point for African slaves freed from the plantations in the area. Camp Saxton soon became the headquarters for the 1st South Carolina Regiment of Volunteers, a regiment of African-American soldiers, and on New Year’s Day 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud for the first time in South Carolina to a crowd estimated to be in the thousands – made up of both whites and freed slaves. Many who came to the celebration arrived at Camp Saxton via boat and were most likely unaware that they were treading across tabby walls built some one-hundred-thirty years earlier, in response to the fears of a very different conflict.