4. A defensive fort during the War of 1812

Remnants of Fort Gibson on Ellis Island.
Remnants of Fort Gibson on Ellis Island.

By 1808 the federal government obtained ownership of Ellis Island. They turned Liberty, Governor’s, and Ellis Island into a series of defensive forts along New York Harbor to protect the city from the British during the War of 1812. On Liberty Island, the government built a large fort named Fort Wood in 1807. The remnants of this fort make up the 11-point star that now serves as the base of the Statue of Liberty.

On Ellis Island, the government built a defensive fort between 1807 and 1811. They named it after Colonel James Gibson, an American soldier who died at Fort Erie. Fort Gibson served as a garrison and POW camp during the War of 1812. During the Civil War, Fort Gibson was equipped with twelve new cannons and 120 army and navy personnel. You can still see portions of the fort’s remnants on the north side of Ellis Island, near the American Immigrant Wall of Honor. Uncovered during excavations for the Wall of Honor, the exposed pieces make up about 25 percent of the complete fort.