Oftentimes you’ll see neoconfederates claiming that South Carolina owned Fort Sumter. Don’t believe that claim.
David Detzer gets into the history of how Fort Sumter came about and its construction in his book, Allegiance: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the Beginning of the Civil War, pages 103-107.
The South Carolina statute transferring Forts Moultrie, Johnson, and Castle Pinckney to the United States can be viewed here, pages 501-502.
Notice what exactly is covered by the statute:
“All the lands reserved for fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island; provided, the same shall not exceed five acres, with all the forts, fortifications, and buildings thereon, together with the canal leading from the cove on the back of the fort, nearly up to the same, as delineated on the plan of Charleston harbour by Col. Senf, and is in the secretary of state’s office at Columbia.” — Note this is not Fort Sumter’s location.
“The high lands and part of the marsh belonging to fort Johnston, as delineated on the said plan of Charleston harbour; provided, the same shall not exceed twenty acres, including the present site of fort Johnston.” — Again, note this is not Fort Sumter’s location.
“The land on which fort Pinckney is built, and three acres around the same.” — Once again, this is not Fort Sumter’s location.
“A portion of the sand bank marked C, on the south easternmost point of Charleston, as delineated on the said plan of Charleston harbour, not exceeding two acres. A quantity of land not exceeding four acres, for a battery or fort, and necessary buildings, on Dr. Blythe’s point of land at the mouth of Sampit river.” — Once again this is not Fort Sumter’s location.
“The small island in Beaufort river, called Mustard island, opposite Paris’s island, and a tract of land on St. Helena island, opposite the same, not exceeding seven acres of land, as being a commanding ground suitable for a principal fort.” — Once again, this is not Fort Sumter’s location.
The statute further provided that within three years of enactment the United States had to repair the existing facilities in the areas mentioned or the act would be voided. It also provided that within three years of enactment the United States had to build forts or fortifications on the ceded grounds without existing facilities and keep garrisons in them, or the cession of those grounds would be void. Recall that none of those cessions encompassed the location of Fort Sumter. Finally, the statute provided that all civil and criminal processes issued by the state could be served on these installations, the installations would be exempt from paying taxes to the states, and the United States would compensate any property owners for any property taken as a result of this statute.
Nothing in the area covered by the statute pertains to Fort Sumter. Further, the statute was written in 1805, long before building Fort Sumter was ever contemplated, and 1808, which is three years after the statute as delineated within, was also long before Fort Sumter was ever contemplated. This statute has no relation whatsoever to Fort Sumter. You will find a number of neoconfederates who can’t understand the written English language will claim that this statute meant Fort Sumter belonged to South Carolina, not the United States. As you can see, that claim is nonsense.
Fort Sumter was covered by a separate cession of land to the United States by the state of South Carolina, and covered in this resolution, passed by the South Carolina legislature in December of 1836:
“The Committee on Federal relations, to which was referred the Governor’s message, relating to the site of Fort Sumter, in the harbour of Charleston, and the report of the Committee on Federal Relations from the Senate on the same subject, beg leave to Report by Resolution:
“Resolved, That this state do cede to the United States, all the right, title and claim of South Carolina to the site of Fort Sumter and the requisite quantity of adjacent territory, Provided, That all processes, civil and criminal issued under the authority of this State, or any officer thereof, shall and may be served and executed upon the same, and any person there being who may be implicated by law; and that the said land, site and structures enumerated, shall be forever exempt from liability to pay any tax to this state.
“Also resolved: That the State shall extinguish the claim, if any valid claim there be, of any individuals under the authority of this State, to the land hereby ceded.
“Also resolved, That the Attorney-General be instructed to investigate the claims of Wm. Laval and others to the site of Fort Sumter, and adjacent land contiguous thereto; and if he shall be of the opinion that these parties have a legal title to the said land, that Generals Hamilton and Hayne and James L. Pringle, Thomas Bennett and Ker. Boyce, Esquires, be appointed Commissioners on behalf of the State, to appraise the value thereof. If the Attorney-General should be of the opinion that the said title is not legal and valid, that he proceed by seire facius of other proper legal proceedings to have the same avoided; and that the Attorney-General and the said Commissioners report to the Legislature at its next session.”
Samuel W. Crawford speaks to the ownership and construction of Fort Sumter in his book, The Genesis of the Civil War: The Story of Sumter, 1860-61, pages 1-8.
Some neoconfederates make the claim that South Carolina specified the fort had to be used in defense of South Carolina, or of Charleston, and that if it ever was not placed to that use its ownership would revert to South Carolina. As we can see from the legislation, such is not the case. As Crawford tells us, “It had been acquired and the jurisdiction yielded by the Legislature of the State in the usual way. There was no special contract between the Federal Government and this Commonwealth, nor any feature which distinguished the legal relations between them from those maintained with the other States of the Union.”
In other words, Fort Sumter belonged to the United States. Anyone who makes any claim to the contrary is simply wrong.