The Fort Frederick Market Fair is a must-do for anyone who appreciates history, loves shopping for authentic American-made items, or enjoys watching period entertainers and craftsmen.

Being able to tour a French and Indian-era stone fort is enough to lure me to this historical landmark near Hagerstown, Md., but the Fort Frederick Market Fair in April adds a whole other dimension to the experience.

Imagine smelling campfire smoke as you meander through rows of sutlers (period vendors) selling eighteenth-century wares. And picture shopping side by side with other fair-goers, many of whom are dressed in colonial clothing.

I want to make sure you don’t make the same mistake I made—which is not to leave enough time to see everything. So come along with me and I’ll take you on a tour of Historic Fort Frederick State Park during the site’s annual Fort Frederick Market Fair.

The massive gate and stone walls of historic Fort Frederick, a French and Indian era fort near Hagerstown, Md.

The massive gate and stone walls of historic Fort Frederick, a French and Indian era fort near Hagerstown, Md. The Fort Frederick Market Fair is held on the grounds of this historic landmark in April each year.

A Brief History Of Fort Frederick

Fort Frederick During the French and Indian War

Fort Frederick is a massive stone fort that was built in 1756 to help protect the frontier of the colony of Maryland from attacks during the French and Indian War.

It is also one of the best existing examples of pre-Revolutionary War fortifications remaining in Maryland.

Although no military action occurred at Fort Frederick during that time period, it did serve as an important staging area and supply base for English operations. After the fall of Duquesne, the Maryland Forces at Fort Frederick were disbanded and the fort was closed.

A British mannequin stands in one of the barracks at Fort Frederick.

A British mannequin standing in one of the barracks at Fort Frederick is one of the many interpretive displays.

Fort Frederick During the Revolutionary War

The Continental Congress put Fort Frederick back into service during the American Revolution as a prison camp for British troops—mostly from the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown.

Thousands of British troops were housed between the walls of the fort—some say as many as 5,000 at one time.

Fort Frederick During the Civil War

Ariel view of Fort Frederick.

Ariel view of Fort Frederick.

During the Civil War, a company of Union soldiers camped in the fort’s ruined walls while guarding the C &O Canal. They ended up fighting a skirmish with Confederate soldiers on Christmas Day, 1861, near the Fort.

These troops are believed to have knocked a hole in the south wall in order to aim a cannon toward Southern troops across the Potomac. Confederate troops tried to dislodge the Union soldiers but were unsuccessful.

Interesting History of Fort Frederick

From 1857 until 1911 the fort was owned by a family of free African Americans. The Nathan Williams family had been slaves until Nathan’s father, Samuel, purchased the family’s freedom in 1826.

In order to repay his debt to his father, Nathan lived with him until he was 28. Then in 1847, Nathan purchased the freedom of his wife. The couple went on to have eight children.

Williams bought Fort Frederick, along with 215 acres for $5,000 in 1857. Joe Haines “staked” Williams purchase, meaning he put up the money. The debt for the property was repaid by William in seven years, mainly by selling goods to both Union and Confederate soldiers.

It is said that Williams used the inside of the fort as a place to hold his pigs and for an orchard and vineyard.

In order to cross the Potomac River that runs along the back of the property, a series of ferry crossings were established. During the Civil War the river was the dividing line between North and South, and the front line of the war.
Nathan Williams did not let the war stop him in his trade in the region. He transported goods to the other side of the river and traded with soldiers and civilians in the Confederacy. Upon his return to Maryland, he would reportedly provide information to Union soldiers stationed around the area.

In 1876 Nathan Williams was named trustee of the Fort Frederick School for Coloreds, a school that was used periodically until 1909.

The school appears to have been in several buildings and locations, including Charles Williams house before the current building was built in 1899. Two of Nathan Williams children Charles and Betty were teachers at this school. It was sold by the county in 1914, and became a private residence.

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Fort Frederick In The Twentieth Century

From 1790 until 1922 the fort area was farmed, and in 1922 it was bought by the state.

In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began restoring Fort Frederick as part of a new state park. They built all the buildings outside of the fort, and created a camping area.

In 1976 the state of Maryland continued the fort’s restoration by rebuilding the two enlisted man’s barracks, which are now used to house interesting interpretive displays.

The Fort Frederick Market Fair

On to the Fort Frederick Market Fair, which is just one of the events held at the Fort each year. This colonial-style fair is an annual gathering of tradespeople, crafters, historians and interpreters that help transport visitors back in time through an eighteenth-century America shopping experience.

The Market Fair at Fort Frederick reminded me a bit of the craft fair held in Waterford, Va. every fall, except that Waterford doesn’t have a huge old fort to tour!

Period dressed woman shops at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

A period-dressed woman shops at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

Hundreds of history enthusiasts (all in eighteenth-century clothing) set up their camps for the length of the Fort Frederick Market Fair and more than 140 sutlers sell their 18th-century wares. Their merchandise is unique in that it represents all of eastern North America from 1730 through 1790.

A pile of horns on a blanket at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

A pile of horns on a blanket at the Fort Frederick Market Fair makes a colorful display.

Reading about Colonial America is one thing, but watching it come to life before your eyes is another thing entirely. The rich, varied collection of authentic goods on display gives you the feeling that you’re walking through an open-air museum, rather than an open market.

As you wander through the sea of white tents, you will see a veritable smorgasbord of wares from early America.

The Fort Frederick Market Fair is truly one-of-a-kind because it features such a wide variety of items that would be found in colonial America. From Native American trade tools to European-inspired pottery, and from silverware to hand-carved wooden spoons, you will be sure to find a treasure to take home with you.

A stack of beeswax candles for sale at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

A stack of beeswax candles for sale at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

So what professions are represented at the Fair?

Here’s a small sample: Bakers, blacksmiths, bladesmiths, furriers, jewelers, tailors, tanners, weavers, tinsmiths, bookbinders, candle and soap makers, milliners, cabinetmakers, carpenters, gunsmiths, hatters and horn makers.

You can purchase everything from pottery and tin items to copperware, lanterns and campware. Seamstresses can find an abundance of clothing, material and patterns, and even if you’re not a seamstress, it’s fun to look!

Other items I saw while strolling through the Fort Frederick Market Fair were old and new books, fireplace and cooking hardware, muskets and accoutrements.

Artisan wares on display at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

Artisan wares on display at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

A wide variety of artists also have paintings and prints available as well as one-of-a-kind pieces of art hand-crafted from tin, iron — and even squash!

Hundreds of fair-goers of all ages are dressed in colonial clothing so don’t be surprised to see soldiers, colonial ladies & gentlemen, Native Americans, long-hunters, traders and servants shopping right beside of you!

There are also colorful eighteenth-century entertainers that provide plenty of laughs as well as historical context.

It’s fun to watch the artisans craft their wares and see other demonstrations throughout the fair. I was enthralled watching an ironsmith heat up his fire with large bellows and then pound out a piece of iron for a tent stake.

Watch Video Of An Ironsmith

Entertainment At The Fort Frederick Market Fair

Trade fairs, such as the one re-created at Fort Frederick, played an important role in the social structure of eighteenth-century America. The Fort Frederick Market Fair keeps that tradition alive with entertainers who provide visitors with the same type of performances as an authentic old-time fair.

For instance, the 2022 Market Fair featured Robert Mouland who played five instruments from the eighteenth-century, including an early wire-strung harp, a spinet, fiddle, whistle and flute.

The fair also presented William Smith as Silas Moore, Ratcatcher. Yes, ratcatching was a popular occupation throughout history. Silas Moore travels from town to town hiring himself out to catch rats, and receives a penny a tail for his services.

Professor Horn’s Punch and Judy Show was also part of the Fort Frederick Market Fair’s entertainment. The first Punch and Judy show in Maryland took place in Annapolis before the American Revolution. It was popular in the colonies, where even George Washington bought tickets to see the show.

Vintage photo of the Punch and Judy Show.

Vintage drawing of the Punch and Judy Show.

If You Go To The Fort Frederick Market Fair

(Keep reading for information on the 2023 Fort Frederick Market Fair).

Sponsored by the Friends of Fort Frederick State Park, the hours for the Fort Frederick Market Fair are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and 9 a.m. to3 p.m. on Sunday.

Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and under get in free.

There’s so much to see! Plan to make a day of it. In addition to people selling their wares, there are demonstrations, entertainment and tours of the fort throughout the day.

👉 Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking if you plan to see everything.

👉 Dress for the weather. April in Maryland can be very warm or very chilly. Check the forecast before you go. The parking lot is a bit of a hike from the event site, so you may not want to run back to your car for another layer of clothing.

👉 The vehicle parking lot and most of the Fort Frederick Market Fair is set up in fields. Keep in mind the grass may be wet and the fields might be muddy when deciding on what shoes to wear.

👉 If it’s very sunny, a hat and sunscreen might be in order.

Food At The Fort Frederick Market Fair

A menu for baked goods at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

A menu for baked goods at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

Hungry Yet?

After all that walking and shopping, you’re going to need something to eat. The Market Fair has you covered. Period food vendors are spread throughout the sutler area, including wonderful-looking baked goods.

If you’re ready for something a little more modern, stop by the Clear Spring Lions Club or the Clear Spring Historical Society tents near Captain Wort’s Store. Not only is their food a crowd favorite, but all proceeds support the local community around the historic site.

If you just need a drink, a snack or a souvenir, you can purchase those in Captain Wort’s Store.

Don’t Miss the 2023 Fort Frederick Market Fair

Mark your calendars for the 2023 18th Century Fort Frederick Market Fair.

The 27th annual Fort Frederick Market Fair will be held April 27-30, 2023, at Fort Frederick State Park in Big Pool, Md. There is a charity auction on Saturday!

The Fort Frederick Market Fair is hosted by the Friends of Fort Frederick State Park, Inc. This is a 501C(3) organization that sponsors, and provides financial and volunteer support for the park complex and historic fort activities throughout the year.

The Friends are always looking for new members. A membership includes a monthly newsletter, a member discount in the store, and your contribution supports events such as the market fair and many other historical events.

Details About the Fort Frederick State Park

Attending the Fort Frederick Market Fair is a wonderful way to increase ones knowledge of the period, particularly the French and Indian War period, and the role that historic Fort Frederick played in protecting Maryland’s frontier.

But American history from the colonial period to the present can be discovered at the 585-acre Fort Frederick State Park any time. From Memorial Day to Labor Day (and weekends in the spring and fall). French and Indian period attired historians staff the fort and talk about its history.

One of the barracks at Fort Frederick State Park.

One of the barracks at Fort Frederick State Park.

The entire family will enjoy exploring Fort Frederick, which is one of the largest fortifications built by English colonists in North America. The fort’s exterior lines are 355 feet from bastion point to bastion point. Its stone wall is about 18 feet high and at least three major buildings originally stood inside that wall.

Living historians talk to a family about life during the French and Indian War within the walls of Fort Frederick.

Living historians are available every day throughout the summer months to talk to families and groups about life during the colonial era of America.

Fort Frederick also holds special events that include artillery demonstrations, military encampments and a variety of other programs. Some of the programs, in addition to the Fort Frederick Market Fair include:

  • French and Indian War Reenactment
  • Revolutionary War Reenactment
  • School of the Ranger
  • Civil War Reenactment
  • Other Historical and Youth-Oriented Weekend Events
  • Supporting Maintenance and Enhancement of Assets
  • Purchase of Historical Interpretive Supplies and Other Equipment
Part of the stone wall from historic Fort Frederick.

Part of the stone wall from historic Fort Frederick.

School and special group tours can be arranged for school classes and organized groups. For more information or to schedule a program with a Historical Interpreter or Ranger, call 301-842- 2155.

The Fort Frederick State Park is located on a beautiful piece of property that borders the Potomac River. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal passes right through the park.

In addition to the Fort, the Park has a boat launch, campsites, camp store, fishing, flat water canoeing, a hiking trail, interpretive and educational programs, picnicking, a playground, and a shelter.

The Fort Frederick State Park is a large complex of natural, cultural, and historic resources that includes:

  • Fort Frederick
  • CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) buildings
  • A close by family campground with 29 campsites
  • Big Pool lake (part of C&O Canal), fishing and a boat launch
  • Round Top Heritage Area / Fort Tonoloway
  • Woodmont Natural Resources Management Area
  • The Western Maryland Rail Trail (biking & hiking)
  • Hiking and Nature Trails, Picnic Areas
  • An Historic African-American one-room Schoolhouse

The Park is located at 11100 Fort Frederick Rd. Big Pool, MD, about 14 miles west of Hagerstown, MD).
Take Exit 12 off I-70   MD 56   (Big Pool Road)  Big Pool,  Indian Springs. Follow signs about 1 mile to the fort.

Click Here to learn more about Fort Frederick State Park

Hides and furs for sale at the Market Fair.

Hides, furs and leather goods for sale at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

Other Things To Do Near Fort Frederick

The Western Maryland Rail Trail

The Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) is a scenic 28-mile trail that was once the Western Maryland Railroad tracks. It parallels the C&O Canal Towpath and can be used for walking, running, biking or inline skating. It has an easy grade and a paved surface so its good for the entire family and even persons with limited mobility.

A child rides in a homemade wagon at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

A child rides in a homemade wagon at the Fort Frederick Market Fair.

Other Colonial Market Fairs In The Area

Fort Loudoun Market Fair is June 24-26, 2022 in Fort Loudon, Pa. They have 60+ artisans, demonstrations, flintlock matches, artisanal food, children’s games, speakers, early American and Celtic musical performances and the Fair Wynds Circus.

Colonial Market Fair is June 11-12, 2022 at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in Catonsville, Md. They have artisans, reenactors, music and children’s activities.

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