American Revolution

Ray Sarnacki – My Day of Archaeology, 2016

Once again, I have traveled from my home in West Chester, Pennsylvania (USA) to dig with archaeologist David Starbuck at the Lake George Battlefield Park. The field school is sponsored by State University of New York, Adirondack campus, The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Fort William Henry. Located at the southern end of the lake, the Lake George Battlefield Park preserves the sites of major battles and encampments from the French and Indian War through the American Revolution, making it a prime site for conducting archeology. Among the features found in the Park are the ruins of a stone bastion from Fort George, which General Jeffery Amherst authorized and began building in 1759, but later, abandoned after the British took control of Fort Carillon, now known as Fort Ticonderoga.

This is my third year digging in the Park. Last year, we excavated the casemates on the east wall of the Fort George bastion, as well as digging several test pits throughout areas of the park related to the various French and Indian War encampments that took place between 1755 and 1759. This year’s dig focuses on two sites. The first is on the west side of the completed bastion of Fort George, while the second is narrowing in on the site of what the diggers believe to be a feature initially thought to be a latrine, but now appears to be the site of either a tent or cabin.

My assignment this year includes locating a cistern depicted on a 1759 map that shows the details of the Plan for Fort George. The cistern was supposedly situated near a gun platform on the northwest wall of the bastion. In 1777, as General Schuyler retreated from Burgoyne’s attack, Schuyler reported to Washington that the enclosed bastion was indefensible and the cistern had been “fouled” so they had no water. Our hope in finding the cistern is to learn how it had been fouled.

My digging partner, Pam Collyer, from Fort William Henry, and I have excavated to a depth of 100 cm and have begin pulling out artifacts that include large spikes, animal bone and charred wood, among other things. While it is too early to make a definitive statement about the feature, we think we may have reached the level of the gun platform, but have unearthed no evidence of the cistern. The digging has been relatively easy as the soil appears to be fill used to level the area underneath the gun platforms.

Among the artifacts found so far: large forged spikes that might have held wood planks for the platform, a door latch, remains of charred wood and charcoal, animal bone fragments, glass from a medicine bottle, a fragment from wine or rum bottle, sherds of delft and cream ware, and what appears to be a round medallion. Another team digging in the bastion located a corner of the barracks, along with what may be a fire feature.

This will be the last year of digging at Lake George Battlefield Park for the SUNY Adirondack field school. Next year it will move to Roger’s Island in Fort Edward.

Ray Sarnacki – My Day of Archaeology

This week, and for an additional two weeks in August, I have the privilege of digging as a volunteer at the Lake George Battlefield Park with Dr. David Starbuck as part of the State University of New York (SUNY) – Adirondack Campus field school. Located at the southern end of the lake, the Lake George Battlefield Park preserves the sites of major battles and encampments from the French & Indian War through the American Revolution, making it a prime site for conducting archeology. Many of the events that inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Last of the Mohicans, actually occurred here. Among the features found in the Park are the ruins of a stone bastion from Fort George, which General Jeffery Amherst authorized and began building in 1759, but later, abandoned after the British took control of Fort Carillon, now known as Fort Ticonderoga.

Digging at this site is made possible through the cooperation of the New York State Museum and the agency that operates the park, the Department of Environmental Conservation. The overall objective of this multi-year dig at Lake George is to provide information that will allow the State to improve signage and create an interpretive center to house some of the artifacts uncovered, giving visitors a greater appreciation of the park’s historical significance.

This is second year I have traveled from West Chester, PA to dig at the Battlefield. Last year I dug several test pits in open areas within the park and wrote an article about the experience, Digging a Battlefield of American History, that Popular Archaeology published in their Winter 01/01/2015″>Winter 01/01/2015 issue. My assignment this year, along with five other volunteers, is to dig test pits inside the bastion ruins with the goal of defining the walls of a barracks located within the bastion. The assignment is somewhat tricky as we are working on a steep incline. In addition, reconstruction of part of the original bastion took place during the 1920s and 1930s, likely disturbing portions of the site and adding to its complexity. If we are successful in uncovering at least a portion of the wall, stabilizing it would create a new point of interest within the park for tourists to visit.

Finding the American Revolution in New York State

New York State was the location of many violent battles and skirmishes during the American Revolution.  Campaigns, such as the British invasion of New York City and Long Island (1776), the Burgoyne Campaign (1777), and the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign (1779) scorched New York’s landscape.  Raids and skirmishes also divided communities pitting Loyalists against American friends and families.  The British and American’s call for Native American groups, such as the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), to choose a side led to a civil war within the Iroquois Confederacy.  The impact of the conflict was felt immediately in the loss of homes and lives; these impacts lasted well beyond the end of the war.

The Public Archaeology Facility has conducted studies of Revolutionary War battles associated with both the Burgoyne and Sullivan-Clinton Campaigns.  These studies have helped to remap these battlefields by determining the boundaries’ of battlefields and identify landscape features associated with the battles.  The ultimate goal of this research is to better comprehend the experience of those involved in the American Revolution in New York State.  We hope that our research can be used to preserve these battlefields and provide the public with an understanding of the conflict.

Our studies begin with extensive research of historic documents.  To identify the location of the battlefield and its landscape features we review the writings or oral histories of a battle’s combatants.  Journals, official reports, letters, and veteran pension applications can all provide valuable information for us.  Although sometimes mentioned incidentally in these documents, references to landscape features, such as roads, villages, mountains, and rivers, provide us with valuable information on where battle related actions took place.  In a way, combatants tell us where they were during the battle and how they used the battlefield’s landscape.

Loyalist John Butler

Letter by Loyalist John Butler

We map this historic data using a Geographic Information System or GIS allowing us to perform various analyses and comparisons of data.  We overlay historic maps and accounts of the battle onto present day maps to determine where the battle occurred and what remains of the battlefield.  We refine the locations of battlefield features using viewshed and range of fire analyses.  This information is used to conduct a military terrain analysis of the battlefield.  We can identify how combatants used a portion of the battlefield- a path to advance or retreat, a place to seek cover or concealment, an observation post, an obstacle that restricted advance, or a post to defend or take.  Taken together, these pieces of the landscape provide us with the battlefield’s boundaries and multi-scale view of how the battle unfolded.

Range of Fire

Range of Fire Analysis

With a GIS map to guide us, we perform a systematic inventory or survey of battlefield features.  The identification of musket and rifle balls and personal belongings of soldiers tells us that the battlefield’s landscape and the material remains of the battle are still intact.  We can also use the locations of these material remains to better determine troop positions and movements.

 

Survey

Archaeologist Conducting Systematic Survey

Rifle balls

Fired and Unfired Rifle Balls and Buckshot

The historical background and the results of archaeological investigation provide a basis for preserving the battlefield.  Working with local groups and descendent communities, we can present the history of the battle to the public with presentations, signage, or digital media.  This information can also help to advise agencies and developers on how best to avoid impacts to the battlefield so that the history of the American Revolution can be seen by future generations.