Dig site uncovers walls from unfinished British fort

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LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. — An archaeological dig at an 18th-century military site in the southern Adirondacks has uncovered large sections of stone walls that are believed to have been constructed within a larger British fortification that was never completed more than 250 years ago.

The excavations at the state-owned Lake George Battlefield Park wrapped up August 21 with some work being done this past week to protect exposed walls by lining them with sandbags. During the six-week summer field school sponsored by the nearby State University of New York at Adirondack, about four dozen volunteers and students dug numerous pits in an area that was occupied by thousands of British and Colonial American soldiers during the French and Indian War.

Musket balls, gun flints and pottery pieces were among the artifacts found amid a 35-acre park that gets few visitors despite being located in the middle of a busy summer tourist town.

David Starbuck, the archaeologist who led the dig, said the most significant find was the intact stone walls buried in a bastion of Fort George, which the British never finished building.

In 1759, the commander of British forces in North America, Jeffery Amherst, ordered the construction of a large fort on rising ground near the lake’s southern end, the site of two previous battles. The British army engineer assigned to the task, James Montresor, also built the English fort at Crown Point on Lake Champlain.

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An ongoing project at the Lake George Battlefield Park site has uncovered sections of a stone wall that project lead archaeologist David Starbuck believes belong to a British fort dated to 1759, reports the Bradenton Herald. After the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by the British in that year, however, Jeffrey Amherst, the commander of British forces in North America, halted construction of the large fort, and it was never completed. For Starbuck, uncovering stone walls six feet high and up to five feet thick was entirely unexpected. In addition to the sections of wall, the team has uncovered musket balls, gun flints, and also pottery dating to the period.

With the British capture of the French fort at Ticonderoga in the summer of 1759, Amherst halted the work on Fort George. Only one corner bastion of the stone and earthen fort was completed, along with an interior stone building. The interior structure may have been part of an underground casemate, a chamber usually constructed underneath a fort’s rampart. A casemate could serve as a barracks or a place to store supplies such as gunpowder, and burying it would make it less likely to blow up during a bombardment.

The fort fell into disrepair after the war ended in 1763, but the bastion was used by the Americans when the Revolutionary War started. The British captured Fort George in 1777, only to lose it again after their defeat at Saratoga that year. The redcoats recaptured the bastion in 1780. What remains is a U-shaped, 20-foot-high grass-covered ruin of the bastion, with the interior sloping upward from the U’s open end.

Experts from the state historic site at Crown Point, where the ruins of the British fort still stand, viewed the uncovered walls at the Fort George dig and saw comparisons in the way the two fortifications were constructed, Starbuck said. Another recent visitor to the site, former National Park Service archaeologist David Orr, called the Lake George site “just amazing” in terms of what’s being discovered from an often overlooked period of American history.

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Lake George Battlefield Park is located on the site of two battles, one in 1755 and another in 1757, when a large British and provincial American encampment fell to the French. The site also saw use as encampments for thousands of redcoats and Colonial militiamen in 1758-59.

Starbuck usually digs at local sites where wooden forts once stood. Finding a structure with stone walls 6 feet high and up to 5 feet thick is a major highlight after 25 years of digging at military sites in the region, he says.

“We’re looking at something that was used and rebuilt and improved upon for 20 years or more. I think that prompted them to build it more strongly,” he said. “It’s not something we expected.”

Starbuck said he hopes to return to the Fort George site next year for another summer of digging.

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