Friday, July 6, 2012

Report from the Fort: A Brief Summary of the 2012 Penn State University Archaeology Field School at Fort Shirley (36HU94)

 This week as we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, we take a break from our travel through the archaeology of the Commonwealth by county to focus on a time period important in the development of this Commonwealth. The archaeological focus this week will be on the French & Indian War or the Seven Years War. There are multiple events that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the desire for the colonies to break away from the British Crown, the French & Indian War played a key role in that break from British rule. Our guest blogger this week is Dr. Jonathan Burns who has been conducting an archaeological field school for Penn State University on a provincial fort constructed during this significant period in American History.

This year's excavations at the Fort Shirley Site in Huntingdon County, PA, were quite successful! The 2012 Penn State Field School team located the fort’s western palisade feature, defined the northwestern bastion, and began to identify and document a structure in the northeast corner of the stockade. Additionally, two weeks of testing at Aughwick Old Town has preliminarily confirmed the location of a portion of the 1754-1756 refugee camp of the pro-British Ohio Seneca (or Mingoes) that moved from the Forks of the Ohio to be close to George Croghan’s trading post after George Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity. Coordinated with our survey, IUP graduate student, Ryan Spittler, collected geophysical data to compare with our findings.

George Croghan was a particularly important figure in assisting Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the British Crown; but, his most crucial role was that of Indian negotiator, providing gifts to the various Ohio tribes in an effort to build trade and alliances. His presence resulted in a particular mix of ethnicities passing their time at Aughwick as the colonies prepared to wage a brutal conflict on rugged foreign soil. During the field school, university students are trained in the latest techniques of the discipline while assisting with the documentation of a truly unique cultural resource linked to the start of the Seven Year's War in North America.

By 1752, European globalization had reached Pennsylvania and into the Ohio Country through the efforts of George Croghan. Trader, land speculator, and Indian negotiator, Croghan was the premier agent of the British colonies in claiming the Ohio Country. Business was booming for this business-minded Irishman until the British and the French frontier empires began to overlap. Croghan’s trading activity at the Miami village of Pickawillany threatened France’s claim to this strategic region. With a French price on his head, Croghan retreated eastward and established a post at Aughwick near well-known trading paths. In the wake of General Braddock’s defeat in 1755, he was ordered by the governor of Pennsylvania to oversee the construction of three forts as violent raids were carried out across the frontier. The first of these forts was built around Croghan’s trading post at Aughwick (to be named Fort Shirley in January of 1756), twenty miles to the south stood Fort Lyttelton and twenty miles to the north stood Fort Granville (at present-day Lewiston).

Built by Croghan in October of 1755, Fort Shirley is a rare example of a provincial fort exhibiting a distinct Native American presence, a testament to the very special relationship between George Croghan and the Ohio Seneca. Tanaghrisson, also known as the “Half King”, died shortly after arriving at Aughwick, but his warriors and their families stayed close to be provisioned by the province by way of Croghan. From the artifacts recovered from the palisade trench, it is apparent that the Natives assisted with the construction of the stockade fort. When Croghan left Aughwick in the spring of 1756 for New York to be William Johnson’s Deputy Indian Agent, the Seneca began to disperse without the protection of the influential Irishman.

The following are informal images from the 2012 PSU Archaeology Field School and intended to highlight some of our finds.

Shovel-testing along Aughwick Creek

The first two weeks of field school was spent digging shovel test pits, 5 meters apart on a staggered grid, in search of any signs of Aughwick Old Town. This area is on a large meander of the floodplain, 200 yards west of the fort site. (Photo: S. Padamonsky)

Early Archaic Point

We recovered this Early Archaic jasper projectile point from 10 centimeters into the clay--not what we were looking for specifically, but a great find nonetheless. (Photo: J. Burns)

Cobalt Blue Glass Bead

A cobalt blue tubular glass bead—identical to those recovered in the palisade trench at Fort Shirley. (Photo: S. Padamonsky)

Clear Wire-Wound Glass Bead
A wire-wound glass bead confirmed that we were in the vicinity of Aughwick Old Town. Glass beads like these, made in Central Europe and Venice, “greased the wheels” of European trade with native peoples. The copious amount of beads and brass artifacts found along the palisade feature at the fort site suggest that the Ohio Seneca stayed very close to Croghan from the autumn of 1754 to the spring of 1756. (Photo: S. Padamonsky)

A Storm Gathers Over Aughwick Old Town

A panoramic shot shows Aughwick Old Town and a massive storm gathering towards our survey teams. Overlooking this field, Conrand Weiser visited Croghan’s homestead at Aughwick on September 3, 1754 reporting that Croghan had a plentiful bounty of butter, milk, squash, pumpkins, and ample acres of the best Indian corn he had ever seen. Weiser also reported that; “…he had encountered about twenty cabins about Croghan’s house, and in them at least 200 Indians, men, women and children…” (PA Col. Records, VI, p. 149). (Photo: S. Padamonsky)

Soil Training

During the first week of the course, Dr. John Wah conducts soil training with small groups of students to add consistency to their observations, paperwork, and notes. The course also incorporates the expertise of Dr. Paul Raber and Steven G. Warfel. The site is under the field direction of Dr. Jonathan Burns and assistants, Jared Smith and Scott Padamonsky. (Photo: J. Burns)

Ryan Finds a Point

The final four weeks of excavation was conducted at the fort site—which happens to be rife with prehistoric artifacts as well; but, we were on the hunt for colonial artifacts, the fort’s northwest bastion, and the western palisade feature that had eluded us in 2011. (Photo: S. Padamonsky)

That’s Entertainment

A mouth harp was recovered from the palisade area, and provides insight into colonial entertainment. Similar mouth harps were recovered during excavations at Fort Loudon and Fort Ligonier. (Photo: J. Burns)

“The White Whale” (or The Western Palisade)

A well-placed test unit reveals the western palisade’s trajectory. Note that four individual posts are visible. Now that we have located all four stockade walls (or curtains), we can say that Fort Shirley measured approximately 134 feet North to South and 165 feet East to West, not including the bastion projections that are becoming evident in both the southwest and northwest corners. (Photo: J. Burns)
White Salt-Glazed Stoneware

A single piece of white salt-glazed stoneware was recovered this season. There is not much of this type of ceramic on site; but, it is a great time indicator—dating from ca. 1740 to 1765. (Photo: J. Burns)

Sun Button

Rather than military issue buttons, numerous styles of civilian buttons provide insight into the provincial nature of Croghan’s fort. Many items of personal adornment have been recovered during the excavation of the fort’s palisade trench—presumably dropped during the initial digging of the feature during October of 1755 and the subsequent use of the post till the autumn of 1756. (Photo: J. Burns)

Mapping the Northwest Bastion

Jephy Nduati and Ryan Cunningham map the excavated palisade trench as it projects towards the northwest corner of the fort. (Photo: J. Burns)
Croghan’s Storehouse?

A structure in the northeast corner of the stockade, suspected to be one of Croghan’s original trading post buildings, is revealed by this 3 x 1 meter trench. Note the linear sill feature and post mold. We found that the main trench feature ends just south of the threshold. The vertical log palisade was likely set up from this existing log structure, and the east and north walls of the building served as the perimeter of the enclosure. (Photo: J. Burns)
Cliffhanger Ending

Finally, during the last week, we located the terminus of the northwest bastion where it turns to the south—allowing us to project its intersection with the western curtain. That brings us to this season’s cliffhanger ending—we will have to wait till next year to continue the chase; however, we certainly have answered some important questions regarding the fort’s dimensions and defenses. (Photo: J. Burns)
Roll Call

Here they are… this year’s students and instructors. (Photo: J. Wah)

By Jonathan A. Burns

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And on Twitter at!/JonathanBurns71


For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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