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Fort Edward National Historic Site of Canada

Fort Edward archaeology

Archaeologists have worked at Fort Edward at various times between 1986 and 1999. This work has been done for practical purposes, to clear areas for electrical wiring, for the construction of paths and for the stabilization of the blockhouse. But each has been valuable in revealing interesting information about the fort and its occupants.

The Blockhouse midden: Treasures amid the garbage

A cannonball lies in the dirt below the floorboards of the blockhouse 1998: A cannonball lies in the dirt below the floorboards of the blockhouse. This seems to be part of fill taken from an early eighteenth-century midden (garbage dump) and placed inside the building, perhaps as insulation. 

Plans to stabilize the foundation of the blockhouse led to a full excavation of the interior, plus the perimeter around the exterior. Most surprising was the discovery that a massive amount of garbage had been thrown under the floorboards some time before the middle of the 19th century. Perhaps this was done to reduce the air space under the floorboards and maybe provide some insulation. Within the space below the floorboards, archaeologists found military buttons, shoe buckles, musket balls and gun flints, broken ceramic dishes and glass bottles, tobacco pipes, Jews’ harps, ink bottles and a wide variety of animal bones, discarded from meals. All of these seem to date to the first quarter of the 19th century.

Here are just a few of the items the archaeologists discovered:


Anglo-American coarse earthenware dish with a slipped decorationjawbone of a monkfishsoldiers cut bone discs from flat bones to replace buttons lost on their clothingan ink bottle and a clay marble

Anglo-American coarse earthenware dish with a slipped decoration; jawbone of a monkfish (Lophius americanus), caught and eaten by soldiers of the garrison; soldiers cut bone discs from flat bones to replace buttons lost on their clothing; tobacco pipes, an ink bottle and a clay marble


Before the Blockhouse: Acadian Parish Church of l’Assomption

Archaeologist Stephen Powell In 1986, archaeologist Stephen Powell discovers evidence of the Acadian church below the northwest bastion.

Below the floor of the blockhouse, a charcoal layer marks the original site of the Acadian Church of l’Assomption Below the floor of the blockhouse, a charcoal layer marks the original site of the Acadian Church of l’Assomption. 

Archaeology has also confirmed the presence of the Parish Church of l’Assomption on the hilltop. Something as mundane as the placement of security lights around the blockhouse led to the first evidence. Deep in a small square excavated for the light fixture in the northwest bastion, archaeologist Stephen Powell uncovered pieces of clay, burnt in a fire, which clearly showed traces of salt-marsh grasses, spartina sp

Torchis specimen
This mixture of clay and spartina, called "torchis," was commonly used as insulation in Acadian houses. Later excavations in the blockhouse revealed a layer of charcoal and torchis under dirt dug out for the building’s foundation. Clearly, the layer pre-dated the blockhouse. As Jonathan Fowler of Saint Mary’s University has pointed out, Joshua Winslow recorded in his journal of June 1750, that the Acadians pulled down the Mass House (by then abandoned), to level the ground for the blockhouse.

Photos © Parks Canada/R. Ferguson


Resources

A ten-minute walk down adjacent King Street leads you to the museum of the West Hants Historical Society. Here you can view military buttons, cannon balls and other artifacts excavated from Fort Edward.