Archaeologists Excavate NY Colonial Battleground

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (AP) -

Archaeologists are excavating an 18th-century battleground that was the site of a desperate stand by Colonial American troops, the flashpoint of a massacre and the location of the era’s largest smallpox hospital.

The site’s multilayered history poses unique challenges for the dig, which is being conducted in a state-owned park that has served as a natural time capsule amid the summertime bustle in this popular southern Adirondack tourist destination.

“It’s a confusing and complicated site,” said David Starbuck, the archaeologist who’s leading the project during the State University of New York at Adirondack’s annual six-week archaeology field school.

Starbuck and his team of two dozen students and volunteers began excavations in a section of Lake George Battlefield Park, which the state has owned since the late 1890s — a fact that Starbuck credits with protecting the site from commercial development and intrusion by treasure hunters.

The village of Lake George has yielded troves of artifacts over the decades. Starting with the French and Indian War (1755-63) and continuing through the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, tens of thousands of American, British, French and Indians encamped here during various military campaigns aimed at controlling the waterways connecting the upper Hudson River and Canada. Battles were fought and forts were destroyed or abandoned; the material traces of all that activity are still being uncovered.

Many of the discoveries have been made at the battlefield park, one of the most significant 18th-century military sites in the region. It was the site of the Battle of Lake George, fought on Sept. 8, 1755, between British Colonial troops and their Mohawk allies and a force of French and Indians. After an ambush that killed scores of New England militiamen, the Colonials — their backs to the lake and only a single British officer among their leaders — successfully fought off the ensuing enemy attack.

Two years later, the same site was home to a large encampment of British and Colonial troops during the French siege of nearby Fort William Henry. After the British surrendered the fort to the French, they began the 15-mile retreat to Fort Edward from the encampment, only to be attacked by the Indians allied to France. About 200 are believed to have been killed in what became known as the massacre of Fort William Henry.

Starbuck said he hopes to uncover evidence of the 1755 battle and the so-called entrenched camp that played a role in the siege and massacre that inspired James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.” The field school last dug at the park site in 2001-02, uncovering a bayonet, musket barrel and military compass.

So far, the dig has mostly yielded pieces of wine bottles dating to the 18th century.

During the Revolutionary War, the same grounds were believed to have been the site of a smallpox hospital that treated returning American troops during the colonies’ attempt to conquer Quebec. More than 1,000 stricken soldiers may have died here.