Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 1
by John H. Rick
Excavations in New Brunswick
In June, 1962, the author, assisted by Ian C. Rodger, began test excavations at Fort Beausejour, near Aulac on the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border. The work was intended to determine the nature and condition of the subsurface remains and to check the accuracy of various 18th-century documentary sources describing the site.
Fort Beausejour, located on a long ridge between the Aulac and Missaguash rivers and overlooking Chignecto Bay, was originally constructed by the French in 1751 as a defence against the British Fort Lawrence which stood on a parallel ridge about a mile and a half to the southeast. In 1755, before its actual completion, Beausejour was captured by the British and renamed Fort Cumberland. The British occupation was marked by extensive reconstruction; the new design included a large, quadrilateral earthwork, encompassing at least eight buildings, constructed against the west side of the main fort.
Trenching showed this British earthwork to have been a low, sod-faced wall and firing step; from the top of the wall, the ground outside the earthwork sloped gently downwards forming the glacis. An unusually large number of artifacts were found beneath the surface of the slope, possibly representing a redeposition of earlier material from a midden that had been raided to provide fill for the construction of the new wall and glacis.
The main part of the fortifications, east of the British earthworks, consists of a pentagonal enclosure with five bastions. A series of trenches was dug along the foot of, and into, the Prince Frederick Bastion while other cuts were made in the curtain and across the moat. These excavations showed the fortification walls to have been constructed of earth covered with a sod facing and enclosed at the bottom by a low stone wall. This latter presumably served as a retaining wall to retard slippage of the earth masses above. Fragments of rotted wood found in the right face of the bastion may represent a palisade en fraise. In view of the steepness of the earth wall, it seems strange that no traces of timber revetting were discovered.
A trench was dug across the counterscarp opposite the Prince Frederick Bastion. The line marking the sod facing of the counterscarp was very difficult to trace, but there is no evidence that this wall had been anything but a sod-faced bank of earth, with, probably, a banquette of similar construction. There was no evidence of pickets along the crest of the glacis as might have been expected from the documentary accounts.
The only excavation carried out inside the fort proper was a test-pit in the centre of the Prince Frederick Bastion. Documentary sources describe a well in this bastion, plus an underground storage chamber connected to the interior of the fort by a passageway through the gorge. Other bastions also were reported to have contained storage rooms or magazines but Prince Frederick's was chosen for excavation because the surface contours suggested a greater chance of finding a room that had not fallen in. However, when the well and the east wall of the passage were uncovered, both were found to be in a state of partial collapse. The footings of the stone passage wall were located at approximately thirteen feet below present ground surface (i.e., below the top of the interior of the bastion), but rain-weakened excavation walls and lack of time prevented any attempts to dig within the passageway and the well, or to locate the storeroom.
Only one curtain wall within the fort is not sod-faced. The wall in question is of stone and lies at the east end of the British earthworks between the Prince William Bastion and the Duke of Cumberland Bastion; it is loopholed for rifle fire, presumably to protect the powder magazine directly in front of it. This wall had been partially rebuilt some thirty years ago and a few small excavations against the still-buried portions of the wall were sufficient to confirm the accuracy of the reconstruction. Trenches in the left face and flank of the Prince William Bastion showed that this bastion had been constructed in much the same way as Prince Frederick's. An attempt to excavate within the powder magazine was blocked by water seepage, a result of the heavy rains of the summer.
Insofar as productive excavation was concerned, over half of the two-month stay at Fort Beausejour was wasted because of the abnormally heavy rains and the consequent high water table. Unfortunately, this meant that a number of excavation units started in the relatively dry weather early in June could not later be extended as the problems dictated. The result was a number of discrete excavations, each providing information about structures and artifacts, but unrelated one to another and difficult to tie in with a concept of the site as a whole. Nevertheless, the work did result in a preliminary development plan which culminated in the more extensive 1966 excavations discussed below.
The final 1962 excavations in this area were carried out on the shore of Cumberland Basin immediately southwest of Fort Beausejour. Neil Williams and Adrian King of the federal Department of Agriculture reported the finding of human bones protruding from what is believed to be a French-period dike. The skeleton proved to be a single extended burial, lying within a narrow, shallow grave. Sea action had eroded away the grave fill and exposed the leg bones almost up to the pelvis; however, enough earth remained over the opposite end of the skeleton to show that the burial was definitely under the remains of a dike. Although the outlines of the grave were fairly distinct, the heavy clay soil showed no trace of the ground surface through which the grave must have been dug. It was quite clear, however, that the grave shaft did not extend upwards to anywhere near the present top of the dike, and the dike must once have been a good many feet higher. The corpse was buried, therefore, either before or, more probably, during the construction of the dike, but certainly not after. As yet, the date of the building of this dike has not been established. Excavation of the burial was hampered by the fact that the grave and the remains of the dike above it were under water during periods of high tide.
The bones of the hands and feet were completely missing as were some of the vertebrae, the facial bones, the lower jaw, all of the teeth, and most of the ribs; the absence of these parts seems attributable to decomposition. All bones found were in a very poor state of preservation; the pelvis, for example, being completely fragmented. Interestingly enough, the hair has survived on those portions of the skull which were still intact. The skeletal remains have not yet been studied with a view to determining race, sex, etc., and it is highly unlikely that much information will be forthcoming considering the condition of the bones. A small fragment of what appears to be a coarse woven material and a brown substance that may be decomposed leather were the only two artifacts found.
The following year, 1963, Williams and King discovered a second skeleton in close proximity to the site of the first. Norman F. Barka, who was excavating in the area at this time, was asked to investigate. He reported a burial similar to the previous one. No artifacts were found, but the bones are in much better condition than those of the first skeleton and analysis of the remains should establish whether these are white or Indian burials.
No archaeological investigations were undertaken in the Beausejour area in 1964, but the following summer it was necessary to carry out a one-month program of salvage excavations on the stone curtain wall between the Prince William and the Duke of Cumberland bastions. Frost action had caused a steady deterioration in the masonry and, by 1965, it was necessary to dismantle the wall in order to rebuild it on a more stable foundation. The author's 1962 test excavations had shown at least one end of the wall (i.e., the part within the earth mass of the bastion) plus the lower courses in the centre of the wall to be original stonework. It was considered important to provide archaeological supervision for the dismantling of the wall since this would necessitate extensive excavations in hitherto undisturbed portions of the bastions. Henry E. Sauerbrunn was awarded a contract for this work. A number of interesting architectural features were uncovered, chief amongst which was an L-shaped stone sally port through the Prince William Bastion at the end of the curtain.
The preliminary excavations at Fort Beausejour had established the need for more intensive archaeological investigation as a necessary prelude to the development of the site. This work had not been scheduled to take place for a number of years, but the dismantling of the stone curtain wall provided an obvious answer to the most pressing logistical problem, namely the removal of backdirt from within the confines of the fort. In order to take advantage of the absence of this wall, a three-year program of excavations, under the direction of Jervis D. Swannack, Jr., was immediately scheduled and the first season's work began late in May of 1966. Karalee A. Coleman and Denys Delage were the senior assistants.
Excavation in the Prince Edward Bastion revealed the collapsed timber remains of a powder magazine constructed by the French in 1751. This structure 20 ft. x 13 ft. with a two-layered gable roof covered by a thick coating of heavy clay, was connected to the parade by a 4 ft. wide passage through the gorge. Other trenches in the bastion located a gun platform, the terreplein of the rampart and the remains of palisade posts presumably dating from 1751, prior to the construction of the earth ramparts.
A 61 ft. x 27 ft. casemate was uncovered in the Prince Henry Bastion. The roof of untrimmed logs was poorly preserved, but most of the floor boards were sound. An anvil and two barrels of what may have been soldering flux suggest that this structure was used for metal-working. This casemate was built in 1752 or 1753, but had fallen into disrepair by 1756 and was not used by the British. Also found in this bastion were a dry-laid rubble facing or revetment for the escarp, a gun platform and traces of what may be the original 1751 French wooden palisade.
On the east side of the parade, the 70 ft. x 16 ft. men's barracks was almost completely excavated. Fireplaces, an oven, partitions for six rooms, light wells for basement windows and at least two basement floor levels were the interior features found. Excavations in 1967 will complete the subfloor testing.
About half of the officers' barracks on the west side of the parade was excavated during the 1966 season. A "drain" similar to that surrounding the men's barracks was uncovered but only along the east side of the officers' quarters. A definite drain, deep, masonry-lined with troughed plank floor, was located in the southeast corner of this building and was found to lead below a probable masonry passage into the Duke of Cumberland Bastion. Next season, this bastion will be excavated along with the remainder of the officers' barracks.
Large quantities of artifacts were found in the two barracks and present evidence, primarily from pipes and ceramics, suggests an early 19th-century date (hence, British occupation) for both. It is expected that analysis will reveal a definite French-occupation component associated with the powder magazine and the casemate.
In 1963, Norman F. Barka was awarded a contract to complete the excavation of Fort La Tour, a fortified French trading post at the mouth of the Saint John River. Built by Charles de la Tour in 1631, the post was destroyed by a rival French trader in 1645. The immediate purpose of the excavation, and of the simultaneous archival research being carried out in France, was to ascertain whether sufficient information still survives to permit reconstruction of the fort. Approximately one-quarter of the site had already been excavated by J. Russell Harper (1956a, b) for the New Brunswick Museum (see also Omwake 1957a, b). He discovered that the La Tour occupation overlay Indian remains from two different time periods. The earlier culture he related to the Maine Cemetery Complex dating (Harper 1957a) from 3,500-4,000 years ago. The second occupation, he felt, may represent early historic-period Micmac. Evidence of a post-La Tour Indian occupation. including two burials, was also found. Concurrently with his second season at Fort La Tour, Harper (1957b) excavated 17th-century Indian burials near Pictou, Nova Scotia and he argued, on the basis of both artifacts and historic evidence, that these date from sometime after 1645, but prior to 1670.
Barka's excavations showed the La Tour settlement to have been much larger than was thought. He demonstrated two distinct construction phases and advanced the argument that the second phase dated from La Tour's marriage in 1641. Barka also excavated a trading post built by Simonds, Hazen and White of Massachusetts in 1762 on top of the earlier French site; these 18th-century remains had been discovered by Harper, but had not been extensively dug. An extensive study of the artifacts from this site has been completed and is contained in Barka's final report (1965).
La Coupe Drydock
During the summer of 1963, Barka (1966b) also briefly investigated the La Coupe Drydock on the Chignecto Isthmus in New Brunswick. This structure is an arrangement of earth dikes forming a 250 ft. x 120 ft. quadrilateral which straddles the La Coupe River a short distance above its confluence with the Aulac. J. C. Webster (1933) felt that this earthwork must have functioned as a dry-dock utilizing the great changes in the Fundy tides to float craft in and out easily. He himself could find no documents relating to this construction, but thought that it had most likely been built at the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th century. More recent research carried out by the National Historic Sites Service in French and English archives has produced neither confirmation nor refutation of this belief. Barka's excavations confirmed that the "drydock" was man-made and he concurred with Webster's identification of the function of this structure; however, there is little solid evidence to support this claim. The case made by Webster and Barka seems to rest chiefly on unproved assumptions about 18th-century water levels and on the fact that no one has adduced any other plausible use for the earthwork. In the opinion of this author, the function of the La Coupe Drydock remains to be established.
In 1964, the New Brunswick Electric Power Commission offered to finance salvage excavations at Fort Meductic, a contact-period Malecite village on the Saint John River near Woodstock. This site was to be flooded by the proposed Mactaquac Dam. The National Historic Sites Service agreed to find an archaeologist to direct the operations and to arrange for the preparation and publication of a final report. Through the courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, Louis R. Caywood of the U.S. National Park Service was released for a three-month period to head the salvage project.
There is relatively little documentary information available about Meductic. It appears to have been one of the principal settlements of the Malecites who allied themselves with the French against the British to the south. The village is located on the regular artery of communication between Quebec and Acadia the Saint John River, near its confluence with the Eel (or Meductic) River; this latter is the beginning of the main portage route into northern Maine and Massachusetts. The site had been visited by the French at least as early as 1671 and a missionary was in residence there shortly after 1686. A church was built by 1720, apparently replacing an earlier bark structure. This site seems to have been abandoned by 1767 although there was a brief resettlement of Malecites in the area for a few years after 1789 (Lee 1966).
Caywood, assisted by George A. Long, carried out three months of excavation at Meductic and also examined a nearby location locally believed to be the site of a former trading post. Investigations at Meductic were in some respects disappointing since there had been much disturbance due to cultivation and a considerable portion of the site appears to have eroded into the river. The village was surrounded by a moat, in places six feet deep, but no evidence of the expected palisading was found; two possible gate areas were uncovered. The cemetery was located and briefly tested, but the skeletal material was too poorly preserved to be removed. Much of the living area within the fort was excavated, the chief finds being firepits and burned rock. The priest's house appeared as a concentration of burned earth, a stone fireplace, wrought nails and window glass. Of the church, only a dark stain which may be the remains of a wooden foundation, some nails and window glass were found. Some of the clay pipes recovered by Caywood have been analysed (Walker 1965) and were found to date from the 19th and late 18th centuries.
A cellar, tentatively dated by the artifacts to around 1800, was also discovered at Meductic; this could be the remains of a school known to have been built in 1788 by an Anglican minister. The "trading post" proved to be an earth-floored, slab-lined cellar filled with brick and large building stones, but the identity of this structure has not yet been established. Three wigwam locations were noted nearby (Caywood 1964).
In 1966, Iain C. Walker, assisted by Elizabeth A. Wylie, directed excavations at Fort Gaspereau on the northeast coast of New Brunswick, near Port Elgin. This small fort was built by the French in 1750-51 and served as a staging post for provisions shipped across the Isthmus of Chignecto to Fort Beausejour, twenty miles away. The fort surrendered to the British in 1755 following the capture of Beausejour and was subsequently renamed Fort Monckton. For a brief period it became one of the centres for attack against the Acadians, but the British soon decided that the fort was no longer of importance and by November, 1756, it had been abandoned and burned. Some of the fort has been lost through sea erosion and much of it was damaged by cultivation and by well-meaning attempts, during the 1930s, to "improve" the site for visitors.
Documentary information on Fort Gaspereau is scanty and the 1966 excavations were intended to provide a better picture of the site to facilitate development planning for the Beausejour area. The boulder foundations of the southwest bastion were uncovered, the Commandant's Quarters was excavated and the palisade trench was located on all four sides. The collection of artifacts, though small, is quite closely dated and should prove valuable in comparative studies.
During the summer of 1966, DiAnn L. Herst, assisted by Judith A. Miller, excavated the battery at St. Andrews Blockhouse. The original fortifications had been built by the townspeople as protection against the Americans shortly after war was declared in 1812. The need for defences ended with the peace in 1814 and, although the blockhouse continued to be used for various purposes, the battery was in an advanced state of decay by the 1830s (Ingram 1965).
The purpose of the excavations was to determine the nature and location of the three cannon platforms as an aid to the restoration of the site. These were semi-circular stone structures upon which had been mounted racers and each had an inner platform supporting the gun pivot. The platforms had mounted 18-pounder guns on wooden carriages and had been designed to allow the raised cannons to pivot and fire en barbette over the earth ramparts. While traversing platforms were common by this time, it is unusual to find such complex platforms at such a small defence unit (Herst 1966). In addition to the platforms, two lines of wooden palisades were located connecting the exterior of the battery to the corners of the blockhouse.