October 24, 2012

In My Opinion: Site of historic significance unearthed

Several years ago, after many years of research and on behalf of the community of Plattsburgh, the Battle of Plattsburgh Association provided to the New York State Historic Preservation Office and the Department of the Interior substantial and significant documentary materials to support the nomination and recording of the area known as Pike’s Cantonment as a National Register-eligible site.

Although the site has been the subject of two previous archaeological investigations, sufficient data was provided by the association to support a third archaeological study. We sought the talents of Dr. Timothy Abel, an 1812-era archaeological specialist who, after an initial one-week period in 2011, produced conclusive archaeological evidence of not only military occupation of the site but, specifically, artifacts directly attributed to the 1812 encampment of Zebulon Montgomery Pike’s 15th Regiment.

The site is significant in that it marks the point at which the British Army crossed the Saranac River on Sept. 11, 1814, in an attempt to outflank the American forces and attack the unfinished forts.

The specific location of the encampment, long sought by many, was an elusive obsession of the late Dr. Allan S. Everest. With the weight of the documentation, archaeological data and artifacts provided, the association was successful in having the site named to the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 14, 2012.

In August of this year, a four-week archaeological field school commenced at the site. Anthropological and archaeological students from Clinton Community and Potsdam colleges, led by Dr. Abel, unearthed almost 25 percent of a hut site at the location. Many specific architectural details were unearthed and hundreds of artifacts were retrieved from the site, identified and removed to the association’s War of 1812 Museum for further investigation and study.

In the coming bicentennial years, the site will yield important details of military-camp living of the period; what remains of Pike’s Cantonment is believed to be the only undisturbed 1812-era military encampment in the nation.

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