By KEITH HERKALO
---- — 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.
We, the association, on behalf of the community of Plattsburgh, wish to express our gratitude to Clinton Community College for their faith and support in proceeding with the archaeological field school and to the students from Clinton Community and Potsdam colleges for investing four weeks of their summer in the woods, to Dr. Abel for believing in our community’s interests, to SUNY’s North Country Teacher Resource Center for offering an in-service credit option for the five local teachers who joined the archaeological team for a week-long experience and the association’s volunteers who signed on for a week as well.
Many organizations and businesses were instrumental in supporting the successful summer investigation with manpower, services, equipment and materials.
We wish to acknowledge the cooperative support of the Town of Plattsburgh, from the supervisor to the individual departments, the mayor of the City of Plattsburgh and its Public Works Department, the County of Clinton and the Airport Administration, the cooperative surveillance services provided by the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department and the New York State Police, Casella Waste Management and Foster’s Tents.
A presentation detailing the summer’s site activities is being planned in conjunction with a commemorative re-enactment at the association’s War of 1812 Museum in mid December.
The next several years of archaeological activities at the site will, no doubt, add significantly to the nation’s understanding of 1812-era military camp life.
History has been re-visited in time for the bicentennial period and the closure of a quest of Dr. Everest.
Keith Herkalo is president of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association.