Colonial Crossing Guards
By Ed Fedory
While a woods of secondary growth now covers a portion of the early crossing site, Colonial maps indicated that the native forests had been cut down on the entire point of land.
It had been a regular "goat climb" to those lofty heights... traversing 6" wide ledges covered with lichens and slippery moss... hanging onto exposed roots and underbrush as we clawed and crawled our way to the summit. When the last level was behind us, when we could look out upon the unobstructed panoramic display of blue-water lakes nestled between the pine-clad mountain slopes, we knew our efforts would be well rewarded!
In the past, while on the quest for relics, there have been any number of mountains which had to be climbed-some with names, others nameless. Each one is remembered for a different reason... the 350 lb. black bear encountered on Evergreen Mountain... the tiny spotted fawn bedding down on a swath of lush clover on Rush Mountain... Round Top, for the ominous deposits found outside the darkened entrance of a cave which heralded a quiet, yet speedy, departure. But the nameless peak we climbed that day will be forever etched in my memory for its steep slopes and magnificent vistas.
From the height of the mountain, we could see the varied colors of the waters far below us, the lighter greenish-blue reflecting the shallow depths which a wooden bridge once spanned. It was a bird's-eye view which we hoped others had also witnessed... centuries earlier.
Our purpose for the tortuous climb was threefold. Primarily, we were seeking overlooks which might have once been employed as observation posts, the evidence of which would come from recovered relics. Secondly, the heights would reveal to us the true lay of the land, something which was lacking from a ground level observation. And lastly, it seemed a great opportunity to capture the majestic natural beauty of this richly relic-laden area on film.
There was a large amount of relic evidence indicating that both American and British troops had used and encamped on the site of the crossing. King George coppers and Spanish silver were among the interesting finds made during the course of the hunt.
Finding a rocky escarpment overlooking the valley, I pulled my camera from the pack and began photographing the entire area of land below me. How many relics had we been able to recover from the fields that lay within the scope of my camera lens? How many relics still remained in the depths of the soil, waiting to be recovered? It was an intriguing thought, one which I could have spent the better part of a half-hour pondering, had it not been for more pressing tasks. I put the camera back in the pack, and we began getting our detectors ready for a preliminary search of the wooded grounds surrounding the overlook.
Within minutes of beginning our search, we knew there had been a small observation post situated on the summit, at least for a limited time. The relics we were able to recover-a few musketballs, a broken shoe buckle frame, and a couple of buttons dating from the French & Indian War period-while not the most important we had hoped to recover, at least confirmed our suspicions that any Colonial officer would not overlook the opportunity to station a few men on an observation post with such a commanding view of the bridge approaches.
Pressed for time, we left the area of the first post and went searching for other, similar areas on the back of the mountain which would provide a view of the adjacent valley. We knew we would be once again making the climb during the following spring, and our purpose was primarily to scout all of the potential overlooks, not to detect one single area with an exhaustive search. Basically, we were on a hunt for information to be used during the following relic hunting season... we were lining up our ducks for the future!
During the course of that morning search, we were able to pull a small number of relics from three different areas-two overlooks and a shallow, swampy area where a pool of water would collect during the late spring and early summer. The information which we were able to gather about the mountain would certainly provide us with a "jumping off point" for the following season.
High above the valley floor, we were given a true view of the lay of the land beneath us. Features which would have gone unnoticed with a ground level observation, stood out clearly from such heights. Here, Dan and Gene stop for a break before the final time on the summit.
As Dan, Gene, and I descended the slopes along an ankle-turning, log-choked ravine, we wondered what our searches during the afternoon portion would reveal in the form of relics, once we had hooked up with Keith, the fourth member of our team.
By the time we came stumbling out of the tree line at the base of the mountain, we could see that Keith was already running patterns across the field. We hailed him from the distance, but he was too intent on digging a target to take any notice. As the gap narrowed, we could see Keith was in the process of cleaning mud from his newly recovered relic. From the corner of his eye, he noticed our approach, held his hand high with an object held between his thumb and index finger, and called out one of my favorite phrases, "Marked button!"
The button proved to be from the 26th British regiment, which the evening's research showed to be the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). The regiment had been in New York in May of 1776, taken part in the New Jersey campaign in 1777, and returned to New York for the assaults on Fort Montgomery and Clinton in 1777 (in a vain attempt to reinforce General Burgoyne, who had his hands full with rebel forces at a little town called Saratoga). They then returned to New Jersey to join in the 1778 fight at Monmouth. Survivors returned to the British Isles in 1780.
The information about this valiant corps was interesting... knowing that our boots were planted on the same soil they once trod was exciting... yet, a mystery which would be revealed by another dug button of the same regiment, later in the afternoon, would leave us wondering!
After a few moments of admiring Keith's latest recovery, we set about running our individual patterns across the broad fields. Some of us worked the far end near the wood line, while others worked close to the road and the edge of the lake. Interesting knolls were carefully searched, as were the depths of a roadway drainage ditch, in hopes of finding some deeper relics and non-metallic artifacts which might be spied during the course of the hunt.
When we finally gathered together in the early afternoon, we found that an interesting assemblage of buttons, musketballs, and a few pieces of Spanish silver had been recovered by the members of the team. On this and previous hunts, we had carefully searched most areas of the field, and we found the frequency of targets diminishing. All the relics were small in size, and retrieval depths were increasing with each successive hunt. To a man, we felt it wouldn't be a bad idea to leave the fields we had been searching and return in the late spring when they were once again plowed. We had permission to relic hunt on a lot of sites in the area, so with the waning day, we decided to check out a few areas which had never been searched.
It's obvious that every bridge has two ends, and it was our hope that an encampment had been in existence on the other side of the lake as well. With that objective and strategy in place, we loaded our packs and detectors into the back of the trucks and headed out.
As we emerged from the trucks, we were given a view of the summit we had climbed earlier in the morning, and I was glad to have that part of the hunt behind me. I popped a fresh battery pack into my detector and wished I had one to boost my energy levels. The last part of the hunt, at least for myself, would be a slow and leisurely process... tight patterns... listening deep... a way of easing myself out of what had been a great day of relic hunting in the field.
Found within a short distance of each other, this button of the 26th British Regiment layalmost along side a piece of bone which had been shattered by a Colonial musketball.
The targets on the opposite side of the lake were few and far between, and one could swing the coil for 20 minutes and listen to nothing save the quiet hum of the threshold. You could tell by the pace of the team members that the hunt was gradually winding down, and our thoughts were slowly drifting toward a lakeside fish fry at Keith's house, a roaring campfire, and the exchange of relic hunting tales. It was one of the last finds of the day which gave us plenty to discuss that evening as we watched the full moon send a glittering walkway across the still surface of the lake.
We had stopped hunting in mid-field and were in the process of comparing finds. Gene, Dan and I had recovered a dozen musketballs, a few assorted brass buckle fragments, and a couple of unmarked buttons. In the distance we could see Keith digging on another target, and one again he let go with a call which told us he had found another marked button.
Knowing that the hunt was just about to conclude for the day, we shut down our detectors and walked in Keith's direction. We watched as he checked the area around where he had dug the button, and saw him kneel down to dig an adjacent target. He was still in the process of digging when we arrived at his side.
Scooping the loose soil from the depths of the hole, and passing it across the surface of his coil, Keith was finally able to isolate the target... a sorely flattened musketball. Under closer examination, there appeared to be something stuck to the other side of the ball. After a very delicate field cleaning, the strange attached object proved to be a large section of bone tissue!
From the curvature of the bone, it was easy to tell that the musketball had passed through one side of the complete bone, and had blown out a section of the opposite bone wall, probably carrying it some distance, given the velocity of the musketball. What could not be determined was whether the bone fragment was that of a human or animal... and despite the fact that a purposely bent button again of the 26th British regiment, was found at the same depth and only a foot away, we'll never have a proper answer to that one lingering question.
This musketball still retains the shape of the indide of the bone with which it came into violent contact. There is an interesting and perhaps grim story behind this unusual find... a story which shall ever remain hidden behind the dark curtains of time!
That evening, beside the roaring campfire, and with the waters of the lake mere yards from our boots, we pondered over the mystery of the button, bone, and ball. We tossed around a variety of situations, developed our own little unique stories about those long-ago events, and finally came up with a conclusion to which we all could agree-it was another one of those inexplicable events which often occur when one dares to draw aside the curtains of history in a quest for relics and knowledge!
Editor's Note - "All relics and artifacts featured in The Relic Hunter were found and recovered on private property with the permission and total consent of the owners." - Ed Fedory