As seen in the November 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine
Nature's Relic Hunting Clues
By: Ed Fedory
It would seem that there exists a great and quite apparent shortage of maps bearing that distinctive "X". It sure would make good relic and treasure sites a lot easier to locate. However, by the same token, everyone would know where the site was, and that would certainly take a lot of the fun out of the process of searching, wouldn't it?
Carefully checking old maps for natural features that "bottlenecked" the flow of Colonial traffic can often lead to a bumper crop of relics!
Fountains and Natural Springs
At one particular "fountain" we were able to find evidence that the 5th and 6th British regiments had used the site, and we dug a number of large-caliber musketballs, King George coppers, numerically marked buttons, and a pair of shoe buckles. Another nearby natural spring also yielded evidence of temporary Colonial occupation.
In the recesses of rock shelters, or on the high and lofty overlooks, evidence of former ranger camps is waiting to be found in the deep woods.
Overlooks and Rocky Summits
I'll never forget my amazement when a relic hunting buddy showed me a dozen cannonballs that he had recovered from the site of a ford located on a nearby creek. Apparently, a supply wagon had gotten bogged down in the creek, and the cannonballs had been removed to lighten the load. One of the boxes of cannonballs was never reloaded, making for a most memorable relic hunting experience!
A small lakeside camp yielded a belt ax, Colonial ice creeper, a flintlock gun tool, a clasp knife blade, and many other relics from numerous occupations.
Protected Coves and Inlets
Areas where small boat or canoes could be dragged ashore should be carefully searched, especially if there is a rise of flat land where a small and easily defended day camp might have been set up.
The image of one particular lake shore site immediately springs to mind. We were able to recover a number of musketballs, along with some melted lead waste from a casting site, several French & Indian War era buttons, a Colonial clasp knife, and a small belt axe.
These and other British regimental buttons were found in swampy areas that once provided a source of clean drinking water.
Caves and Rock Shelters
Areas where boats could be dragged ashore, or hidden, can often lead to overnight encampment sites and an abundance of artifacts.
Rapids, Waterfalls, and Portages
Relic hunting one such carry on the Hudson River, we located the remains of a small stockaded fort. We could tell that it had once had four blockhouses from the stonework remains that littered the field in certain areas. Numerous relics of a wide variety, dating from the French & Indian War, were found within the area surrounded by the blockhouse remains. Such areas should be carefully searched.
In the times before the appearance of those first wilderness roads, rivers provided the only means of travel into the interior, and with the portage or carry we are once again talking about that early "bottleneck" situation through which all had to travel. Many primitive camps can also be found in areas surrounding a carry. Speaking for myself, after a long day's paddle, I think I'd prefer a warm meal and a good night's sleep before I started doing any heavy lifting of boats and supplies... wouldn't you?
Relics from an overlook near a small "carry" in the river included a clasp knife, fire starter, shoe buckle, and a variety of other interesting objects from the past.
An area just on the edge of a cattail-choked swamp offered up a large pewter spoon and several musketballs, along with a later projectile.
Small Ponds and Swamps
There are two instances of relic recoveries under such conditions that I clearly remember. The first was a small area of swampy water. We knew that troops had been camped nearby, and it seemed that this area would have been the closest spot to provide water for the troops. We searched along the sides of the swamp and found a beautiful 47th British regiment button, along with a pewter spoon that looked as if it had been dropped only yesterday. The muck we had to dig through had a terrible smell, but the oxygen-deprived soil tended to keep the artifacts perfectly preserved. I've often wondered what other relics could have been found, had we ventured farther out into the center of that swampy pool.
In the other instance, we were following the line of march for British troops. At the end of one field was an area of very dense cattails. Feeling that 200 years earlier this site might have provided drinking water for passing troops, we decided to check the area carefully. In addition to a number of dropped musketballs, a Spanish coin button and a 29th Regiment button were found. There were several other small swampy areas along the miles-long length of the march, and with varying degrees of success, each provided us with at least a few relics for our collections. * * *
Perhaps the next time you drag out that old map you'll examine it with a different eye. Look for those "bottlenecks" that saw so much foot traffic in past centuries. Think about what might have been an important feature to the 18th century military mind... in short, think like a Colonial.