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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (12/2005) Relic Hunter (11/2005) Relic Hunter (02/2006)   Vol. 39 December 2005 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the December 2005 edition of W&ET Magazine

The Outpost Of Obscurity

By: Ed Fedory

The trappings of the late 1750s military site had certainly changed since grey-white uniformed French troops and painted warriors had terrorized the small and obscure French & Indian War era outpost. The near-silent padding of moccasined footsteps, replaced by the deep roar of tractor trailers thundering by less than 20 yards away... the volley fire of muskets, transformed to the high-pitched whine of motorcycles as they raced along the roadway- it was only after the recovery of the first musketball that the sounds of the 21st century began to recede into the background, and by the end of the relic hunt we barely noticed the vehicular intrusion into the 18th century!

The rocky outcropping on which we planted our boots was undoubtedly a forward post for the main fort... a fort whose foundations could only be found by the complete removal of the existing hotel/restaurant complex covering the original site. In the 1750s, the perfect and unobstructed view of the lake afforded an early warning of attacking troops. In the 21st century, the site afforded vacationers a panoramic view of the lake crowded with sailboats, jet skis, and para-sail rides. Where once men were locked in desperate mortal combat... where once the ground and leaves were stained with blood, shed for king and country... where once deeds of valor, or acts of cowardice transpired... today it's the place where you plunk down a wad of cash for a cold drink, a Reuben sandwich, and a couple of rounds of miniature golf. Yes, the area surrounding our relic hunting site had really been altered and changed over the intervening two and a half centuries. However, despite all the changes... the hotels and highways... history continued to lurk just beneath the surface!

The first musketball recovered proved that the combination of old and new maps, intuition, and previous experience had provided us with a site of good potential. This first recovery was followed by several vented pewter buttons with iron shafts that helped us date the site to the French & Indian War. There were several things we felt we wouldn't find, such as numbered buttons, that were used after the period of the fort, but even in this we were mistaken.

Initially, we decided to work the thin soil on the very summit of the rocky outcropping. In fact, there were quite a number of areas where the coarse grey rock was fully exposed. Some brush existed, but this was of so sparse a nature that it barely slowed the search. Most of the recoveries in this area were musketballs and buttons, and the depths at which they were found were quite shallow, some lying on the surface of the rock just beneath a thin carpet of moss. It took very little digging to reach most targets, and in some cases you merely had to lift up a flap of moss and look beneath it!

The exposed rocky surface was covered with cracks and fissures, and often we had to dig out a crack in the rock with a small knife in order to extract a relic. To this day, I often wonder what those larger fissures, the ones so deep and narrow that they were impossible to explore, might have contained.

Once we had carefully searched the summit, we focused on the north and south slopes leading up to it. Each of these slopes contained some very large rocks, and the underbrush was noticeably thicker, making it a little difficult to get a long sweep with the coil. There was also a number of "hot rocks," a fact only realized after you dug them out in hopes that they covered some large iron, only to find that it was the rock itself and not something hidden under it that was giving that warmly received solid signal.

In addition to more musketballs and buttons, we found some musketballs that had been quartered- cut by an ax or sharp blade, either out of boredom or to make some rather crude buckshot.

Searching around one large rock, I got a strong signal. I didn't have far to dig before I recovered a small knee buckle. I also noted in the side of the hole a rusty discoloration in the soil. I ran the coil over the hole once again and received a broken signal. I knew it was probably not a hot rock, as I had previously raised the discrimination level on my detector in order to eliminate most of them. I lowered the discrimination level and immediately a very strong, solid signal ran through my headset. Digging deeper beside the rock, I saw the rounded surface of a large piece of iron. My heart began pumping faster as I thought I was about to recover a complete cannonball! The thrilling thought of coming away from the site with a cannonball was only slightly diminished when I pulled the relic from the depths and found it to be a fragment of an 8" mortar bomb.

That find did away with raising discrimination levels on the detector. I would face the frequent false signals for the rest of the hunt, secure in the knowledge that any other mortar bomb fragment would not escape me. It was a good decision, because I was to dig three more fragments that afternoon, all on the south slope.

The northern slope was not without its own little surprises, the first of which was a bayonet in very poor condition. No matter how gently it was handled, the slotted iron band just crumbled away. It's probably a common experience to all of us... that centerpiece relic for a site collection just falling apart in your hands. I've rarely seen grown men cry under such circumstances, but I have heard loud oaths containing words never spoken from a pulpit. This was one of those occasions!

Since the grounds we were searching had never been turned by the plow, nor seen the destructive action of powerful fertilizers, many of the relics were recovered in an extraordinary state of preservation. This was especially evident with the recovery of two King George coppers. Under farm-field conditions, they would have been corroded and, as often is the case, almost unrecognizable, but under these excellent conditions there was no green corrosion to be seen on either coin.

This remarkable state of preservation was also displayed in what was, at the time, and for some time later, the most puzzling relic of the hunt. I was sweeping the coil in a small copse of trees on the north slope when I again heard the now familiar sound of a good target. Digging down about 6", I saw the back of another button sitting on top of the removed soil. I could immediately see that it was not one of the vented type, but was totally astonished on turning it over and seeing what appeared to be numbers. A gentle field cleaning confirmed the fact, as the number 34 quickly emerged on the face of the button. Clearly, it was of a later period- the period of the American Revolution, in fact. Later research was to reveal that it was a uniform button of the 34th British Regiment of Foot, the Border Regiment, which had arrived in Quebec in May of 1776. I had no idea as to why it should have been found on a site dating from the French & Indian War!

It was several months later that I happened upon The American Journals of Lieutenant John Enys. In his diary, Lieutenant Enys describes the taking of a lakeside fort and its garrison, a fort to which he was first afforded a view from a clear and rocky height of land. Very active in the taking of this fort was the 34th Regiment. The clear and rocky height of land was the remains of the outpost to the earlier French & Indian War era fort that had fallen to ruin... the site we had been searching. It was only by sheer luck that I was able to solve the mystery of this button, but in relic hunting you learn quickly that luck is often a capable and unexpected ally!

We were destined to search the obscure outpost, on and off, for the better part of six months, ranging out and trying new strategies until the number of recovered relics dropped dramatically. It was a site that offered us no small amount of interest, some unique relics, and a mystery or two. It certainly wasn't the biggest site I've ever searched, but then again, as is often said, "The finest presents often come in small packages!"

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