Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Finding Fort Hollingsworth, Part V

The final post in a series about Fort Hollingsworth in Cecil County provided by archaeologist Jim Gibb. Looks like there's more work to be done, as always - if you're interesting in helping out, consider volunteering with ASM, the Archaeological Society of Maryland!

Fort Hollingsworth was one of several vernacular forts erected by locals at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. Where are the other forts and what did they look like? Have they survived the last century's booming land development? The Archeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake—a chapter of the Archeological Society of Maryland—and noted War of 1812 historian Ralph Eshelman have been exploring the site of what we think is Fort Defiance, a small outwork or gun emplacement just downstream of Fort Frederick (the site of which has not been definitively identified).
Could this be the site of Fort Defiance?
The possible site of Fort Defiance is suggested by a circular depression some 4.25 meters, or about 14 feet, in diameter and 2 meters, or about 6 feet, deep, perched at the top of a bluff overlooking the Elk River. Much of the river at this point is shoaled or marsh and the channel of the stream bends westward, virtually to the foot of the bluff.

Shovel tests—holes about a foot and a half in diameter and excavated up to three feet deep—produced some architectural and domestic (kitchenwares) refuse dating to the late 1800s and some 20th-century incinerated trash, probably from the nearby house. Sifting the soil through quarter-inch mesh screens, however, produced no military artifacts. Systematic metal detecting also led to the recovery of 20th-century trash, but nothing that could be attributed to the War of 1812. The lack of finds isn’t surprising: military sites tend to produce very few artifacts, unless they were battlefields on which intense or protracted fighting occurred. No such fighting occurred at Fort Defiance.

Our field crew prepared a preliminary topographic map of the site to document the depression as well as some other curious landforms just 50 feet south of the depression. A road had been cut through the bluff sometime in the late 20th century, probably to afford access to the narrow beach below. That road cut complicates an already irregular, eroded topography and it lies between the circular depression and a narrow ridge that has one of the best…if not the best…view of the Elk River. Could this ridge be an eroded remnant of a gun emplacement?

We can’t tell…not yet, anyway. We will return to the site soon, hopefully with Bill Stephens who has the equipment and skills to produce a topographic map that provides the kind of detail that we will need to sort out the complicated contours.

That brings our series on Fort Hollingsworth to a close, for now...as usual, the more answers you find, the more questions those answers generate.

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