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Never-before finds wrap up an exciting dig at Rogers Island
Never-before finds wrap up an exciting dig at Rogers Island

Never-before finds wrap up an exciting dig at Rogers Island

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Writing implement

Matt Rozell holds a part of a writing set, which shows the name of a German company, "Barker," on the implement's end. The writing set was found during an archaeological dig on Rogers Island this fall in Fort Edward.

FORT EDWARD — The people occupying an officers house on Rogers Island more than two centuries ago could read and write, new discoveries during the archaeological dig there show.

David Starbuck, lead archaeologist and professor at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, said he and his team uncovered a brass field writing kit at the 18th century site. They also uncovered a lead ingot, which would have been melted and cast into musket balls.

Starbuck, in his decades of digging at military locations in the region, has never found those things at any of his other digs.

Rogers Island finds

A writing implement, a butchered animal jaw and a device above a fireplace are seen at the archaeological dig site of an officers hut on Rogers Island in Fort Edward.

The writing set includes an ink pot and a long quill holder. On the back of the writing implement is an etching of the word “Barker.” Starbuck said the name refers to a German company that made writing kits for hundreds of years.

“We have never found a beautiful brass writing implement in any of our excavations,” Starbuck said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That, to me, says literate people were inside that building.”

The items are more evidence to tell the story of the French and Indian War site that once housed British officers. Starbuck said he is still unsure if the house held one high-ranking officer or several.

A kind of metal spit that would have hung over the fireplace was also uncovered, another item Starbuck has never found before. That adds to the list of items already unearthed this summer and fall, including the head of a broad ax, musket balls, cuff links, brass buttons, brass buckles, coins, a key, a pewter spoon, tobacco pipes, butchered animal bones and a bone-handled fork and knife.

Rogers Island

The site of an officer's hut is seen during an archaeological dig this fall on Rogers Island in Fort Edward.

The animal bones and spit indicate the officers (or officer) ate fresh meat, unlike common soldiers, who would have eaten dried beef or pork, “which would have tasted awful,” Starbuck said.

Based on where things were found, Starbuck believes the hut originally had a dirt floor. He said “lots of things were walked on and pressed into the floor. Later they built a wood floor, which is now totally gone.”

The dig wrapped up on Nov. 5.

It was exciting for Starbuck to be back digging on Rogers Island this year; he last dug at the site of the officers house in 1998.

Since then, the floorboards and other parts of the building were left exposed over two decades and erosion has damaged the 16- by 17-foot plot.

“Part of our reason for wanting to go back was to salvage whatever we could, fearing if we didn’t, whatever that was left would be lost forever,” Starbuck said. “But at the same time, we wanted to know more about the officer connection.”

There are more bags of artifacts to sort through, but Starbuck hopes all will be on display at the Rogers Island Visitors Center by the summer.

Starbuck, local officials and the Rogers Island Heritage Development Alliance are working with the state Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation Department on how to rebury the site, a state requirement.

It’s unclear what will happen with archaeological digs going forward on the island, but Starbuck hopes that next year work can commence on a number of barracks buildings, where thousands of British soldiers once lived. He thinks digging up at least the corners of those buildings would assist with educational signs and walking trails envisioned for the island.

“We’ll continue discussing with New York State what can we possibly continue with that would be a benefit to everyone, without digging too much,” Starbuck said.

David Starbuck

Archaeologist David Starbuck digs over the summer at an 18th-century officer's house on Rogers Island in Fort Edward.  

Reporter Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (518) 742-3238 or gcraig@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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