Doug Pippin
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  • Good afternoon, Introduction and thank you (to both organizers and attendees). Abstract: At the head of the St. Lawrence River in Northern New York State, Carleton Island was the site of a British fortification and naval base dating to the American Revolution. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, restricted public access to the island was the greatest asset to the site’s preservation. But for more than 20 years, the Thousand Islands Land Trust has owned and protected the extant earthworks, dry-moat, artillery bastions, and features that make the fort easily discernable today. Archaeological investigations at the fortification––Fort Haldimand––benefited from active volunteer participation, and community interest in the site. This greater community awareness of the fort and the adjacent, underwater cultural resources had led to many new opportunities for both site preservation and research. This paper will examine public archaeology at Carleton Island and its impact on the preservation of this important site in Canadian and New York History.
  • In the late eighteenth century, the British outpost on Carleton Island was an important connection between the cities of Montréal and Québec, and frontier posts in the Great Lakes farther to the west. The diverse activity areas on Carleton Island included an earthen fortification, naval base, shipyard, and storage depot. Pubic archaeology at the fortification, Fort Haldimand, has revealed information about the soldiers’ access to provisions, living conditions in the barracks and availability of market goods. Among the principle inhabitants of the cabin were soldiers of the First Battalion, 84th Regiment of Foot, or Royal Highland Emigrants. In this presentation I will not be discussing more than a brief overview of the role Carleton Island played in the Revolutionary War. I will however, address the public perception of the island and its ruins as it has changed over the last century, as well as the strong public archaeology component of the research at Carleton Island.
  • Positioned atop a sixty-foot bluff at the west end of Carleton Island, Fort Haldimand commanded a view of the head of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. A small peninsula in the shape of a hammerhead forms two bays below the bluff, known today simply as north and south bay, but previously known as Schank’s Harbour and Government Bay, respectively. On this peninsula was the area taken over for shipbuilding, naval stores and the sailors’ barracks. A road up to the fort from South Bay---cut out of the limestone by the British---emerges at the top of the bluff just to the south of the fort. As part of an active supply line, Carleton Island was also home to several merchants’ representatives and their warehouses, indicated on this 1810 map with the notation “Merchant’s Point and Merchant’s Cove.”
  • The most striking element of the fort still visible today is the moat, approximately twenty feet wide, six feet deep and several hundred yards long. In the middle of each of the three sides, a bastion projects out from the wall. The purpose for the bastions was to provide placement for the fort’s artillery, facing inland to defend against an attack from across the island. The moat is only one element of the defensive works and extant remains, of which a great deal is still plainly visible, including two standing, and numerous other fallen chimneys.
  • The questions that led to the investigation of Fort Haldimand focus on the efficiency of the British provisioning system for the common soldier. So, it was necessary to find an occupation area for soldiers, distinct from that occupied by officers. Many of the officers of course had private means that would provide them with opportunities to supplement their living conditions and provisions in ways unavailable to the rank and file soldier. A shovel test survey was preformed to establish the intact activity areas within the fort, and led us to a cabin primarily occupied by the soldiers of the 84th regiment of foot, a highland regiment of the line that was one of the few provincial regiments to be put on the regular establishment.
  • In addition to its military and economic roles, Carleton Island became a refuge for loyalists and Indians displaced by the American Revolutionary War. The loyalist settlement on the island would likely have resembled this contemporary image of a loyalist encampment down the St. Lawrence River in what is now Cornwall, Ontario. Although initially lacking support from the military, both Indians and loyalists would eventually draw rations from the garrison supply, placing further stress on the provisioning system.
  • Both civilian and military provisions traveled upriver from Montréal to Carleton Island in batteaux, vessels that could be sailed, paddled, and portaged when needed. At Carleton Island the goods were off-loaded and stored, until put into larger vessels for shipment across Lake Ontario, such as those seen here in a painting by Peter Rindlisbacher.
  • By the mid nineteenth century––its military role abandoned after the War of 1812––Carleton Island became an historical curiosity and a tourist destination. Documentation and speculation about the ruined fort ranged from thorough historical analysis of the British occupation to theories that Fort Haldimand was actually an ancient monument erected by the famed 12th century Welsh explorer, Prince Medoc.
  • In one of the first scholarly works about the Carleton Island, JH Durham notes the prominence of stone chimneys that could be seen from the river. Durham went on to add that: “Inquiry, or perchance an examination, disclosed the fact that the greater portion of these old chimney stacks stood within an elaborately fortified enclosure, of which the outlines are not only distinct, but in a degree, quite perfect; so much so, that the plan is readily determined, the system identified, its armament adjudged, its magazines and barracks located, and in short, its whole scope, object and intent, made reasonably plain (1889:17)”
  • Even today, elaborate stories are common describing, for example, the escape tunnel that the British constructed, to evacuate the fort in case of emergency. This, at least, has as basis in physical reality, but rather than a tunnel, it is a large fissure in the limestone bedrock of the island, a common geologic feature, seen in this photograph.
  • Carleton Island was certainly more well known at the end of the last century––it is all but forgotten from the history books today. It flourished as a tourist destination––as seen in this article about an 1892 photograph of a family posing on one of the chimneys––and through the media that was circulated of the ruins.
  • Carleton Island was a popular location for photographers and painters in the 19th century. In this stereoview by the noted photographer A. C. MacIntyre, four of the chimnies can been seen from across North Bay.
  • [and a close-up of that image]. McIntyre made numerous trips to the island to produce stereoview photos of the landscape and ruins, but he documented the Thousand Islands extensively at the end of the 19th century. The popularity of these images led postcard photographers back to Carleton Island in the early 20th century.
  • These next few slides represent a series of picture postcards that were widely circulated after 1905.
  • They provide an important contrast to the extant remains and assist in the interpretation of the archaeological data. Fortunately, there was never any substantial development near the fort itself, but other 18th century occupation areas were impacted by small scale development on the island, especially in the harbor areas below Fort Haldimand. Fortunately, the difficulty of access to the island over the last century has been the greatest asset in the fort’s preservation.
  • All of the research at Fort Haldimand has been conducted through the generous donation of time, equipment and, most importantly of course, boats so that we could get to our site. From the clean up and preservation of the extant earthworks, to to the excavations that formed the basis of my dissertation research, we have had outstanding public contributions.
  • Efforts to arrest the further deterioration of the fort and its extant remains are an important part of the research at Fort Haldimand. The interior limit of the fort has become approximately 60% covered in sumac and lilac. There are almost no substantial trees within or near the fort, as the shallow soil depth doesn’t allow for deep root systems. The sumac trees pervasive in the fort, seen in the last slide, thrives in this environment and rarely penetrates more than 10-15 centimeters below the surface. The extent of the vegetation within the fort was recorded and mapped in 2002 using GPS equipment. The increased vegetation within the fort affects both the extant features and the sub-surface deposits. This study, too, and the use of the equipment, was conducted on a volunteer basis.
  • Local residents of nearby Cape Vincent and Clayton, NY describe the deterioration of the extant chimneys of the fort over the past few decades.
  • Snow and ice have taken a toll on the stonework and vegetation has almost completely overtaken the remaining chimneys, visible features and earthworks. In an effort to arrest the further encroachment of sumac and lilac over the fort and its earthworks, the Thousand Islands Land Trust initiated a program to stop the spread of vegetation,
  • enlisting both their membership and the broader community to assist in their efforts. Events sponsored by the land trust over the past few years have attracted hundreds of volunteers to the island.
  • Their assistance has been invaluable to the fort’s preservation and in the archaeological excavations of one of the soldiers barracks. These include members of the local community and the land trust, the New York State Archaeological Association, and students from Syracuse University and SUNY Oswego (and more than a few of my own family members).
  • We always received very positive feedback from our volunteers, but none so impressive as this poem written by a student named Judith Pearson, about here participation in the excavations. She dedicated the poem to the memory of Molly Brant, a very influential Mohawk woman who lived for a time at Fort Haldimand before moving to what is now Kingston, Ontario.
  • Many public volunteers helped us carry out the goals of the archaeological excavations. In a large part these were members of the NYSAA and many of my own students, but on many occasions the land trust opened the site to the public so that they could view and participate in the excavations.
  • It was with our volunteers conducting our shovel test pit grid that the testing uncovered the barracks that would be excavated for my dissertation research. We found not only evidence of an intact wood floor, but also the rough-cut timber laid onto the bedrock as part of the barrack’s exterior cabin wall. In this photograph, a portion of an Imari porcelain cup was discovered sitting on thie wood floor.
  • Here, students are recording the debris from the cabin’s chimney. Another significant discovery was a substantial midden deposit along the side of the cabin facing the fort’s interior. This deposit has provided a wealth of information related to the soldiers who were garrisoned at Fort Haldimand.
  • As you can see here, there is a very shallow soil depth to bedrock within the limits of Fort Haldimand. The barracks were laid down directly on the stone and the midden is only inches above the limestone bedrock.
  • This slide illustrates the primary excavations and the trench that was opened across the cabin debris and the midden. The dark soil to the back of the trench indicates the interior of the cabin. The initial discovery of the cabin wall was in this test unit indicated by the arrow here:
  • Remains of the timber were subsequently uncovered to show a cabin wall length of approximately 22 feet: This is Indicated by the line here:
  • The material culture recovered from the midden has yielded a wealth of information related to the soldiers diet and access to provisions. As indicated earlier, the archaeological data points to the 84 th regiment as occupants of the cabin, but there were some material items representing other units as well.
  • In one of the strangest events of the work at Fort Haldimand, artifacts were returned to the public domain anonymously. Sometime after the close of excavations in the summers of 1999 and 2000, one or more individuals scattered over one hundred 18th century artifacts over the back-filled units of the barracks excavation. The provenance of the materials is unknown, but they are characteristic of the style and form of other artifacts found within the fort. Among the items found were kaolin clay pipe bowls and stems, ceramic sherds of numerous wares and forms, hand-wrought nails, animal bone, window glass and barrel hoop and other iron fragments. The material was first discovered while giving a tour to the Thousand Islands Chapter of the New York State Archaeological Association early in the summer of 2000. Embarrassed at first to see artifacts atop back-filled units, it became quickly obvious that the materials were placed there intentionally. The person or persons who left the material at the site obviously took time to place it in an area where it would be found by archaeologists, but their identity remains unknown.
  • At the center of activity at Carleton Island was the British soldier, subject to the strict regulations of the eighteenth century British military and far removed from the large settlements down river in what is today the Province of Québec. Living conditions for the British soldiers in Canada could be harsh in many respects. Inadequate rations, low pay, and poor health and sanitary conditions were common at any garrison of the time, and were sure to be found at the frontier posts in the interior of North America. The archaeological data would not be possible without strong public participation. In conclusion I am very happy to discuss the role that Fort Haldimand and Carleton Island play in the community and the support that we have had for the project over the years. I look forward to many more years of research at the site.


  • 1. Preservation and Public Archaeology on Carleton Island, New York
    • Douglas J. Pippin
    • State University of New York, College at Oswego
  • 2.  
  • 3.
    • Plan of Carleton Island (1810)
  • 4.
    • Extant Features of Fort Haldimand
  • 5. A soldier of the 84th Regiment of Foot (1779) An 84th regiment button from Fort Haldimand
  • 6. Encampment of the Loyalists at Johnstown by James Peachey Collection of Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa
  • 7. HMS Seneca, HMS Ontario, and HMS Haldimand in North Bay, Carleton Island by Peter Rindlisbacher, with permission, from Legend of the Lake , 1997
  • 8.
    • The Popular Perception of
    • Fort Haldimand
  • 9.
    • For more than half a century, the traveler on the River St. Lawrence by way of the American Channel has not failed to notice a group of stone chimneys, standing on a bluff at the head of Carleton Island.
    • J. H. Durham, 1889
  • 10. A portion of the Carleton Island “Escape Tunnel”
  • 11.
    • Turn of the century tourists posing on, and in front of, a chimney from Fort Haldimand
  • 12.
    • Bay of Fort Carleton (undated, c. 1890’s) by A. C. McIntyre
  • 13.
    • Bay of Fort Carleton (undated, c. 1890’s) by A. C. McIntyre
  • 14.
    • Historic Images of Fort Haldimand
  • 15.
    • Historic Images of Fort Haldimand
  • 16.
    • Historic Images of Fort Haldimand
  • 17.
    • Public Participation in the Archaeology of Fort Haldimand
  • 18.
    • Tracking the spread of vegetation within
    • Fort Haldimand
  • 19.
    • Efforts of the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) in preserving Fort Haldimand
  • 20.
    • Efforts of the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) in preserving Fort Haldimand
  • 21.
    • Efforts of the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT) in preserving Fort Haldimand
  • 22.  
  • 23.
    • A poem written by Judith Pearson, one of the student participants in the Fort Haldimand public archaeology program.
  • 24.
    • The Archaeological investigation of Fort Haldimand
  • 25.
    • The Archaeological investigation of Fort Haldimand
  • 26.
    • The Archaeological investigation of Fort Haldimand
  • 27.
    • The Archaeological investigation of Fort Haldimand
  • 28.  
  • 29.  
  • 30.  
  • 31. “ Anti-Looting” at Fort Haldimand
  • 32. Thanks to our Volunteers from: Thousand Islands Land Trust NYSAA, Thousand Islands Chapter NYSAA, Beauchamp Chapter Residents of Cape Vincent and Clayton, NY Syracuse University, Anthropology Dept. SUNY Oswego, Anthropology Dept. Acknowledgements: Library and Archives Canada New York State Museum Rochester Museum and Science Center Chesapeake Environmental, Inc.