2011 Fort Daniel Faire conclusions

Submitted by James D'Angelo (4drdee@bellsouth.net)

Prior to the 2011 Fort Daniel Frontier Faire in Gwinnett County, Georgia, several geophysical surveys had been conducted at the site by Dr. Sheldon Skaggs of Georgia Southern University, the combined results of which suggested the presence of features within the footprint of the fort. We have also previously reported that the footprint of the fort’s palisade walls and corner blockhouses, as determined by archaeological investigations, corresponds precisely to the plan for frontier forts sent by President Washington’s Secretary of War, Henry Knox, to the Governor of Georgia in 1794.

The plan was presumably made available by the Governor to the militia and those on the frontier. Indeed, our research has revealed many contemporary sketches and written descriptions of Georgia frontier forts constructed after 1794,including Fort Mitchell built by a Georgia General in what would be Alabama, exhibit Knox’s plan. In his article, Skaggs presents a tracing of Knox’s plan to illustrate how Fort Daniel corresponds to it. We have since located and arranged for a copy of the original plan from the State Archives, which are happy to share with our readers.

Ft Daniel 1794 fort plan

Original fort plan submitted to Georgia by Secretary of War Henry Knox in 1794. Bottom half of page contained sketch key has been cropped out (The Georgia Department of Archives and History).

While the stockade and blockhouse footprint of Fort Daniel correspond to Knox’s plan, contemporary sketches of the similar Georgia forts (i.e., Mitchell, Hawkins, Lawrence, and Manning) as well as Allen Daniel’s construction orders, suggested that the interior buildings might not. Because the whole site had been cultivated and because, unlike the palisade walls which were sunk 3 feet into the ground well below the plow zone, the blockhouses and other interior structures would have been built on the surface, expectations for buried features within the fort ran low. Until the 2011 Faire, that is.

As mentioned in previous articles about the Faire (see article 1 and article 2) several schools participated in the public archaeology portion of the event. It was one of these groups, Georgia State University archaeology students, led by Jeff Glover, which found our first “interior” feature while ground-truthing the results of Skaggs’ Gradiometer survey).

2011 Ft Daniel research 05 gradiometer

Gradiometer readout with Knox plan (flipped) overlaid, showing the approximate location of excavation Unit 24.

As Jeff’s group approached the bottom of their Unit (23), the reward for their digging and screening was one sherd of crockery and small fragments of charcoal and brick. As the plow scars at the bottom of the plow zone began to appear—it is amazing how intriguing these are to most people—I suggested that excavating the scars as features (which they are!) would be good practice for the students. It was during this exercise that a brick feature appeared in the northwest corner of the unit. Although it had been damaged by the plow, most of it clearly extended below the plow zone.

Ft Daniel excavation unit 23 view north

Excavation Unit 23, 4×4′, view north showing excavated plow scars and brick feature in NE.

After recording the feature and covering it,  Jeff and I decided that no more should be done with it until we could see if it was connected with anything to the north, which would give us a better idea of how to approach it.  And, delicate as the feature was, that should be done sooner rather than later. So Jeff came back with his students on November 11, and we opened a new unit (27) that overlapped Unit 23.

Ft Daniel excavation unit 27 view north

View north of Unit 27 showing new feature (27-1) north of brick feature (23-1). Color enhancement helps to show the feature in contrast to the surrounding, lighter pale Pacolet soil at the bottom of the plow zone. However, the west and north walls of Unit 27 are not actually red, but the same pale brown as the north wall of Unit 23.

What we found was that the brick feature (23-1) was on the south edge of another feature (27-1) that itself extended out of the unit to the north and to the west and, based on the surrounding soil profiles, extend at least 2 inches (5 cm) below the bottom of the plow zone.

Is this a robbed out hearth with discarded brickbats? Is this a back-filled, brick-lined well? Perhaps it was a privy? Maybe it is the bottom of a truncated trash pit like we found in the northeast blockhouse where the wonderful bone-handled knife was found a couple of years ago. And, although it is located within a structure according to the Knox overlay, it is far too early to know if the actual layout of the interior of Fort Daniel correlates with Knox’s plan. But, whatever it turns out to be, it is an interior feature of Fort Daniel, and that is very exciting!

These features have been covered with plastic and soil to preserve them for another go-around when we will try to determine the horizontal extent and shape of the feature before attempting to dissect it.

Read about the Fort Daniel Foundation here. Read all stories on this website about Fort Daniel here.