A War Site Offers Historical Insight
Students and amateur archaeologists unearth artifacts at forgotten Mt. Independence. REVOLUTIONARY RESEARCH
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Other finds from this summer's search of the mount's rocky topsoil include British regimental buttons - one of which, paradoxically, is from a regiment that never left New York City - and a perfectly preserved 1749 British coin. Shards of high-quality china are another hint of the relatively upscale life of the officers. Dozens of musket balls and gun flints have surfaced, as well hundreds of fragments of old wine bottles.Skip to next paragraph
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The big pieces of war materiel left behind by the fleeing American army disappeared long ago.
The government of Vermont invited salvagers to help themselves to cannons, mortars, and other iron ``scrap'' way back in 1785. Collectors have picked away since. But the slim chance of finding anything ``big'' hasn't tempered the enthusiasm of Starbuck's team.
Some, like Bill Murphy, have waited decades for a bona fide dig to get under way here. In 1970, Mr. Murphy, then a schoolteacher in Middlebury, Vt., started a grass-roots campaign to save a section of Mt. Independence from developers. He rallied his students to write letters and persuade the state to step in and buy the land. The site is now owned entirely by the state and the Fort Ticonderoga Association, a preservationist organization.
Above all, says the white-bearded, tanned Murphy, this place ought to receive the public and scientific attention it deserves. ``To let it sit without letting people know its history, I've always thought foolish.'' This is a spot where you ``feel history,'' he says. ``All you have to do is walk through it. The heroes of the Revolution started here, men like Benedict Arnold and Seth Warner.'' Arnold, later reviled as a traitor, commanded the forces that originally captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British and later led an unsuccessful attack on Quebec. Warner also had a key role in the capture of Ticonderoga and in the American victory at Bennington, Vt.
The encounter with history keeps Murphy and the others at it, no matter how unproductive their square meter seems at the moment or how oppressive the humidity. Toni Howe of Concord, N.H., is an experienced avocational who has worked with Starbuck at other sites, including his excavation of the battlefield at Saratoga, N.Y., where the Americans beat General Burgoyne. Along with four or five others, she has been laboring near what promised to be the hearth of a cabin. It's ``essentially sterile,'' she sighs. ``But find anything, and we'll get excited,'' Ms. Howe quickly adds.
The end result of the digging here will never rival the elaborate reconstruction at Fort Ticonderoga as a tourist draw. Vermont plans to keep the site pretty much in its pristine state, with few structural additions other than a visitors' center, where the artifacts now being uncovered will be on display. There are plans to improve the miles of trails on Mt. Independence, however.
And as the history of this place becomes better known, more people will want to walk the area, gaze down its 200-foot cliffs and across the lake at Ticonderoga, and imagine what it must have been like those two centuries ago as a few thousand poorly drilled militiamen gathered to defend a new nation.