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Fort Frederick dig complete

May 18, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

BIG POOL - Mystery enshrouds the small button.

What do the three crowns stand for on the ornate fastener dated 1768?

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And what importance did the button's Latin inscription- roughly translated to "All for one"- hold for the person who lost it more than two centuries ago within the stone walls of Fort Frederick?

Those are just a few of the questions that chief archaeologist Varna Boyd and her team hope to answer through research and lab analysis. They unearthed the mysterious button and nearly 16,000 other artifacts during a 15-week dig at the historic site in Fort Frederick State Park near Big Pool.

The $231,000 excavation started Sept. 21 and ends today. Digging ceased during the winter months.

More than 100 volunteers have joined Boyd and her crew from Greenhorne and O'Mara, Inc. of Greenbelt, Md., to sift through layers of soil undisturbed since the federal government's Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) first explored the site in the 1930s, she said.

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The CCC, which had uncovered about 2,000 artifacts, made the current excavation more difficult by filling the dig site with extra layers of clay and gravel, Boyd said.

Yet the extensive historical research and physical labor linked to the project has been well worth the effort, said Park Manager Ralph Young.

"It's big step toward learning more about the fort's history," and restoring the fort for its 250th anniversary celebration in 2006, he said.

Researchers had hoped to unearth 18th century artifacts that would help them understand how the fort looked when it was built in 1756. They weren't disappointed.

The dig produced evidence of early construction and "every aspect of life" from the time period - and thousands of years earlier, Boyd said.

Diggers found everything from mortar to musket balls. They unearthed Native American tool shards traced to about 5,000 years ago.

Animal bones will provide dietary clues, and ceramic dinnerware will help distinguish the quality of life between officers and enlisted men, Boyd said.

Among the most exciting finds are trenches believed to have connected the fort's walls before the bastions, or corners, were built. Boyd theorized that it was too cold for the mortar to set in the winter of 1756-57 so wooden stockades were secured within the troughs.

Excavators found evidence of catwalks along the fort's stone walls, and confirmed the floor plan for the governor's house, which also served as officers' quarters, Boyd said.

An unearthed button from the 86th regiment of the British army provides the first evidence of captured prisoners during the Revolutionary War, added Park Historian Dave Moore.

These artifacts and soil samples will be sent to a state laboratory, where they will be analyzed and preserved, Boyd said. The analysis and historical research will tell the true story of the fort, she added.

"The best preserved fort in North America," Fort Frederick was built by Gov. Horatio Sharpe with a contingent of provincial soldiers to defend the colony of Maryland's western frontier during the French and Indian War, Moore said.

The fort's strength deterred would-be attackers and lent stability to a region rife with strife, as fort soldiers often patrolled nearby settlements, Moore said.

Prodded by the French, hostile Delaware and Shawnee Indian tribes wreaked havoc on settlers. One attack left 46 of 93 families dead within a week, Moore said.

The fort became a prisoner camp for German and British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, and was occupied by Union troops guarding parts of the Potomac River during The Civil War, he said.

Boyd and some of her volunteers said it will be strange to leave the historic site after spending so much time there. A backloader will fill the excavation holes with dirt on May 24.

Volunteer Bob Weaver rescheduled brain surgery twice to avoid missing dig days, he said.

"I love it," said Weaver, a former farmer and General Motors Corp. worker who always wanted to become an archaeologist. "This is the chance I never had."

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