Casemates and Cannonballs
Archeological Investigations at Fort Stanwix National Monument
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Food Remains

Foods available to the garrison at Fort Stanwix have already been described in the last chapter. Here, we propose to discuss the actual archeological remains of food stuffs. Dr. Benjamin Clark, New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, Dr. W. O. Sack, New York State Veterinary College, Cornell University and Dr. E. M. Reilly, Jr., New York State Museum, assisted us in identifying the remains.

A small sample of phlox seeds (Polemonium sp.) were found on the counterscarp of the north ditch but the purpose to which this herb was put is uncertain. There is the possibility that the sample was 19th-century in origin but stratigraphically it should have been 18th century.

In Feature 56 (Level III) in the west barracks, four small sacks of grain were discovered. Two of these were identified as wheat (Triticum sp.) and the other two were a mixture of wheat and oats (Avena sativa). Other seeds in the same area which could not be identified as coming from a discrete unit were Compositae sp. These were too badly charred to identify more precisely.

A large quantity of animal bone was recovered from cellar holes, the sally port area, and an area beneath the north end of the bridge. Time did not permit us to make a thorough study of these remains and as this was certainly not representative of a total population it was felt that there was no need. The largest sample, from the sally port area (Level II) was selected for study. This material came from a deposit about 30 feet long, 10 feet wide and 2 feet deep over the communication and into the redout. Undoubtedly it was placed there deliberately and late in the fort's history since it made the communication unusable, The deposit contained Revolutionary War buttons suggesting a post-1776 date, and ash lenses and articulated joints indicate that it was a primary deposit and not washed in from another area.

The method of analysis used to identify the bones by species and body parts (tibia, ulna, etc.) was based on past experience, using Olsen (1964) and Ryder (1968) as guides. Selected samples of each "bone type" were then sent out for corroboration of identification and minimum animal counts were prepared (table 38) based on the highest count for a single bone of each species.

Table 38. Minimum number of animals in the garbage dump in the Sally Port.

Count Based On:

Cow24Right radii, left femora, right calcanei and horn cores
Pig13Lower left second molars, left radii
Goat1Horn core
Deer13Right calcanei
Fox2Left calcanei
Muskrat1Lower jaw
Dog2Right humeri
Snake1Lower jaw
Chicken9Right femora
Pigeon5Right ulnae
Duck1Left coracoid and carpometacarpus
Goose1Right tarsometatarsus
Grouse1Right tibiotarsus
Rail1Right tarsometatarsus
Fish?Vertebrae and ribs

The only surprise in table 38 is the absence of rabbits. This cannot be accounted for and given the known environment, they should have been plentiful. The table serves to confirm the documentary evidence, that the garrison's diet was dominated by domesticated species, but was supplemented by wild animals and birds. Duck, grouse and passenger pigeons (the latter now extinct) were hunted for sport. At Fort Ligonier, there were more remains of sheep than pig (Grimm, 1970, p. 184) which was just the opposite at Fort Stanwix. Only cattle are mentioned in written accounts as having been sent to Fort Stanwix to supplement salted meats. Apparently pigs were private property, owned by both soldiers and settlers (M. Willett, 4/5/78). If the faunal remains from the sally port garbage dump (Level II) is representative of the entire site, beef made up 55 percent of the fresh meat available to the garrison. Pork and venison made up most of the remainder. At Fort Ligonier venison accounted for about 25 percent of the fresh meat (Grimm, 1970, p. 184), while it was about 22 percent at Fort Stanwix. The principal difference was the absence of sheep and the higher number of pigs.

Fish might have provided a brief change in diet in the spring. Even in today's polluted, dammed and diverted streams and rivers near Rome, there are large runs of pike each spring. There are many references to pike and salmon runs up the Mohawk in the 19th century. Some fish bones were recovered during excavations, but they are not identified as to species or the possible number of fish involved.

All of the larger bones had been split to get at the marrow and the condition of the skull fragments indicates that the brain cases were broken to remove their contents. Not a single saw mark was found on the 18th-century bones, while the 19th-century bones were almost exclusively sawed. A few articulated leg joint were found with splintered ends, but we cannot infer much concerning butchering techniques except that it was designed to get as much nourishment from the animals as possible.

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Last Updated: 02-Dec-2008