Bat­tle­field dig could yield clues about Colo­nial small­pox hos­pi­tal

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS -

An arche­o­log­i­cal dig at an 18th-cen­tury bat­tle­field in up­state New York may also turn up signs of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War’s largest small­pox hos­pi­tal.

The vil­lage of Lake Ge­orge has yielded troves of ar­ti­facts over the decades. Tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can, Bri­tish and French troops and In­di­ans en­camped there dur­ing var­i­ous mil­i­tary cam­paigns in the French and In­dian War (1754-1763) and through the end of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War in 1783.

Many of the dis­cov­er­ies have been made at Lake Ge­orge Bat­tle­field Park, site of the Bat­tle of Lake Ge­orge in 1755. David Star­buck, the ar­chae­ol­o­gist who’s lead­ing the project, told the As­so­ci­ated Press he hopes to un­cover ev­i­dence of that bat­tle, and the so-called later en­trenched camp that two years later played a role in the siege and mas­sacre that in­spired James Fen­i­more Cooper’s

The Last of the Mo­hi­cans. Dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, the same grounds were be­lieved to have been the site of a small­pox hos­pi­tal that in late 1775 treated Amer­i­can troops in­fected dur­ing the Colonies’ at­tempt to con­quer Que­bec. More than 1,000 soldiers may have died there, he said. It’s cal­cu­lated to be the big­gest of the era, based on the num­ber of pa­tients treated there, from 2,000 to 3,000, said Star­buck, an an­thro­pol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Ply­mouth (N.H.) State Univer­sity.

“I think the hos­pi­tal build­ings may even­tu­ally be found, so I haven’t given up on that,” Star­buck told Out­liers, ex­plain­ing that the rel­a­tively tem­po­rary build­ings likely were sup­ported by posts. “We can still find the post­holes (some­day).”

Star­buck and his team of two dozen stu­dents and vol­un­teers be­gan ex­ca­va­tions in mid-July on high ground over­look­ing the south­ern end of the 32-mile lake. That spot is one of the likely sites for the small­pox fa­cil­ity, he said.

Star­buck has run across other early hos­pi­tals dur­ing digs at 18th-cen­tury mil­i­tary sites in eastern New York: a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War gen­eral hos­pi­tal at the site of Mount In­de­pen­dence on Lake Cham­plain, and a small­pox hos­pi­tal from the French and In­dian War on Rogers Is­land in the Hud­son River, he said.

At the Rogers Is­land site, “we re­ally didn’t en­counter small­pox-spe­cific ar­ti­facts … we only en­coun­tered the oc­ca­sional glass medicine vial,” he said.

Stu­dent Ni­cholas Devivo of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., takes dirt from a plot dur­ing an arche­o­log­i­cal field school dig at Lake Ge­orge Bat­tle­field Park. The summer project fo­cuses on a site that saw heavy mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity dur­ing the 18th cen­tury.

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