Battlefield dig could yield clues about Colonial smallpox hospital
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.