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June 2018
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Excavations at Fort Machault
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by Bill Black

Between 1753 and 1759, France tried to restrict English colonial expansion by building four forts (Presque Isle, Le Boeuf, Machault, and Duquesne) to connect Lake Erie to the Ohio/ Mississippi Rivers.  Due to disrupted maritime supply lines, the advance of the English Army under General Forbes to the Three River's area (1758), and the defeat of the French at Fort Niagara (1759), these four forts were abandoned and burned.  In the following 250 years, the fort sites have been recognized by monuments as they were built on, paved over, and generally disturbed.

In 2006, Brian Fritz, with the help of Bill Black, Lynne Baer, and other volunteers, designed and completed a bucket-auger survey across the Franklin, PA, Elk Street residential neighborhood where the fort was believed to have stood.  During July, 2010, a crew of volunteers used those results and spent two weeks excavating four 5' x 5' squares in an attempt to locate the footprint of a small part of Fort Machault.  With landowner approval, two screening stations were set up using 1/4 inch hardware cloth followed by a wet-screen using window screen and water. Eight to ten volunteers daily accumulated nearly 500 hours of work during the excavation.

In the first week (0 - 12 inches), some glass trade beads, broken 19th century ceramics, charcoal, reddish clay globs, gun flints, rusted metal (mostly nails), and a really foul-smelling chamber pot were recovered. In other words, a  two century mix of artifacts but no clear evidence of French construction.  During the second week, excavation in the eastern unit revealed a charcoal/chinking laden deposition at 24 inches below grade.  This extended across the entire 5x5 unit.  By week's end, at 60 inches below grade, clean glacial gravel was identified.  Within the deposition, hundreds of good trade beads were inter-mixed with cooked globular pieces of glass.  Burned and broken gunflints were common.  Charcoal and chinking dominated the volunteer's screens through-out the 36 inches of excavation.

Fort Machault was intended to a supply/storage depot for Fort Duquesne.  Thomas Hutchins drew a map of the burned site in October, 1759 following the French defeat at Niagara.  Within the fort beneath the northern "barracks" (53x 18 feet) , the French constructed a large cold cellar. 

To date over 3,000 glass trade beads, more than 100 French gunflints, rusted rose-head nails, and thick green bottle glass are consistent with a French occupation.  Combined with extensive charcoal and reddened chinking, we believe we have excavated part of the western end of that building.

Recognition and thanks needs to be given to the following people,  Brian Fritz for the bucket-auger survey, and his excavation of a feature in unit three, Barry Kent for his enthusiastic excavation of unit four and his knowledgeable support, and especially, Stan Lantz and Donna Smith for their expertise and daily dedication as they excavated units two and three throughout the heat and rain.    

Donna Smith excavating in one of the units

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