Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Building Architectural Hardware at Fort St. Joseph

Greetings everyone,
My name is Stephen and I major in Anthropology and Spanish at Western Michigan University. I began the “Anthropology in the Community" course here at WMU back in January this year. Since learning about ways to engage the community with anthropology, I've done considerable amounts of studying for this purpose. The topic I chose to focus on in this course is artifacts from architectural hardware found on the site of Fort. St. Joseph. What artifacts have we found? Where did they come from? Historic research and archaeology is bearing that out for us.
The French settlers in the region built their homes using familiar techniques. Their houses consisted largely of wooden posts stuck in the ground or stone foundations as a perimeter. The spaces between the posts were filled with stone and mortar, called pierrotage, to finish the walls. A mixture of clay and straw, bousillage, filled the gaps in framing to insulate and protect the wood from decay. Traces of this mixture have been found at Fort St. Joseph. 
Bousiallage was made on site and there is plenty uncovered at the fort.
Window glass has also been uncovered at the site. Archaeologists know the glass found is window glass because they can distinguish flat window glass from curved container glass. The windows used at fort St. Joseph were not made at the fort, but in Britain or France and transported across the Atlantic and then through a long trade network of canoes. The glass was shipped in small panels to avoid breakage en route.
The widespread use of metals in architecture at Fort St. Joseph is shown by the noticeably high frequency of hand-wrought nails that have been recovered.
Hand-wrought nails are four sided and taper toward the tip.

Besides the high frequency of hand-wrought nails, other types of metal artifacts have been found in smaller numbers. Door hinges found on the site were used to secure doors onto frames so they could open and close.  Pintles were a device on which the hinge of a door pivots and escutcheons were plates used to cover keyholes. Hook and eye latches were simple hooks that were fastened onto doors or window shutters and latched onto metal rings in the frame to keep the door or shutter closed. Finally, door latch catches were fastened to frames so that the latch bar of the door stayed shut.
All of the architectural hardware found on the site tells us how the inhabitants built their homes, what they used in them, and where those things came from. After a semester of Anthropology in the Community, I obtained a greater understanding of what’s going on at Fort St. Joseph and much will be learned soon by the community at large!

Stephen Staten

Monday, April 27, 2015

Military Structures

Hello everyone, my name is Devon and I am another student in the Anthropology in the Community course held by Dr. Michael Nassaney at Western Michigan University. This semester has been a new experience for me. My minor in anthropology has never taken me to the lengths that this course has. It has been an informative semester and awesome experience for me to be a part of this research into the forts of the Great Lakes region. I never knew much about the French influence in North America, nonetheless how prominent and influential the forts they built were to the region.

My topic and contribution to this project was the architecture of military structures. The forts of New France and the Great Lakes region were multi-purpose structures that were essential to the purpose of the French Fur Trade also having military functions. Fort design, which is highlighted by my partner Joe Puntasecca’s post on fortifications, was essential to the military function of these forts. The fortified wall and bastion system was pivotal in the defense of these French posts.

Another defining military feature of the forts were the barracks that housed a garrison of soldiers. Based on my research, the amount of soldiers found at forts varied from site to site and numbers estimate anywhere from 20 soldiers, which we know was the approximate number housed at Fort St. Joseph, to upwards of hundreds. My research on military structures brought me to information on Fort de Chartres located in Illinois. Fort de Chartres has been described as one of the more prominent military forts in New France and was a great reference point for me to be able to divulge this topic. The barracks here are described as being built in rows and side by side, with each row measuring approximately 128 ft. long. Officers and soldiers had separate rooms measuring 22’X22’ with small passages between them. The barracks also contained lofts used for storage of weapons and supplies.
Barracks reconstruction at Ft. Massac in Illinois

Storage of gun powder used for artillery was stored in a powder magazine. The powder magazine at Fort de Chartres measured 38’ long and 13’ high. Its walls are estimated to be 4’ thick and was rounded at the top to support an arched vault. The floor was made of stone that sat below the surface of the ground and cement was used to cover the walls. It was important that this structure be heavily built in order to secure the essential goods of defense from any sort of attack. The powder magazine was typically placed on the opposite side of the fort away from the barracks and commanders house, for reasons of safety.
Powder Magazine at Ft. Massac (reconstruction)

Archaeological excavations at Fort St. Joseph have yet to find evidence of these military structures. We know that Fort St. Joseph was probably not as large as Fort de Chartres, but by using information found at other French forts across the area, we are given a great reference point as to what may have existed at the fort in Niles. As I said it has been an exciting and unique opportunity to be a part of this project and add to the workings of this amazing project that has brought so much pride and excitement to the city of Niles, Michigan.


Devon Yurko