J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Fort at No. 4’s Powder Horns to Remain in Charlestown, N.H.

The Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown, New Hampshire, is one of the U.S. of A.’s few sites dedicated to the King George’s War, also called the War of the Austrian Succession and the War of Jenkins’ Ear.

In the early 1740s the fort was an outpost (the fourth, to be exact) on the frontier between British New England and French Canada. The fort was used as a militia base during the French and Indian/Seven Years’ War, but then lost military significance and was dismantled by the time of the Revolution.

The fort was recreated in the 1960s as a living history museum, and hosted reenactments of different periods. I attended one in conjunction with the town’s blueberry festival, and we hardly noticed that the blueberries were late coming in.

Last year the Fort at No. 4 was closed because of budget problems. With the economy in a slump since late 2008, it wasn’t taking in as much revenue donations and school trips, and of course King George’s War has never been as big a draw as other parts of American history.

To raise money, the organization even offered to sell a couple of 18th-century powder horns from its collection. One has a picture of the fort, and the other, carved in 1757 by a young soldier named Zera Beebe (1740-c. 1804), says, “Made at No. 4.” The sad part is that these horns are estimated to be worth $8,000 apiece, so the fort must have really been scraping for its operating budget.

Last month the local press reported that some anonymous neighbors had offered to fund the purchase of those artifacts by the town of Charlestown. Details are still being worked out, but the goal is for the horns to remain in the area and available for public events.

Last year the Fort at No. 4 was hoping to reopen this year. The local news story about the powder horns says the site’s board now hopes to reopen in 2011. The website is still up and offering resources on life and warfare on the New England frontier.


Gary Dombrowski said...

That's pretty sad to have to sell artifacts to keep the doors open. Years ago the city where I live contemplated selling a painting that was in the collection of ourpublic library to make some quick cash. It's estimated worth at the time was $1 million dollars. When the news broke, Thosands of people, especially library patrons went nuts. Fortunately that put the brakes on that idea and I doubt the city will ever entertain the thought of selling anything in the library's art collection. ~G

J. L. Bell said...

Museums and libraries “deaccession” stuff all the time, not just for the money but also to provide space and resources for better items. But of course they try to keep their most valuable items, and those closest to their core missions.

Because Fort No. 4 is a recreation, not a surviving structure, I believe those powder horns were among the few items it owned with a real connection back to the 1700s.

News of the for-sale offering might have brought the organization more attention and support than it otherwise had. But it’s still facing a tough situation.

Anonymous said...

As a descendent of one of the original families at the fort, I was saddened when I first heard the news of it's closing. I certainly hope they can get through this situation without selling some of their most valuable possessions.
A note of interest in response to the fort being disassembled prior to the Revolution....the fort was actually still in existence during that time and was the rallying point for hundreds of NH patriots who mustered there to join General Stark on his way to meet the British at the Battle of Bennington.

Bruce Caisse

J. L. Bell said...

Stark definitely used “Number Four” as his base of operations in the summer of 1777 before marching west to meet Burgoyne’s column. But I get the impression that at that time it consisted of some weathered buildings, and was no longer a functioning fort. At least Stark had great trouble finding some basic military materials, such as bullet molds.

Martha Day said...

Oh dear.

When I hear that sterile term "material culture" I always think of two things from Fort No. 4, a door with holes in it and some old plates.

When young, we’d ask for “true stories” and, in one, Mom would describe an August morning in 1754 at Fort No. 4 and she would show pictures of the Johnson’s front door so that we could see the tomahawk holes. “Look children, they saved the door.”

Half a century later, I finally made my way to the fort. The door was still there, now encased in glass. And there beside it, in a display case, was some of the china and silver of my ancestors, Ruth (Putnam) and Peter Labaree.

I was stunned by the fact that these fragile artifacts of their life ‘on the frontier’ still existed to be seen and appreciated by everyone. After years of genealogy research, nothing has moved me quite so much as that old door and some pieces of china.

There's detailed information here: http://www.crjc.org/heritage/N06-17.htm about the actual location of the fort, discovered in the late 1980s when research was done for an Historic District designation.

Now that the NH State Papers are available online, you can locate Charlestown's role during the War, along with NH's Association Tests done town by town.

Given the number of early New England families that were present at the fort, perhaps organizers can take advantage of the new found interest in genealogy to publicize this gem of a museum found alongside the river and the amidst the "King's" pines.

For those who appreciate rural NE cemeteries, the trip to Charlestown is so worthwhile. It includes a monument to the captives of 1754 and the graves of many of the early settlers, including Seth Putnam (1695-1775) the son of Ann (Carr) Putnam and father-in-law of Peter Labaree.

Martha (Lewis) Day

Anonymous said...

Martha, Interesting to hear that you are descended from Ruth Putnam Labaree. I am descended from her brother Timothy.
I was wondering if you could give any information on how to access the NH State papers you mention being online. I am working on some geneological research about the Putnams at the fort.
I too wonder if there was any way to notify the descendents of the original families concerning the plight of the fort. This may be a great resource for support of the fort's mission. Is there at present any work being done to publicize the situation? Is there any movement to try to raise funds to save the fort other than selling these valuable artifacts?

Martha Day said...

The New Hampshire State Papers are located here:

From the Index:
Timothy Putnam: IX: 100; XV: 9, 31
Timothy, Jr. XI: 293

Other useful sources:
1. NE Historical & Genealogical Register [Much of it is now available in Google Books.]

2. The database, HeritageQuest, which includes Rev War pension records (and the Census). The pension records are particularly helpful for Charlestown, since men enlisted in NH, VT and Mass, and the records include a wealth of family information.

There's also an odd mention of a Timothy Putnam in a Rev War pension brief in 1832 that doesn't add up. SETH Putnam of VT states that he lived with his father's family in Charlestown during the Rev War and served in Capt Wetherbee's regiment "as a substitute for Timothy Putnam." Good luck unsnarling that one!

As a lover of historical sites and a native New Englander, I will say that the museum (and town) seemed surprised to have visitors that weren't school children.

Given the number of family genealogical associations on the web and the number of early "Yankee" families represented at the fort, this would seem a viable route to explore for the fort association.

I am just so glad that I took pictures while we were there in 2008.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the helpful information Martha.Interesting about Seth from VT...If I am not mistaken, Seth Putnam's son Seth was killed by the Indians long before the Revolution, so I do not know what this is all about.
It is interesting however that in Saunderson's 'History of Charlestown' there is a Seth Putnam listed as a private in the Revolutionary war as well as Timothy and Thomas. Seth senior would have been too old and died in 1775 and as I mentioned above Seth Jr. had died before that time. Maybe this was the Seth from VT.