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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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Looking for New Chemung

This month Binghamton University reported on some interesting work by its archeology faculty:
Experts from the Public Archaeology Facility recently took their shovels to a cornfield about 45 miles west of Binghamton, searching for evidence that could earn that site — the scene of a small but significant Revolutionary War battle — a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Four days of digging beneath the corn stubble yielded project director Michael Jacobson and his Binghamton University colleagues just a few modest items, including a charcoal smudge and the possible remains of a wooden post. But if test results show that those artifacts date from the late 18th century, that could be enough to convince National Register staff that the location of the Battle of Chemung should be preserved for further study.
Reading between the lines suggests that there might be as much interest in preserving that landscape from development as in its historical significance. As for that history:
Once home to the Village of New Chemung, the site is a few miles east of the better-known Newtown Battlefield. Historians often treat the Newtown and Chemung encounters as one event, although they occurred two weeks apart. . . .

The Continentals [under Gen. John Sullivan] stormed New Chemung on Aug. 13 [1779], only to find that all the occupants had fled. Heading west in pursuit, a detachment of soldiers encountered a group of Delaware warriors waiting in ambush about a mile away. The Continentals fought off the Delaware and then returned to New Chemung, where they burned the village to the ground.

To locate New Chemung in the landscape, the Binghamton archaeologists used a geographic information system (GIS) to lay an image of the Sullivan expedition’s official map over a present-day topographical map. They also used written accounts from the time of the battle, taken from Continental soldiers, loyalists and the Delaware, to pinpoint landmarks.

Finally, the archaeologists, guided by specialists from Ithaca College, walked the field with a magnetometer, a sensing device mounted on a cart. That exercise produced a printout that resembles a moonscape. The many dark splotches set against the gray background indicate disturbances in the soil that might — or might not — point to artifacts buried below.

At each of several spots that seemed most promising, the archaeologists dug a rectangular trench about 30 centimeters deep. In November, one of those test trenches produced the charcoal smudge, and another the traces of what perhaps was a post.
Newtown Battlefield is already a New York State park, as well as a federally recognized National Historic Landmark. There’s a push to add it to the National Park Service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I think Sullivan's campaign against the Iroquois is a sadly neglected story of early America. I went to high school in Horseheads NY, just north of Elmira, site of the Battle of Newtown. The town of Horseheads took its name from the skulls of the sick and injured horses Sullivan left behind on his trip home. There's a monument for the Battle of Newtown on a hill overlooking Elmira, right along I-86.