Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Garden by the Fort

This post will begin to describe the results of our 2012 archaeological testing at the site of the 1732 Fort de Chartres, in Randolph County, Illinois. The fort was built by the French to provide a military and governmental center for the Illinois Country colony. It was the third of four versions of the fortification.
Like most French colonial forts of the period, this version of Fort de Chartres was of the “Vauban” plan, consisting of central square area flanked by four diamond-shaped bastions. The central area housed most of the buildings associated with the fort (as well as the parade grounds), while the bastions provided defensive views of the walls of the fort and also housed specialized buildings. The walls of the fort were constructed of wooden poles set into deep trenches. The outlines of those trenches are still visible in the subsoil today, and allow us to accurately map the size and shape of the structure.

Our work at the site exposed the northeast bastion of the fort.  The base map above shows the features that we encountered there. The tan color represents areas of subsoil exposed by our test units and trenches. The black lines represent wall trench features. The gray shapes are pit features, and the small red shapes are posts.

In appreciation of the hard work provided by the good folks at the Fort de Chartres Heritage Garden (who demonstrated eighteenth century colonial culinary traditions at the Winter Rendezvous), I will begin with something unusual that we found outside of the limits of the fort.

As you can see in the second plan map (below), there are a series of narrow, perpendicular trenches that are anchored to the very tip of the bastion of the fort. These were very shallow features that could only have supported short, narrow posts - such as those that one would expect on low fencing. Such a fence would not have been sufficient to contain large animals, and instead, I am of the opinion that these trenches reflect a produce garden that was situated just outside the northeast bastion of the fort.

Trenches outside of the fort, as first exposed in excavation block.
This was a bit of a surprise, as the area around the fort (called the glacis) was meant to be kept clear for defensive purposes. However, Fort de Chartres was located in a rather sleepy place, militarily speaking. During the last years of this facility (which probably stood until the mid-1750s) most of the soldiers affiliated with the fort were actually stationed elsewhere. It would appear that those remaining in the fort, or perhaps some of the residents of the adjacent village, eventually set up a garden just outside of the bastion. A fragment of an unusual French stoneware pot or jug was found in one of the fence line trenches, and may have been used in the garden for watering or for other purposes.

What intrigues me about this find is that it is so unofficial. The little fence wasn’t part of the grand plan of the fort. Instead it represents both the everyday reality of needing to grow your own food, as well as the slow, quiet tide of village life that eventually overtook the site of the 1732 fort.