Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Meeting Notes: July 20, 2022


Dr. John L. Seidel presented "'In Quarters Comfortable & Clever': The Continental Artillery in Winter Cantonment, 1778-79." John was originally scheduled for 2020, but Covid interfered. He has just retired as Director, Center for Environment & Society and Lammot du Pont Copeland Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Washington College in Maryland.

In the 1970s, Dr. Seidel, as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, led the archaeological work at Knox's encampment and academy in Pluckemin, NJ. Dr. Seidel conducted the first systematic survey of the site in 1979 and prepared a detailed map of surface features. Later work led to his 1987 PhD dissertation. His presentation described the archaeological methods and findings evidencing an innovative and well-campaigned operation, led by Henry Knox, that protected the Continental Army’s artillery. Wikipedia’s article “Pluckemin Continental Artillery Cantonment Site” reference several of Dr. Seidel’s articles.

Dr. Seidel presented many facts about Knox, a former book seller from Boston and a self-taught pupil of military history, who rose to a general during the American Revolution to become thought of, today, as the father of American artillery, including the industries and logistics needed for support.

Knox recognized the Continental Army’s need for heavy artillery and was responsible for transporting fifty-five cannons, howitzers and mortars and over a ton of lead captured at Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. The newly acquired guns were then moved into position atop Dorchester Heights, forcing the British garrison to evacuate Boston in mid-March and resulted in Knox earning the rank of colonel of the Continental Artillery Regiment.

Dr. Seidel spoke to archaeology as the tool used to develop theories of Pluckemin’s historical reality, as the crossroads location in Somerset County NJ, that Knox chose as the winter hub for training of artillerymen, resupply, and workshops for artisans and armorers. The digs provided artifacts evidencing housing and workshop construction, daily lifestyles (including wine glasses, Chinese export china, and glazing points for glass windows), and manufacturing capabilities supporting the war effort.

Discovery of independent evidence supporting theory is particularly satisfying to archaeological researchers. At the Pluckemin Cantonment dig, Dr. Seibel heard rumors of diagram of Knox's Academy. He was able to track down, and recover, a drawing, made by Continental Army Captain John Lillie in in late 1778 or early 1779, which had been pilfered from the historical records held by the National Parks Service. The drawing confirmed the veracity of the dig's theoretically developed locations, and construction details, of the camp's barracks, Academy, workshops, hospital and materiel storage buildings and was exceptionally important for the project's future interpretations. Of particular interest were discovery of rings sawn from the bases of British bayonets and their modification to fit locking sockets on French-made muskets used by the American and French soldiers.

The facts and perspectives shared by Dr. Seidel were very much appreciated by those in attendance.