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  Archived Posts From: 2012

Delaware and the War of 1812: Part II

Written on: July 30th, 2012 in ArchaeologyEducationEventsHistoric SitesNews

By Chuck Fithian, HCA Curator of Archaeology

The initial actions and campaigns of the war took place along the Canadian border and on the high seas. However, that would change in late 1812. In December, the British government would declare the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays to be in a state of blockade, and by the following February and March, Royal Navy vessels under the command of Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren arrived to impose the directives of the British government.

The overall purpose of the naval campaign was the disruption of the maritime economies of the region, and the suppression or elimination of United States Navy vessels. Writing to Admiral Warren, the First Lord of the Admiralty made it clear that “we do not intend this as a mere paper blockade.”

Watch The British Blockade on PBS. See more from The War of 1812.

 

Soon after the arrival of British forces, American shipping was captured or destroyed and maritime communities across the region were attacked. Among these was the town of Lewes just inside the Delaware Capes. Recognizing the town’s maritime importance, Commodore Sir John Poo Beresford subjected it to a twenty-two-hour bombardment and threatened a landing and attack by sailors and Royal Marines in April of 1813.The American defenders, commanded by Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis, put up a resolute defense and the landing did not take place. Afterwards Colonel Davis wrote to Governor Haslet assuring him that the “honor of the state had not been tarnished.”

Throughout the rest of the year, Delawareans were continually on the defense against water-borne raids which proved to be highly destructive to bay and river shipping and commerce. 1813 would also witness a significant naval engagement between United States Navy and Royal Navy forces.

Based at New Castle, Delaware, which had become an important base for the United States Navy during the early Federal period, the gunboats of the Delaware Flotilla attacked the sloop of war Martin which had come to ground on Crow’s Shoals near the entrance of Delaware Bay. In a two-and-one-half-hour battle American forces nearly succeeded in capturing the Martin until being driven off by the superior firepower of HMS Junon which arrived to assist the Martin.

The naval campaign in the Delaware is characterized by the use of aggressive small-boat tactics and raids ashore, and the use of new technologies in what could be considered the early nineteenth century’s terror weapons. Congreve rockets were used in the Lewes bombardment, which was the first time this weapon was used against the Americans during the war.

Later, the Americans would deploy Robert Fulton’s “torpedoes,” known as “infernals,” against British vessels off Lewes. Previously unknown to have been used during the 1813 campaign in the Delaware Bay and River, the deployment of these floating mines was a countermeasure used by the Americans to break the stranglehold of the British blockade of the Atlantic Coast.

Chuck Fithian holds a master’s degree in history from Salisbury University and has extensive expertise in military and maritime history/archaeology, in material-culture studies, and social history of Colonial- and Revolutionary War-era America. Mr. Fithian is responsible for the curation of the archaeological collections of the state of Delaware and for conducting historical/archaeological research. His current work includes directing the research and conservation of the artifact collection and hull of His Majesty’s Sloop DeBraak and conducting a survey of Delaware sites related to the War of 1812.


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Delaware and the War of 1812: An Introduction

Written on: July 23rd, 2012 in ArchaeologyEducationEventsHistoric SitesNews

By Chuck Fithian, HCA Curator of Archaeology

200 years have passed since the War of 1812, but few realize the dynamic role that the First State and its citizens played within the conflict. This article is the first of four excerpts to be blogged from Mr. Fithian’s essay entitled, “For the Common Defense,” “Infernals,” and a “Maraudering Species of War”: The War of 1812 in Delaware.

One of the most obscure of America’s conflicts is the War of 1812 . Wedged between our War for Independence and the Civil War, it is poorly known by many Americans. It was one of the most far flung of any of our nation’s wars. It would rage from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico, from Delaware to the coast of the Pacific Northwest, to Valparaiso, Chile and Ghent, Belgium, with the final shots being fired in the Indian Ocean near the island of Java.

While the war was comparatively brief in duration, its consequences would affect the United States long into the nineteenth century. Delawareans would be participants in nearly all aspects of this conflict. They would serve in the federal government, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps; participate in diplomatic efforts; sail on privateering cruises; and provide extensive military service as the front line in the defense of the economically vital Delaware Valley. While Delawareans served in many important capacities outside of the region, this essay is intended to provide an introduction to the history of the War of 1812 within Delaware and the lower Delaware Valley.

The economy of the Delaware Valley in the early nineteenth century was inextricably linked to regional, national, and far-reaching global networks, all of which made the region vital to the economic health of the United States. These networks meant that Delawareans were directly connected to the many events that occurred throughout the Atlantic world. As citizens of a politically Federalist state, Delawareans were mainly opposed to the moves toward war with Great Britain.

While many of the complex issues that underlay the coming conflict resonated among the state’s populace, they were keenly aware of the dangers war would bring to the state with its exposed Delaware Bay and River and Atlantic frontier. Supported by the “War Hawks” who dominated Congress, and over unanimous opposition by Delaware’s congressional delegation, the administration of President James Madison declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812.

Governor Joseph Haslet had begun to prepare Delaware before the declaration of war through the acquisition of additional arms and equipment from the federal government. Some of the earliest efforts to protect the state were the erection and manning of fortifications at Wilmington, New Castle, and Lewes. After the declaration of war, along with the fortifications, sites such as encampments, arsenals, training areas, military administrative facilities, and observation posts, would be established across the state during the course of the war.

The governor also drew upon the state’s well established militia. In what for many would be extensive periods of time, his citizen soldiers left their farms and respective trades for military service in manning the fortifications and in the field. Throughout the war, the governor would be assisted by capable military officers such as Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis and Captain Caesar A. Rodney. Revolutionary War veterans, such as Allen McLane and Caleb P. Bennett, would help rally the support of the state’s citizens and provide valuable assistance and advice with defensive measures and other military operations.

Chuck Fithian holds a master’s degree in history from Salisbury University and has extensive expertise in military and maritime history/archaeology, in material-culture studies, and social history of Colonial- and Revolutionary War-era America. Mr. Fithian is responsible for the curation of the archaeological collections of the state of Delaware and for conducting historical/archaeological research. His current work includes directing the research and conservation of the artifact collection and hull of His Majesty’s Sloop DeBraak and conducting a survey of Delaware sites related to the War of 1812.


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The Search for Fort Casimir

Written on: July 16th, 2012 in ArchaeologyFound!Historic SitesPreservation

By Craig Lukezic, Archaeologist
Delaware State Historic Preservation Office

After floods, historic road leveling, house and ferry construction, is there anything left of the 17th century Fort Casimir?

Keep in mind the fort may have been a wooden plank structure built with rammed earth. Those of you familiar with living in Delaware can guess that the termites would have feasted on this within 20 years. Even when the fort was operational 350 years ago, it had to be rebuilt frequently.

Given the many rebuilding episodes by both the Dutch and Swedes, there may have been several Fort Casimirs. Indeed, when the Swedes rebuilt the fort and named it Fort Trefaldighet (Trinity), they added a gun battery that faced the river.

So, if we were to dig, what would we find? Perhaps some stains in the soils would indicate the presence of decayed wood or refuse. Maybe we could see pieces of pottery, musket parts, or bricks. With funding and encouragement from the Delaware Department of State, support from the Trustees of the Common and the City of New Castle, and the help of many volunteers, it was time to find out.

First, we wanted to find clues of Fort Casimir/Trinity by collecting subsurface data through remote sensing. Ground-penetrating radar was used to detect variation in the soils that could lead the team to cultural features and we decided that a large test trench running perpendicular with the defensive line would be the best strategy to locate the fort and to explore the old shore line.

We were never alone in this search. Ned and Louse Heite found a section of a ditch and 17th c. artifacts in their 5-foot–by-5-foot test in 1986. They photographed their finds and then left modern debris in the backfilled square to guide later archaeologists, as they knew we would follow their success.

Using the radar, we quickly located the Heites’ 1986 test pit and shoveled out the modern fill. Then, we aligned our test trench along the pit to ensure we followed up on the Heites’ findings and to take a look at what lies beneath the sod.

From the Heites’ pit, we extended the trench 10 feet to the west, towards Chestnut Street. A backhoe bucket moved a foot of modern topsoil to expose a layer of brownish yellow clay. After troweling this area off, we noticed some faint stains in the form of two small strips running parallel to each other.

After documenting and digging them out, we thought the stains might be the remains of two very early palisade lines. The base of both these features was in a basin shape common for defensive palisades. As there were no historic artifacts found in them, they appear to predate most historical activity.

As we dug our trench toward the river, we noticed a lot of modern fill, which overlay Late-Victorian-period fill. It is possible the river bank was gouged out by erosion in the hurricane of 1878, and the town started to rebuild by this aggressive filling activity.

Team members carefully excavated another pit adjacent to the Heites’ from 1986. Indeed, in the ditch they found several layers of Dutch artifacts where we expected them to be. From this zone, we found yellow and red bricks, roofing tiles, a rim of a Dutch dish, and a pipe bowl.  On the military side, we found a fired (flattened) musket ball, and an odd spherical object that I suspect was a grenade.

To conclude, I believe we found a section of Fort Casimir/Trinity. We are very lucky it did not erode away in the 1878 hurricane. In the future, perhaps we can follow the palisade lines and see if the bastions, magazines, and barracks also survive. Our analysis has just begun, and the results will be posted in the future.

Archaeology is a group activity that engages a lot of people with diverse backgrounds and temperaments into one common goal. This project could not have happened without the help of many volunteers. People took time off from work and their busy lives to get down and dirty in the trench. I would like to thank the strong support from Lu Ann De Cunzo, Wade Catts, John Bansch, Frank Dunsmore, Teddi Silver, Kitty Johnstone, Ann Persson, Andrea Anderson, Lynn Riley, Jay Custer, and Jim and Mary Atkins. We are grateful for the aid of Oscar Hefting and Hans van Westing of the New Holland Foundation. The Trustees of the New Castle Common graciously allowed us to tear up their land while the citizens of New Castle daily visited us and encouraged us in our task. We are grateful to the Mayor and City of New Castle for providing us with Thomas Bruster and the backhoe. We especially would like to acknowledge James Meek as a partner in this venture, as his study of the Latrobe survey helps explain what happened to the landscape. He displays all of our work for you to see at:  http://nc-chap.org/.

We are grateful to Peter Leach and Bill Chadwick of John Milner and Associates for geophysical work that will become the foundation for future research in the area.  I am grateful to Liz LaVigne for patiently sorting out the artifact bags and my notes.  We really appreciate Ken Darsney and the landscaping team of the DHCA for repairing the park after we sliced into it.

And finally, we would like to thank Jeffrey W. Bullock, the Delaware Secretary of State, for his vision and support of this project.


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