Illinois State Archaeological Survey Examines the Remains
of 280-Year Old French Fort
This fall, the Illinois State Archaeological Survey will resume its investigations at one of the most significant French colonial sites in the Midwest: the site of the 1732 Fort de Chartres.
Although it is an often-overlooked chapter in the history of the region, Illinois was a French colony for nearly 50 years. At the center of this colony was Fort de Chartres, a governmental and military facility located on the east bank of the Mississippi River, about 50 miles south of St. Louis. The original fort was constructed in 1719, a year after New Orleans was founded.
The fortification was built and rebuilt several times. Traditional assumption was that there were three forts: two wood-palisade fortifications and a massive stone fort, which today stands as a partially reconstructed State Historic Site. Recent research has concluded, however, that there were in fact three wooden versions of Fort de Chartres prior to the construction of the stone fort in 1751.
Last year, Dr. Margaret Kimball Brown and ISAS Outreach Coordinator, Robert Mazrim, led a crew of volunteers to the site of the third and longest-occupied fort—constructed in 1732 and abandoned during the early 1750s. In less than two weeks, the crew exposed portions of the northeast bastion of the fort. The project also retrieved hundreds of artifacts associated with the French colony, including rare medicinal-related artifacts that may have been affiliated with the fort’s surgeon.
Fieldwork resumes at the site in October, with the goal of uncovering remains of the building that stood inside the bastion of the fort. The work is part of the French Colonial Heritage Project, a research and education-based project established by Mazrim and ISAS Director, Dr. Thomas Emerson, in 2005. The results of the research at Fort de Chartres will be published by the Survey in a forthcoming book by Mazrim.
As the small crew prepares to go into the field, ISAS also announces the release of the second printing of At Home in the Illinois County, Robert Mazrim’s summary volume focusing on the archaeological reflections of French domestic life in Illinois during the eighteenth century. The first printing of this volume sold out in less than a year, and a “sequel” to the book is in preparation. Part of the Archaeological Survey’s Studies in Archaeology series, these volumes are designed to serve as standard reference works for the archaeological heritage of Illinois.
[posted October 1, 2012]