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American Scene: Beneath the Bubblegum Volume 54 Number 1, January/February 2001
by David R. Starbuck

The excavation of a well at Fort William Henry reveals as much about tourist culture as it does about the French and Indian War.

When James Fenimore Cooper described the massacre that occurred at Fort William Henry in his great novel, The Last of the Mohicans, he could not have imagined that one day thousands of tourists would make an annual pilgrimage to upstate New York to see the French and Indian War site for themselves. Archaeologists first dug into the fort's ruins in the mid-1950s and helped turn the bloody stage into a major tourist attraction. They reconstructed the barracks on their original foundations, but were unable to reach the bottom of the garrison's stone-lined well, which was dug in 1756 by Rogers Rangers, the famed company of rugged frontiersmen that fought against the French and Indians in the forests of New York and Canada. It was so deep and dangerous to explore that an effort to get to the bottom in 1958-1960 was called off. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, that first generation of archaeologists, with only wood planking to brace the well stones against a cave-in, did reach Civil War levels before giving up. When I began excavating within the fort in 1997, I knew I wouldn't be able to resist the lure of the well.

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(Jimmy Holder)

David R. Starbuck teaches at Plymouth State College, University of New Hampshire. His book The Great Warpath: British Military Sites from Albany to Crown Point (University Press of New England, 1999) tells the full story of Fort William Henry and its well.

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© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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