SANFORD, Maine — Local history books tell us that settlers in Phillipstown — which one day would become Sanford, Maine — built a garrison in the 1700s on property best described as somewhere between the modern-day roundabout at Routes 109 and 4 and the regional airport a few miles south.
Now it seems we have actual, physical proof of the garrison’s existence, as well.
A couple of weekends ago, resident Dana Peterson led a group of volunteers on an archaeological dig for buried artifacts that settlers might have left behind at The Phillipstown Garrison during the latter half of the 18th century. The group included archaeologists from the University of New England and the University of New Hampshire, graduate students, and volunteers from the community, all intrigued by the idea of digging up history.
After the dig — which took place Aug. 18 and 19 — Peterson said the group found “not a whole lot” but did unearth between 20 and 40 likely artifacts: pieces of pottery from the era, a hand-wrought nail, charcoal, and “something made of slate.”
Such finds are in step with what Peterson was hoping for.
“I’m hoping we’re going to come across their garbage, which would be broken pieces of pottery, clay smoking pipes that were throwaway things in those days, campfire ashes with bones, and so forth,” Peterson said during an interview at his home a couple of weeks before the dig.
The first day started with a tutorial — or “Archaeology 101,” as Peterson called it — led by Dr. Arthur Anderson of the University of New England. The crew worked half a day on Aug. 18 and a full day on Aug. 19, making for a 12-hour job.
All volunteers were age 18 and older and had to sign a hold-harmless agreement to protect the owners of the three properties on which the search was conducted. They also had to show up both days with a shovel, a pail, a mason’s trowel, and a garden trowel.
The volunteers broke up into different teams that each dug two-foot by two-foot holes every 10 meters. In all, the crews dug about 20 or 25 holes over a span of 10 or 12 acres, according to Peterson.
One UNH graduate student, Emily Mierswa, sifted through some collected dirt and found a piece of pottery. It proved a good catch — and almost a missed one, given what it resembled.
“To me, it was like a little pebble,” Peterson said. “Almost everything we found dates from the period of the fort, but not after it.”
In an email forwarded by Peterson, Anderson wrote that while analysis still needed to be done, “I think that the scatter of 18th century material we picked up supports Dana’s hypothesis about the garrison being located in the area.” Anderson said he will be writing a formal report about the dig in the months to come.
Peterson came up with the idea of the dig as part of Sanford’s ongoing celebration this year of the 250th anniversary of its incorporation as a town in 1768. The city council liked the idea and approved $2,000 for the project from funds established for the yearlong celebration.
The garrison is believed to have been built in 1744. Author Edwin Emery discusses the fortress on page 36 of his book, “History of Sanford, Maine,” which he published in 1901. According to Emery, the General Court in 1743 appropriated 1,280 pounds from the public treasury to go towards the defense of eastern settlements during wartime. Phillipstown was allotted 100 pounds to “erect a Garrison or Garrison of Stockade, or of Square Timber around some dwelling house or houses, or otherwise, as will be most for the security and defence of the whole inhabitants of the town.”
Peterson tracked down the likely site of the garrison through a search of old deeds at the courthouse in Alfred.
In his book, Emery said it is not known precisely where the garrison had been built, but for those who know their local history he did provide an idea from the perspective of certain landmarks known at the time he published his book at the turn of the 20th century.
“Tradition locates it on the top of the hill below Bert Goodrich’s house, near the residence of Joseph Breary, where the late John Ford, who owned the farm, found several bullets, stone arrowheads, gouges and other evidence of the presence of Indians,” Emery wrote. “Another tradition locates it on the other side of the road in a pasture, and a little further down.”
Either location would seem “quite reasonable,” Emery wrote, “for the settlers in the upper part of the town would be the first to be troubled by the Indians, and with a garrison house near, would be better protected. In case of an attack they could flee to it and send out an alarm to those dwelling below.”
During an interview, Peterson thanked those who contributed to the dig and helped make it possible: the City Council, the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society, Sanford High School, the community’s 250th Committee, and the two archaeologists, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Richard Lund, of UNH, for example.
And, of course, the volunteers. Sanford resident Joseph Doiron — known for his own efforts to preserve and honor local history through the ongoing “Fallen Veterans” project he pursues with local students — was among those who grabbed shovels and rolled up their sleeves.
“This was my first dig, and I didn’t really know what to expect,” Doiron said in an email last month. “The volunteers that showed up were like-minded — a good group of people, some with experience and others like me, but all keen on the task ahead. The professional volunteers were very patient with us, especially with answering our very basic questions.”
Doiron described the work as slow but said it did not at all feel like the time it took. He said he was told that his team dug holes that showed very clear geological layers.
“We found two distinct layers of charcoal,” he said. “The first layer was about five inches down, and the other was about eight down. When getting to the first layer, we were thinking that we may have uncovered a fire pit, but we soon realized it wasn’t. We think the layers of charcoal was from forest fires that came through the area. We later learned that the other groups found similar layers as well to support that thought.”
Doiron said that the most exciting discoveries were the shards of plates and so-called creamware that the experts at the site estimated as dating back to around 1740. He added that he hopes a second dig in the future will lead to evidence of the stockade believed to have been at the site.
“Dana can definitely count me in on the next dig,” Doiron said.
The artifacts are currently in Anderson’s care, according to Peterson. Next up: at a date to be determined, a small group will clean, photograph and catalog the artifacts and hand them over to the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society for public enjoyment and research.
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