In its one-hundred-plus year history as a museum and collecting institution, Fort Ticonderoga has been gifted, purchased, and has excavated a staggering number of internationally significant objects. However, as many collections and curatorial departments know (from large city museums to small historical societies), the history of object collecting is rarely neat and tidy. Exhibit cases, collections storage, and even closets, have historically hosted objects that carry no documentation. And yet, these important pieces of material culture were at one time acquired with a purpose. With a generous grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences (# MA-30-16-0178-16), a team of four catalogers, project registrar, and project manager have been steadily working since November to clean, catalog, research, and re-house a group of objects, many with little to no documentation and have long resided in an unsuitable storage environment.
For this blog entry, the Collections Department is excited to share some of our discoveries and cataloging projects:
Among the impressive archaeological finds uncovered at Fort Ticonderoga, is the largest assemblage of 18th-century tools in North America. These tools aided in the building of structures and earthwork by three nations, French, British and American, and were found during the early 20th-century restoration of the fort. A list titled ‘Relics from the Past Found at Fort Ticonderoga’ in the Summer 1949 Bulletin of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum includes, “Sledge hammers by the dozen” and “Spades and shovels of 8 to 10 different designs.” We have cataloged over 1,300 tools through this project so far! Tool examples include shovels, axes, mattocks, picks, augers, fascine knives, Irish spades or loys, as well as masonry, wood working, and agricultural tools. We have found maker’s marks and even remnant pieces of wooden handles. The Collections Department is partnering with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to conduct a conservation assessment of this important collection, with plans for future conservation and exhibition.
On a landscape that saw extensive employment of Artillery, Fort Ticonderoga has an equally astonishing collection of ammunition. As an example, the same ‘Relics’ listing from the Summer 1949 Bulletin notes “Thousands and thousands of grapeshot and little bullets from buckshot up.” While the ammunition collection had been previously separated into groupings (cannon balls, mortar fragments, musket balls), their individual weights, calibers, and potential provenance had not been identified. A dedicated cataloger has spent three months individually measuring each piece of ammunition with some exciting results: over 8,000 musket balls have been cataloged and re-housed. Unique examples range from ram rod impressions on musket balls to indentations indicating canister shots. Cannon balls have been separated with weights going from 1 pound up to 32 pounds, the latter the largest cannon known to have been used on site. And thousands and thousands of grapeshot, weighing from 1 ½ ounces to a pound, have the most casting marks and flaws of all the types of ammunition.
Ammunition is not the only artifact collection to be found archaeologically at Fort Ticonderoga during its early 20th-century reconstruction. An immense array of domestic, military, and naval objects, including copper kettles, tin canteens, and bayonets were excavated from the ruins and surrounding landscape. While many of these undocumented historical pieces are easily identifiable, some are not. Among the bulk of iron objects and fragments, a cataloger continued to find thin rectangular pieces, anywhere from 3 to 5 inches in length, with a large squared end and teethed protrusions along the opposite side. While cleaning and photographing locks, the cataloger turned over the plate to find the rectangular object in question still attached to its original housing. As the doors of the fort succumbed to time and ruin, the iron locks suffered their own decay and while some retained the thin, rectangular bolt, others did not. A number of these individual bolts have now been cataloged, and while their matching plate may never be found, their identification spurs further research.
While cataloging continues on archaeological objects, team members have also been busy removing textiles from the old unsuitable storage environment. These textiles have been put through an important routine of freezing to kill any possible insects. The textiles are gently cleaned with a HEPA filter collections vacuum before being cataloged and placed in acid-free storage boxes. In some instances, custom blueboard boxes have been made. An exciting artifact, a yellow silk petticoat dated 1746, with a red linsey-woolsey interior and an embroidered English Coat of Arms now resides in its own custom box to prevent unnecessary folds in the fabric. Among the textiles, have been invaluable new additions to the institution’s history. A pair of turn of the 20th century J & J Slater heeled silk shoes with glass bead decoration on the toe caps, owned by Sarah G. T. Pell, co-founder of the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, have been cataloged and will be part of an exhibit on Sarah’s life and involvement in the Equal Rights Movement opening May 6th.
As the Collections Department continues to rediscover and catalog our collections, we look forward to sharing our exciting finds!
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant # MA-30-16-0178-16.