Binghamton University faculty are preparing to continue the search for a lost battle site.
BU’s Public Archaeology Facility (PAF) has recently been awarded a $71,630 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) to continue searching for Fort Bull, the unknown site of a battle in the French and Indian War. The search will resume in the summer of 2023 with the help of military veterans and youth from the Oneida Indian Nation, whose homeland is part of the excavation site.
Laurie Miroff, director of the PAF, said locating the site is important because of how vital it was to the development of its surrounding areas in New York state.
“Locally, the site is a key part of the history of the Oneida Carry and the development of the City of Rome,” Miroff wrote in an email. “The battlefield has been part of local memorialization and preservation efforts since the mid-19th century. Today, the battlefield continues to be the focus of an active preservation initiative. From an Indigenous perspective, the battlefield falls within the cultural and historic territory of the Oneida Indian Nation.”
The expedition to find Fort Bull began in 2018, when the PAF was awarded a Preservation Planning Grant by the ABPP to further define the military landscape associated with the battle. Since then, archaeologists from the PAF have recovered several battle-related objects, and timber from a structure that was thought to be at the site. BU was selected from among a field of 42 applicants this year to receive another Preservation Planning Grant from the ABPP to continue the search.
Philip Bailey, a historian and grants management specialist with the ABPP, wrote in an email that the project design was completed independently by BU’s PAF, and that the grant will offer resources for them to execute it.
“Preservation Planning Grants support planning, interpreting and preserving battlefields and sites associated with armed conflicts by providing financial assistance,” Bailey wrote in an email. “These grants are funded by direct appropriation and administered by the National Park Service through National Park Service’s ABPP.”
Fort Bull was originally one of two forts the British built in 1755 as a defense for the Oneida Carrying Place — a boat portage between the Mohawk River and Wood Creek. It was assumed to be a strategic site because it offered the British a direct supply line to both Albany and Oswego, but was destroyed in 1756 when French soldiers and Haudenosaunee warriors attacked. A powder magazine caught fire and exploded, leaving the exact location of the fort unknown. Historians have long debated on whether or not the location of Fort Bull is found directly under Fort Wood Creek, the site that replaced it after its destruction, or if it is somewhere else in the area.
Brian Grills, the senior project director at the PAF, emphasized that PAF is looking forward to working with the Oneida Indian Nation on the project, because it will help with future interpretation and understanding of the site.
“We are excited to be working with Oneida Indian Nation youth and adults for this grant, building relationships with the Oneida and providing an opportunity for youth and adults to experience the discovery of the region’s history firsthand,” Grills wrote in an email. “Working with the Oneida Nation will ensure that Indigenous knowledge of the site, located within their ancestral homelands, and the conflict’s impact on their community will be integrated into preservation planning.”
In order to investigate without damaging the environment, the PAF has made use of ground-penetrating radars and aerial drone technology.
Arthur Simmons, executive director of the Rome Historical Society, which oversees the land where the excavations will be taking place, wrote in an email that he hopes to locate the area as soon as possible to pursue its long-term preservation.
“Today, the fort is threatened by relic hunters and developers who seek to exploit it without hesitation,” Simmons wrote in an email. “The site must continue to be responsibly researched and protected for future generations.”
Several students expressed an interest in the project.
Thomas Holland, a junior majoring in history, hopes that finding Fort Bull will help deepen the connection of local communities to their history.
“In addition to benefiting historical societies, I would hope groups like veterans and Indigenous people, especially the Oneida Nation, whose traditional homeland includes the area of the battlefield, benefit as well,” Holland said.
Paige Bagley, a sophomore majoring in English, also discussed the expedition’s relation to Indigenous communities, expressing hope that the PAF will be able to locate Fort Bull for the benefit of these communities.
“I hope that it reinforces the bond that the Indigenous people who lived here have with the community,” Bagley said. “A lot of Indigenous land has been gentrified by so many communities and it would be nice to give back to them by providing closure on this battle site.”