In 2004, Ohio Historical Society archaeologists and dedicated volunteers moved 50,000 pounds of dirt during an excavation of a musket ball concentration at Fort Laurens State Memorial, Bolivar, Ohio.  Fort Laurens is Ohio’s only Revolutionary War period fort. The concentration was located during a 1999-2000 survey of the Memorial property conducted by the Center for Historic and Military Archaeology (CHMA), Heidelberg University, Tiffin, Ohio. The purpose of the OHS project was to discover the nature of the musket ball concentration and possibly determine if it was the result of one of two very notable and somewhat connected events that took place at Fort Laurens before its abandonment in August of 1779. The first of these incidents was an ambush and massacre of a work detail leading to a month-long siege of the fort in the early winter of 1779. The second was the disastrous loss of a supply pack train and the much-needed provisions it carried. It would appear that these two incidents alone have come to define the unfortunate history of the outpost.

            Fort Laurens (Figure 1) was erected in the late fall of 1778 as part of an anticipated American campaign across northern Ohio designed to both neutralize the pro-British Wyandots and put the American army in a position to make a strategic move against the British stronghold at Detroit. The construction was largely completed by early December 1778, and a garrison of about 170 soldiers was left to man to it. 

Figure 1. Ft Laurens by Doug Angeloni

            By mid-February 1779 Fort Laurens had been quietly surrounded by a force of 120 Indians led by the loyalist partisan Simon Girty and a small number of British Regulars out of Detroit. On the morning of February 23, a work detail sent out to round up stray horses in order to draw firewood was attacked without warning by an Indian war party waiting in ambush south of the fort. Seventeen members of the detail were killed, and two were taken prisoner. The ambush took place close enough to be within view of those in the fort but probably out of the effective range of covering musket fire. Later that day the Indians employed a successful ruse de guerre of continually moving single file in a large circle through the prairie where the ambush had taken place before passing behind a small hill. After again emerging into the open, the Indians would once more fall into line and rejoin the procession. This apparently went on long enough to convince those in the fort that they were facing an enemy whose numbers approached 850 warriors. Fearful for their own safety, those in the fort were either unwilling or unable to come to the aid of the ambushed detail, and the dead soldiers were left where they had fallen. The investment of the fort by the Indians continued for another month through a particularly brutal winter and reduced the besieged garrison to the point of exhaustion and near starvation.

            The second critical event in the fort’s history occurred four weeks after the ambush, on March 23, as a relief column headed by General McIntosh finally reached Fort Laurens. In celebration of the supply detail’s arrival, a number of the fort’s soldiers fired their muskets in a salute volley or feu de joy. A distinct and unanticipated effect of the gun fire was to startle the pack animals, causing them to bolt and scatter the much-needed supplies in all directions from the fort. Ironically, the Indians had quietly broken off their siege for lack of provisions and had removed themselves from the vicinity of the fort nearly a week before. McIntosh was appalled at the lack of discipline shown by the fort’s garrison and the spectacle of the pack train stampede. He angrily ordered the lost material be recovered before any of the remaining provisions were dispersed or food rations handed out to the garrison. It is unknown how much if any of the scattered supplies were actually secured.

            But the question as to which of these events the musket ball cluster was associated with still remained. That was until 275 artifacts were recovered from the 6 x 6m excavation centered around the CHMA concentration. The collection includes 2 metal fragments, 2 projectile points, 2 utilized flakes, 39 pieces of debitage, 4 stone artifacts, 3 unidentified chalky objects, and 223 lead items. Upon analyzing the lead assemblage from both projects it was discovered that the ammunition was, for the most part, pristine. For example, Figure 2 is a typical .59 caliber ball with casting seam down the center and sprue cut (i.e., the cut off excess from the casting process) at the top. Had this been shot, it would not be as round and well defined as it is.

Figure 2. Typical .59 caliber ball.

            The lead material includes 85 .69 caliber musket balls; 33 .59 caliber rifle/trade gun rounds; 48 .36 caliber buckshot; 37.25 caliber buckshot; 3 .54 caliber spent rifle/trade gun rounds, and 71 residuals of the manufacturing process. The pristine conditions and large number of the these artifacts coupled with their spatial distribution—a central cluster with residuals “fanning” down the natural slope—leads us to believe the collection resulted from the March 23, 1779 pack animal stampede (Figure 3).  Furthermore, magnetic resistance testing of several hundred square meters of the southern portion of the property where historic accounts indicate the ambush took place, as well as the absence of a manufacturing area close by, support this conclusion.

Figure 3. Artist rendition of pack animal stampede by Doug Angeloni.

Work like this cannot be done alone, it takes the talents and assistance of many people and we want to take this opportunity to thank them: Doug Angeloni, Jarrod Burks, Mike Dull, Tom Hornbrook, Kathy Fernandez , Friends of Fort Laurens, John Gabel, Tim Jeandrevin , Anna, Karen and Marcelo Leone, Shane Maus, Weldon Mortine, Kira Mullen, Larry Nelson, Cass Noturno, Ron Pfouts, Tom Pieper, G. Michael Pratt, Roy Raber, Lynette Reiner, Richard Stambaugh, Don Stone, and Debbie Szcrokman.

The following websites contain additional information about Fort Laurens.


Source Materials


            1884   The History of Tuscarawas County, Ohio. Warner, Beers & Company, Chicago  


Bailey, De Witt

1997    Pattern Dates for British Ordnance Small Arms 1718 – 1783. Thomas Publications,  Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


Daughters of the American Revolution

1932      DAR, Ft Laurens Chapter transcripts, New Philadelphia, OH. On file at the State Library of Ohio, Columbus Ohio.


Doddridge, Joseph

1912   Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars Of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania from 1763-1883… Originally published 1825. Ritenour and Lindsey, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Pedigrees of Benjamin Biggs (AFN: ZONN-86) and Joseph Doddridge (1J9L-KBJ)., accessed August 23, 2004.


Friends of Fort Laurens

Soldiers at Fort Laurens., accessed January 27,2005.


Galbreath, C. B.

1924 Report of Fort Laurens Committee, W.L. Curry, Chairman. Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society Quarterly XXXIII: 574-575.

1927   Fort Laurens - The Story of the Acquisition of its Site by the State of Ohio.  Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society Quarterly XXXVI: 484-486.


Gramly, R. Michael

1970-1990     Notes on file at the Ohio Historical Society,Columbus, Ohio. 

1998    Fort Laurens 1778-9: The Archaeological Record. Originally published 1978.  Arthur McGraw, Columbus, Ohio.

1999      Fort Laurens 1778-9.  Pictoral record of Excavations.  American Society for Amateur Archaeology Special Publication.  Buffalo, New York.

Howe, Henry

1904   Howe’s Historical Collection of Ohio, Vol. 2. Originally published 1888. State of Ohio. C. J. Krehbiel, Inc. Cincinnati, Ohio.


Kellogg, L.P. editor

1916      Frontier Advance on the Upper Ohio. State Historical Society of Wisconsin Collections Volume 23, Draper series Volume 4. Madison, Wisconsin.


Lee, Anne B.

2003   The Post-Mortem Fate of Revolutionary War Soldiers from Feature 85, the Mass Grave, at Fort Laurens, Ohio. Ohio Valley Historical Archaeology 18:66-71


Lepper, Bradley T.

1997   Archaeological Investigations at the Fort Laurens Site (33TU193),

Lawrence Township, Tuscarawas County, Ohio.  Unpublished manuscript on file at the Ohio Historical Society. Columbus, OH.


Lobdell, Jared C., editor

1992   Indian Warfare in Western Pennsylvania and North West Virginia at the Time of the American Revolution: Including the Narrative of Indian and Tory Depredations by John Crawford, the Military Reminiscences of Captain Henry Jolly, and the Narrative of Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger . Heritage Books, Bowie, Maryland.


Neumann, George C. and Frank J. Kravic

1997    Collectors Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Originally published 1975.  Scurlock Publishing Company, Inc., Texarkana,Texas


Pieper, Thomas I.

1968   Ohio and the Revolutionary War: Fort Laurens 1778-1779. Unpublished M. A. Thesis, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.


Pieper, Thomas I., and James.B. Gidney,

1976      Fort Laurens 1778-1779 The Revolutionary War in Ohio.  Kent

State University Press, Kent, Ohio.


Pratt, G. Michael

2001      The Fort Laurens Archaeological Survey. Unpublished manuscript, Center for Historic and Military Archaeology, Tiffin, Ohio. Copy on file at Ohio Historical  Society, Columbus, Ohio.


Randall, E. O.

1917    Fort Laurens—Its Site and Siege. Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society Quarterly XVII: 493-499.


Ritchie, William A.

1965      The Archaeology of New York State.  Natural History Press. Garden City, New York.


Sivilich, Daniel

2004   Revolutionary War Musket Ball Typology – An Analysis of Lead Artifacts Excavated at Monmouth Battlefield State Park. Paper presented at 7th National Conference on Battlefield Preservation, Nashville, Tennessee.


United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service

            1986   Soil Survey of Tuscarawas County, Ohio.


Williamson, Mathew A., Cheryl A. Johnston, Steven A. Symes and John J. Shultz

2002      Interpersonal Violence Between 18th Century Native Americans and Europeans in Ohio. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 122 (2): 114,


Withers, Alexander Scott

1908        Chronicles of Border Warfare or a History of the Settlement by the Whites, of North-Western Virginia, and of the Indian Wars and Massacres in that section of the State with Reflections, Anecdotes, &c. Originally published 1831. The Robert Clarke Company, Cincinnati


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