Archaeology at Fort Johnson - 2007
Fort Johnson is located on a peninsula of James Island just within the mouth of Charleston Harbor (link). The land has been occupied for 10,000 years or more, but today it is the site of state and federal marine research and teaching facilities. The College of Charleston plans to build a new 16,000 square foot lab on the site of an existing storage building from the 1980s (link). While this structure is not architecturally significant the general area has been the site of numerous historic activities that exist only in the archaeological record. This web site will evolve as the project unfolds. It will eventually contain segments on the site's history, previous archaeology, and the results of our present investigations. This work is being conducted by the Diachronic Research Foundation (link) for Liollio Architecture (link) and the College of Charleston (link).
At this writing (September 2009) the building project is on hold. The DRAFT report on the 2007 excavations can be found at:
The 2002 Hollings Lab project report is posted as well.
The Archaeology of the Recent African American Past: Draft of Conference Paper: (link)
The Archaeology of the Recent African American Past: Conference Web Site: (link)
A sample of historic photos of Fort Johnson are at this link (link).
Previous research is summarized at the link.
A report on our preliminary work can be found at the link.
Management summaries for our first (link) and second (link) phases of field work are also posted.
Artifact page: link
Fieldwork in progress, September 2007.
Why are we doing archaeology at Fort Johnson?
When the National Register of Historic Places was established Fort
Johnson was among the first sites in the state to be listed. As such
Cultural Resources must be considered when an undertaking is initiated
at a National Register site. The Standards and Guidelines for
Archaeological Investigations published by the SHPO (http://www.palmettohistory.org/archaeology/arch2.htm) provides an overview of the relevant legislation:
1) Section 106 The SC SHPO was created in 1969 to implement the statewide preservation program described by Section 101 of the National Historic Preservation Act. 36 CFR 61.2 outlines SHPO responsibility for the development of that program. In addition, under the regulations of Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that govern the Section 106 review system, SHPO is required to participate in the review process by considering and commenting on the effect that federal or federally funded, licensed, or assisted projects will have on all historic and prehistoric sites, districts, buildings, structures, and objects that are determined to be eligible for inclusion in the NRHP. 36 CFR 60 describes the National Register criteria and states, “The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association and a) that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; b) that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; c) that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or d) that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.” Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies to review the effect their actions may have on historic properties that are listed in or eligible for the NRHP. Review procedures are referred to as “the Section 106 process” and are set forth in the recently revised regulations issued by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (36 CFR 800) (last amended 2004). The regulations emphasize the need for consultation between the federal agency, the SHPO, and other consulting parties. They also give the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation an opportunity to comment on federally assisted, licensed, or funded actions. The Section 106 process is a broadly recognized aspect of statewide historic preservation planning. It is designed to identify historic properties that are eligible for listing in the NRHP and to reduce the adverse effects of federal projects on those properties.
2) PROTECTION OF STATE OWNED OR LEASED HISTORIC PROPERTIES In 1992, the State amended Title 60 of the 1976 Code of Laws of South Carolina by adding Chapter 12 “Protection of State Owned or Leased Properties.” Chapter 12 gives “authority to the Department of Archives and History to identify, record, and evaluate all State-owned or leased facilities to determine which of these facilities may be considered historically significant...[and to] institute a historic preservation review process for permanent improvements and construction affecting historic properties or facilities.” Section 60-12-30 of the law also requires state agencies to “consult with the department when planning projects that might adversely affect those properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places at the time of consultation.”
Clearly the project is an “undertaking” and clearly the legislation above is applicable. The central question is what is located in the project area, and what will the project's impact be on these resources? Will it be adverse, resulting in the destruction of archaeological and other cultural resources? If so the damage must be mitigated. Generally any large scale construction will result in damage, beginning with the first stages of site preparation. Land must be leveled for foundations and support facilities such as roads, sidewalks and parking areas. Trenches must be excavated for foundation footings, utilities and communication. Later, secondary impacts to the surrounding area must be considered as well, even if the consideration is to simply erect boundary fences to prevent heavy equipment from inadvertently damaging the resource.
Previous work at Fort Johnson (Steen et al 2002) has resulted in the discovery of artifacts as old as about 10,000 years. Native Americans intensified their use of the land about 4,000 years ago, leaving evidence of their passage in the form of ceramics (link) and stone tools (link). Occupations related to the people living at Lighthose Point shell ring (link), about a mile away are common. Native Americans continued to use the peninsula until the area was settled by the English in 1670. A chronological summary of important historic events at Fort Johnson is at the link.
The land was owned by Daniel Lacey for about a year before he died in 1684 (link). By 1697 a Windmill had been built on the peninsula, and it became known as Windmill Point (link). During the first decade of the 18th century France, Spain and England were embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession, known here as Queen Anne's War. As early as 1703 the legislature discussed fortifying the point, but it was not until a French fleet entered the harbor in 1706 that the need was made clear. The French and Spanish were defeated by the Colonial militia, and retreated. In 1708 the funds were appropriated for construction of the fort (link). It was named after the colony's governor, Nathaniel Johnson.
Windmill Point was strategically important, but also suffered greatly from its exposure to the elements. Storms damaged it repeatedly over the years, and inspectors constantly bemoaned the rot and damage caused by the humid environment. In response to another European war -King Phillip's War - it was rebuilt in 1740 (link). A hurricane completely destroyed it in 1752. It was partially rebuilt and in 1759, again in response to a European war - the French and Indian War - a new fortification was built, this time using tabby rather than earth and wood. These works were on the point of the peninsula, north of the Grice Lab. This was shown on a 1775 plat of Fort Johnson (link)
In 1775 the state miltia seized the fort from the British and soon garrisoned 400 troops there. During the American Revolution the fort never saw action. It was abandoned when the British under Henry Clinton besieged Charleston in 1780, and they held it until the end of the war (link).
The years following the revolution were tumultuous and the fort was allowed to fall into disrepair again. In 1793 new works were built in the same location. Hurricanes in 1800 and 1803 breached the walls (link), and when in 1807 it was decided that the fort should be rebuilt yet again, this time they decided to move it back onto the high ground. The back side of this fortiification was in our project area. The extant Powder Magazine is thought to have been built at this time (link) though perrtinent military records were apparently lost.
The first map showing this fortification was made in 1821 (link). Between the War of 1812 and the American Civil War the military side of Fort Johnson was largely ignored and the works fell into ruin. The post was occupied by the Army's Engineering Department and was used as a quarantine station. In the 1820s the planters of James Island began building a summer town on state lands adjacent to the fort (link). Soon the houses, which were described as plain and unpretentious, were encroaching on Federal land. (link). These were all destroyed when the state took possession again in the months leading up to the Civil War. In the late1840s the Powder Magazine was covered with a mound of sand (link). During this period Fort Johnson was abandoned at times, before serving as the staging area for the construction of Fort Sumter.
Fort Johnson is probably best known as the place where the first shot of the Civil War was fired. The fort was built up considerably during the war (link) It was bombarded almost daily after the Americans took Morris Island and the surrounding marshes in 1863, but only saw a direct attack on one occasion. This was easily repulsed, and the Confederates held the fort until their surrender in 1865. Immediately after the war the fort was occupied by Federal troops, who inventoried the artillery and dismounted the guns.
The site had been used as a quarantine station intermittently since as early as 1698, but after the Civil War this became its primary purpose. Dr. Robert Lebby of James Island and Charleston had served as the state and city quarantine officer before the war. The operation was taken over by the National Board of Health in 1880. They provided buildings and facilities, but Dr. Lebby's son Robert Lebby Jr., administered the operations for the Charleston Board of Health. In 1906 the operations were taken over by the US Public Health Service (link). During World War II the US Coast Guard's coast watch patrols used the fort as a home base.
The Charleston Quarantine was moved to the Customs House downtown, and in 1948 the land was offered to the state. This was resisted at first, and it was not until 1954 that possession was taken. The College of Charleston and the Medical University (then College) built facilities for marine and animal research. This era of Fort Johnson's history is well documented on the Grice Lab's web site (link) In the early 1970s the largest part of the property came under control of the state Department of Natural Resources. At the same time the two colleges also came under state control, and in partnership with the federal government a world class marine research facility has been developed. As this project shows, this is still evolving.