Monday, April 27, 2015

Military Structures

Hello everyone, my name is Devon and I am another student in the Anthropology in the Community course held by Dr. Michael Nassaney at Western Michigan University. This semester has been a new experience for me. My minor in anthropology has never taken me to the lengths that this course has. It has been an informative semester and awesome experience for me to be a part of this research into the forts of the Great Lakes region. I never knew much about the French influence in North America, nonetheless how prominent and influential the forts they built were to the region.

My topic and contribution to this project was the architecture of military structures. The forts of New France and the Great Lakes region were multi-purpose structures that were essential to the purpose of the French Fur Trade also having military functions. Fort design, which is highlighted by my partner Joe Puntasecca’s post on fortifications, was essential to the military function of these forts. The fortified wall and bastion system was pivotal in the defense of these French posts.

Another defining military feature of the forts were the barracks that housed a garrison of soldiers. Based on my research, the amount of soldiers found at forts varied from site to site and numbers estimate anywhere from 20 soldiers, which we know was the approximate number housed at Fort St. Joseph, to upwards of hundreds. My research on military structures brought me to information on Fort de Chartres located in Illinois. Fort de Chartres has been described as one of the more prominent military forts in New France and was a great reference point for me to be able to divulge this topic. The barracks here are described as being built in rows and side by side, with each row measuring approximately 128 ft. long. Officers and soldiers had separate rooms measuring 22’X22’ with small passages between them. The barracks also contained lofts used for storage of weapons and supplies.
Barracks reconstruction at Ft. Massac in Illinois

Storage of gun powder used for artillery was stored in a powder magazine. The powder magazine at Fort de Chartres measured 38’ long and 13’ high. Its walls are estimated to be 4’ thick and was rounded at the top to support an arched vault. The floor was made of stone that sat below the surface of the ground and cement was used to cover the walls. It was important that this structure be heavily built in order to secure the essential goods of defense from any sort of attack. The powder magazine was typically placed on the opposite side of the fort away from the barracks and commanders house, for reasons of safety.
Powder Magazine at Ft. Massac (reconstruction)

Archaeological excavations at Fort St. Joseph have yet to find evidence of these military structures. We know that Fort St. Joseph was probably not as large as Fort de Chartres, but by using information found at other French forts across the area, we are given a great reference point as to what may have existed at the fort in Niles. As I said it has been an exciting and unique opportunity to be a part of this project and add to the workings of this amazing project that has brought so much pride and excitement to the city of Niles, Michigan.


Devon Yurko

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