Saturday, August 12, 2017

Finially: A blog about a cool artifact!

           Hello again everyone! My name is Emily Fletcher, and I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about my experiences as a camper. Today, I decided to write about the coolest artifact I found in my unit: a gun finial. If you came to our open house this weekend, you probably saw it in the “Recent Finds” artifact case! But first, I’ll start with the background of my unit.

This is another gun part recovered in our unit.
           My partner Meghan and I wanted to excavate this specific unit because it is surrounded by a previously-excavated fireplace. After consultation with our staff, we learned that they theorize the structure associated with this fireplace to be the blacksmith’s quarters. This is because gun and metal caches were previously excavated in the vicinity. A cache is a hole filled with objects, in this case gun parts and metal pieces. These caches indicate that someone—probably a blacksmith—had stored these parts for future use.

           Finding a gun part in this unit, which is located within a possible blacksmith’s quarters, was an amazing clue! It is especially interesting when considered with the various other metal pieces we recovered, including a door hinge. However, when I first found the gun part, I was actually disappointed.

This is the finial I describe throughout the blog! 
            Our unit was still in the plow zone (the section of soil in which farming combined 18th-century and modern artifacts) when we found the finial. My trowel hit it the wrong way and it popped right out of the ground—not exactly the clean removal an archaeologist strives for, but my troweling techniques have come a long way since then. I picked it up, and attempted to scrub some of the dirt off of it with my grimy fingers. That’s when I became disappointed—it was too flat, too regular, to fit what I thought of as an 18th-century artifact. Angrily, I told my partner “we’re finding more modern trash!” while moving to show it to her. This disappointed me because modern trash means you aren’t close to the good stuff yet. I couldn’t have been more wrong! As I scraped another layer of two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old soil off it with my finger, a small design became clear. That was the exact moment I realized it was something
This is the most similar piece I could find while researching.
The photo depicts a butt plate from a Type C French trade gun in
Hamilton's book.

           We later identified it as a finial (decorative end-piece) of a gun part, made from a copper alloy. After research, I learned that it came from a French “Type C” trade gun. These were made between 1680 and 1750, to be traded with Native Peoples. They could be traded for as many as twenty beaver pelts, especially at such remote locations as Fort St. Joseph. From 1660 to 1760, the French imported 200,000 of these guns to New France. It is likely from the trigger guard or butt plate of a gun. 
The pattern on our finial is a “flaming torch” pattern, but it is unique as it is asymmetrical horizontally—most are symmetrical, and I was not able to find an exact match for ours. Even though we were unable to match it exactly, its existence alone tells us a lot about Fort St. Joseph and the importance of guns to its inhabitants. If the structure associated with my unit really is the blacksmith’s quarters, this finial could be a broken part which the blacksmith was asked to repair or replace. Although one gun part does not tell us for sure that this was the blacksmith’s quarters, it is an intriguing piece of the puzzle which seems to support that hypothesis.
Other Type C "flaming torch" trigger guard
finials from Hamilton.Note the vertical 
symmetry which ours lacks. 

            The finial, even without its context, also reveals the importance of guns to fur traders. We know from records that they were important trade items, but the intricate detail present on this piece shows its personal importance. This finial displays beautiful decoration—even though it likely came from part of a gun which few people would see closely. Additionally, it is possible that it was lost or thrown away while being replaced. The effort employed to decorate such an out of sight part, and to replace it when that decoration broke, demonstrates the pride that owners likely took in their guns.

            Now, two hundred and fifty years later, even though it is broken, rusty, and dirty, I can also take pride in it as the coolest thing I found at field school.


Suzanne Sommerville said...

One of the known blacksmiths at Fort St. Joseph was Antoine Deshêtres, who relocated to Detroit about 1749. See Loraine DiCerbo's excellent articles about the Deshêtres Family on the left side of the page at

kyle haddock said...

These finials were not a replacable component, but could have been broken off from the triggerguard through heavy use or even "harvested" from a fusil beyond repair. The copper alloy/ brass components could be utilized by the blacksmith to be used for brazing work. Given the relative isolation of the fort, every piece of metal would have to take a thousands of mile journey, so what would have been on hand would have been precious.

As to the decoration of the piece, it was typical of French firearm work of the time and likely came from the work shops of St Etienne or Tulle.

Keep on posting finds, also, it appears that the smaller piece could have been a thump piece/ wrist inlay.