Archaeology in the Barracks & Storehouse

Archaeology at the Soldier’s Barracks:

Wrought nail and padlock fragment recovered archaeologically from Fort Willow
Wrought nail (made by a local blacksmith) and a padlock fragment

War of 1812 Gun and military finds from Fort Willow archaeology
Left to right: A brass scale from a soldier’s uniform; a gun part (frizzen spring); a lead musket ball
Military uniform button - 68th Regiment, War of 1812 - found at Fort Willow
Military uniform button from the 68th Regiment
Ceramic smoking pipe fragments from Fort Willow archaeology
Ceramic smoking pipe pieces; two molded bowl fragments, and one glazed pipe mouth piece.
Shako strap scale from Fort Willow War of 1812 archaeology
Brass scale fragment from straps on soldiers’ tall shako hats.
Clothing buttons from Fort Willow archaeology
Iron and brass clothing buttons
Hand painted pearlware table ceramic from Fort Willow archaeology
Cheaper hand-painted tableware ceramics.
Jaw harp and buckle from Fort Willow archaeology
Left: Jaw harp, a cheap musical instrument played by soldiers. Right: Buckle (clothing or horse related)

Researcher: Alison Jursa, Grade 12

​Artifacts are one of the most important pieces of information found while excavating a site. At Fort Willow, archaeology students from St. Joseph’s High School in Barrie began excavating what 1950s archaeologist Wilfred Jury deemed to be the Soldiers’ Barracks. Though many artifacts were found in this area, there were no building foundations found (but sufficient nails, brick fragments, mortar fragments and glass fragments were found to indicate the nearby presence of a building).

​The types of artifacts found at the Soldier’s Barracks are quite different from those discovered at the nearby Officer’s Quarters. The average soldiers could not afford the luxuries that graced the Quarters of the Officers. Many of the artifacts found at the Soldier’s Barracks are understandably military in nature: gun fragments and lead ball ammunition alongside military uniform items like brass scales from the tall shako hats worn by the soldiers or military uniform buttons with molded regiment numbers on them. However, other finds tell us about the day to day life of the average soldier: many fragments of ceramic smoking pipes were found, along with jaw harps (cheap and simple musical instruments), and cheaper hand-painted tableware ceramics.

A quick note regarding military buttons: finding a military button with a regiment number on it does not necessarily mean that that particular regiment was ever present at Fort Willow. Soldiers could be harshly punished for losing a uniform button, so soldiers collected any uniform buttons they found to replace those they lost, even if the regiment numbers didn’t match.

Archaeology at the Storehouse:

Scissor fragment from Fort Willow archaeology
Portion of iron scissors.

Brown transfer-printed whiteware from Fort Willow archaeology
Brown transfer-printed whiteware tableware ceramic plate.
This ceramic type dates later than the War of 1812 period.

Maker's mark on brown transfer-printed whiteware from Fort Willow archeology
A maker’s mark on the bottom of a brown transfer-printed tableware plate.
Maker’s marks are a sure-fire way of dating a ceramic.
Ironstone saucer found through Fort Willow archaeology
A fragment of an ironstone saucer. Ironstone dates to the mid-to-late 19th century, much later than the War of 1812 period.

​Our excavations at the supposed Storehouse seem to show that Wilfred Jury, who first identified the building in the late 1950s, incorrectly identified the structure. The artifacts found in the area of the supposed Storehouse date to after the British military abandoned the site. According to historical documents, all the buildings at the Fort were found to be burnt down by the mid-1830s. Most of the artifacts we found during our excavations in this area dated to the mid to late 19th century, long after the Fort buildings had all been abandoned and destroyed. It would seem that archaeologist Wilfred Jury interpreted a much later structure as being part of the original War of 1812 Fort complex.

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