Sunday, October 4, 2020

Fort Hunter Flashback

The fall season brings to mind The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s excavations over the years at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park, a Dauphin County historic property on the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with our work at Fort Hunter, The State Museum’s Section of Archaeology’s annual excavations during the month of September and part of October have focused on areas around the current Fort Hunter mansion in hopes of finding structural evidence of the French and Indian War period fort. In these years, we uncovered archaeological evidence that shows the Fort Hunter site was in use by humans for thousands of years, beginning as a seasonal hunting and fishing site for Native Americans. This site has also been used as a family home and from which its name is derived and as a supply fort during the French and Indian War.

To begin our Fort Hunter “flashback” we will look at a few of the artifacts dating back to the prehistoric period. These artifacts include a Palmer corner-notched projectile point made in chert, which dates between 9800 and 9200 years ago; a metarhyolite broadspear, which dates between 3200 BP and 4850 BP; and a jasper Jack’s Reef corner-notched point, which dates between 1500 BP and 950 Bp. 

Note:  While teleworking from home over the past six months, the staff of the Section of Archaeology has been working hard to move our various artifact catalogue lists to Argus, a collections management program for all of the artifacts in the museum’s collections and it includes photographs. In addition, as part of Argus, we are sharing artifacts, including those from Fort Hunter and they are available to the public via the internet accessible Argus platform.

Let’s take a look at some interesting examples of prehistoric period artifacts we’ve excavated at Fort Hunter since 2006:

Palmer Projectile Point made in chert

Metarhyolite Broadspear 

Jasper Jack’s Reef Projectile Point 

Next, we will look at a few artifacts that date to the fort period.

One of these fort period artifacts is this three-inch iron cannonball, which was likely stored at Fort Hunter with the other supplies that were sent up the Susquehanna River to Fort Augusta at Northumberland, the major fort in the line of defense along the Susquehanna River.


Iron Cannonball 

Another fort period artifact is this brass star button, which may have belonged to one of the militiamen serving at Fort Hunter, although most of them did not have issued uniforms. The military didn’t designate regimental buttons until the Revolutionary War so there is no definitive way of determining if the button is a military issue.  The button may have also belonged to a member of one of the families that owned the mansion after the war.


Brass Star Button 

Additional possible fort period artifacts include gunflints. There are both English and French gunflints, which were held onto the gun by the “jaws” and when the trigger was pulled, the hammer came down causing a spark which ignited the gunpowder.

English Flint 

French Flint

There have also been other, more decorative, gun parts found at Fort Hunter including the following brass thumb and side plates.

Brass gun decorative sideplate

Brass gun decorative thumb plate

 Other interesting artifacts that have been found at Fort Hunter include a number of crucible fragments including the one below. These crucible fragments are most likely remnants from a blacksmith/gunsmith shop that was present on the property, used in the hot furnaces to melt down metals for gun repairs. 

Crucible fragment

We have also found many personal items at Fort Hunter, which include these green glass cuff links set in pewter, this brass stock buckle and several kaolin smoking pipe fragments. 

Green glass cufflinks

Brass Buckle 

Kaolin pipe fragments

We hope you have enjoyed looking back at some of the interesting artifacts we have found at Fort Hunter through the years. For additional information on the Fort Hunter artifacts and other collection’s, please visit the State Museum’s Argus website

We continue to do what we can to help preserve the past for our future during these tough times. We hope you explore all of the different sections of The State Museum and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission through Argus to learn more about what makes Pennsylvania what it is today.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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