Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Snake Hill Cemetery

Last night I enjoyed an hour long chat with my Pro Gen study group. The focus of the discussion was on educational opportunities available for genealogists.That led to a discussion of professional opportunities. As a historian I suggested that there was a role for genealogists to work with historians, archaeologists, etc. I thought that the archeological dig at Snake Hill near Ft. Erie, Ontario, in the 1990’s was a good illustration of the possibilities. One of the chatters had not heard of this dig and I promised to look into it and post .

There is an excellent book written by three of the principal organizers of the dig, “Death at Snake Hill: Secrets from a War of 1812 Cemetery,  Dundarn Press Ltd., 1993”. I also found an article from the New York Times about the dig and its aftermath.

Old Fort Erie is situated on the Niagara river a thrown baseball distance from Lake Erie. In 1814 it became a battleground where hundreds of men died. Today it has become a tourist destination, and old Ft. Erie is often visited by school groups (such as my own grade eight class- date unknown on purpose). It is also an area of rapid urban development . In 1987 a residential development project unearthed bones. It took an anonymous tip to a local newspaper to start things moving. The old development vs. heritage battle that still has not been resolved in Ontario. It took the interest of the U.S. Army to shame provincial and federal authorities into acting. An article by the Hamilton Spectator outlines some of the problems.

In total 28 skeletons were found. The work of identifying the skeletons makes for  fascinating reading. In the end it was found that they represented both militia and army units, and probably were those of men from Upper New York State and Vermont.

It would be interesting to find out what would have been found out with the advances in archeology since the 1990’s.

Photo: reparation of War of 1812 veterans to the United States.

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