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Old 06-06-2006, 12:17 PM
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Glens Falls, New York :: Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Couple unearths soldiers' remains on Rogers Island
Amateur archaeologists ordered to stop digging


By BONNIE NAUMANN, bnaumann@poststar.com
Tuesday, June 6, 2006 6:26 AM EDT


COURTESY PHOTO Among the remains found at the excavation site on Rogers Island in Fort Edward is this skull. FORT EDWARD -- The village police chief on Monday issued a verbal cease and desist order to two amateur archaeologists claiming to have located a cemetery of several hundred French and Indian War soldiers.

The archaeologists and local historians, Richard and JoAnne Fuller, responded to the order Monday by shrouding in plastic tarps five sets of unearthed skeletal remains.

"I'm very happy that this was found in my lifetime," JoAnne Fuller said. "Now, we have to wait and see what we can do with it."

After being contacted by the law, the couple laid to rest their recent enthusiasm for publicity. They previously contacted a reporter for the Associated Press, who they gave unrestricted access to the site. But on Monday they had reservations about speaking with The Post-Star. They would not uncover the remains, but agreed to explain their findings.

The couple believes the remains are soldiers buried between 1755 and 1757 because at least one set of remains was accompanied by pewter buttons used on soldiers' trousers. It's Debatable
Let us know your opinion. SHould professional archaeologists and anthropologists be called in to deal with the skeletal findings on Rogers Island In Fort Edward?

In 50 to 100 words respond via e-mail to mahoney@poststar.com and look for the responses within two days on the Opinion or Letters page.
During that time, Fort Edward was one of the largest British military forts in the American Colonies during the French and Indian War and was the main base camp for Robert Rogers and his Rangers. It was at the fort that Rogers composed his "Ranging Rules," which marked a change from the British way of confronting an enemy on the battlefield.

The Fullers have not yet identified the soldiers, though they believe they are either British or colonial soldiers who fought in the French and Indian War. They said three of the five skeletons they have recently unearthed seemed to have battle wounds. One skeleton had a hole in his skull, another's leg was broken in several places and a third was missing his head.

Smallpox safety

Local officials were concerned about public health because the barracks were known to have included a hospital for treating smallpox victims.

However, Washington County Attorney Roger Wickes said the Department of Public Health did not feel the site was a risk Monday because the remains were found buried in the ground. If they were found in a crypt, Wickes said, the Health Department would have taken action.

JoAnne Fuller said she does not believe the cemetery was a mass grave for smallpox victims. She said she believes that internment is located on the other side of the Hudson River, in Saratoga County.

Though she and her husband have experience with archaeological digs, they are not professionals. They said they do not plan to contract a professional archaeologist.

But Richard Fuller said he has contacted three professional anthropologists. He said one is traveling to Peru and the other two have not yet returned his calls.

JoAnne Fuller said she has done extensive research and plans to publish a book and Web site listing the names and details of the deaths of hundreds of soldiers buried there.

By recognizing the site as a cemetery, the Fullers are opening a Pandora's box of legal proceedings.

The town could argue the cemetery falls under the town's jurisdiction because it was previously run by the government, Wickes said.

"This is the kind of case that could require the drafting of new laws," he said.

Town Supervisor Merrilyn Pulver and Town Attorney Mark Schachner said Monday that they are reviewing state cemetery laws and could seek a Supreme Court injunction if they believe illegal activity is found to have occurred.

"As town supervisor, I am concerned about the history of our community," Pulver said.

County District Attorney Kevin Kortright said he looked into the matter after he was contacted by The Associated Press and The Post-Star. He said the Fort Edward Police Department would investigate and could take action based on a grave-robbing state law.

The dig also unearthed tension that had been laid to rest regarding the future use of the property.

Originally, property owner Frank Nastasi, a military history buff from Long Island, proposed developing his 33 acres on the island as a marina, cottages, conference center, 40-unit motel, spa and 150-seat restaurant. It was expected to create 22 full-time jobs and cost more than $5 million.

Then, in April 2004, after prodding from local officials, he agreed to sell his property to the state for use as a park, as long as he had a say in how the area is developed. Nastasi is now very ill, but the Fullers distributed a statement he issued about the cemetery.

"After carefully defining the perimeter and fencing it in, the cemetery will be dedicated to honor this hallowed ground in memory of those who died here. We are going to provide a proper Christian burial," Nastasi said.

The remains are not likely American Indians, JoAnne Fuller said, because they were found with their arms crossed in a position traditionally used by Christians.

"They (American Indians) would come and get their dead if they died in battle and take them away," she said.

Digging into history

The Fullers said they unearthed the remains in November, and waited two weeks to contact authorities. On Dec. 2, they called the village Police Department, which consulted with a Washington County coroner, Steven Craig. Craig said he did not visit the site, but assumed the remains were more than 200 years old, based on the location's history.

"There wasn't anything that would necessitate any forensic investigation," Craig said.

At that time, the Police Department advised the Fullers to discontinue their efforts until they had retained the services of a professional archaeologist.

According to a police report, Richard Fuller told Chief Walt Sandford he would contract archaeologists and further their inspection in the spring, "keeping the police advised of further discoveries."

The couple said they recently resumed their efforts.

On Monday, most of the site, which measures 120 feet by 160 feet, was crisscrossed with tracks from a front-end loader. Richard Fuller said he had recently used the vehicle to "lightly scrape the surface of the earth." He said he had gone deep enough to see dark bands he said indicated the presence of human remains.

Eileen Hannay, manager of the Rogers Island Visitors Center, said the island was known to contain a cemetery, but historians had not previously seen a reason to unearth the remains.

David Starbuck, a nationally recognized expert on the French and Indian War from Chestertown, said he was distressed Monday to hear the Fullers had resumed digging without the support of a professional team.

"If something doesn't need to be touched, it shouldn't be," Starbuck said.

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