Archaeological Report Number
An archaeological reconnaissance survey was conducted in search of material remains of Fort St. Joseph in a 15-acre parcel owned by the City of Niles, Michigan. The French established the settlement in 1691 for religious, military, and commercial purposes and it served as an important frontier outpost for nearly a century. The British came to control the fort in 1761 until the Spanish briefly captured it two decades later. The site, which was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, has local, regional, national, and global significance. Its changing fortunes have given Niles the nickname, "The City of Four Flags." The use of the parcel as a landfill in the 20th century has obscured the exact location of the fort.
Documentary evidence suggested that the fort was indeed located within the project area. A walkover survey, subsurface testing, backhoe trenching, informant interviews, and geophysical applications were employed to locate physical evidence of past land-use practices in the parcel. Evidence of Native American (pre-Contact?) through 20th century activities was identified. Native American remains consist of chipping debris, two projectile points, a few ceramic sherds, and three stone pipe fragments on the terraces overlooking the floodplain. Their distribution suggests limited use of the area, perhaps into the historic period. A light scatter of 18th and 19th century objects was also identified on these terraces. Bricks, nails, and ceramics were probably associated with the farmstead and barn that occupied the site when intensive collector activity took place prior to the 1920s. Other temporally diagnostic artifacts (a hand wrought nail, window and bottle glass, a musket ball) likely derive from colonial activity in the vicinity. Much of the area is now covered by a 20th century landfill. Testing of the landfill was limited to the placement of three backhoe trenches that were dug through the fill to examine the old ground surface for historic remains with equivocal results.
The most significant findings of the survey are the materials that were brought to our attention by a local amateur collector who had used a metal detector to identify and recover a collection of predominantly metal colonial artifacts from the edge of the river in the project area. Subsequent subsurface testing located a smaller, but complementary assemblage of objects that include gun flints, gun parts, brass kettle fragments, lead waste, seed beads, and European earthenware ceramics. In addition, possible architectural remains were noted and a well-preserved assemblage of animal bones that probably derives from subsistence remains was collected. These materials appear to be associated with the colonial occupation of Fort St. Joseph. Further investigation is strongly recommended to determine the spatial extent of the deposits and assess their depositional context.