Historical Archaeology

The main focus of GARI recently has been on investigating the Seminole Wars in Florida. We have conducted research at places such as Fort Dade, Fort King, Camp Izard, Micanopy, the Fort King Road, and the Battle of the Withlacoochee just to name a few. Our mission is to investigate sites such as these with minimally invasive methods. We use soil coring to narrow our search areas and then switch to small excavation units. Only then, once we have a good understanding of the nature of the site and the cultural deposits, will we open larger excavation units if needed. We prefer to excavate only as much as we need to answer our research questions and preserve the remainder of the site for future research.

We have used this method successfully to obtain both National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmark status for several sites. Highlighted below are a few of the more recent historical archaeological projects we have completed. See our Reports page for a full bibliography of our work. Below are a few examples of some of our historical archaeological research projects.

Chinsegut Hill Archaeological and Historical Landscape Study

Chinsegut Hill Plantation is a registered United States historic site located in Hernando County, Florida. First settled during the 1840s, it was originally a small corn and sugar plantation, but by the 1850s it had expanded into one of the largest slave-based plantations in the county. After the turn of the 20th century, the property passed into the hands of the Robins family, a family of historically significant social reformers and political diplomats. The property changed hands a number of times throughout the latter half of the century, and is now managed and maintained by the Tampa Bay History Center.

In early 2014, the Gulf Archaeology Research Institute (GARI) was asked by the FCH to perform the first comprehensive archaeological survey of Chinsegut Hill. The resulting combined Archaeological and Historic Landscape Study produced a focused look at the historic landscape and the archaeology of the changed landscape from the prehistoric past, through the initial and subsequent historic 19th and 20th century occupation periods. It revealed a number of cultural and structural features associated with the plantation period occupation of the property, and also produced an enormous material culture base, with an inventory of over 57,000 artifacts. The range of historic ceramics, glass, metal, and faunal assemblages have the potential to offer tremendous insight into the property’s 19th century occupations. In addition to the archaeological study, GARI also provided the FCH with a temporary museum exhibit of recovered material culture, an interactive touch-screen computer program for its interpretive display, and a digital catalog of the artifact, furniture, and housewares collections currently housed at the Chinsegut Hill facility. For more information about Chinsegut Hill, please visit Chinsegut Hill’s website.

Excavations at Fort King

Gulf Archaeology has worked at Fort King since 1994 and have been integral in the locating, interpreting, and obtaining National Historic Landmark status for the site. Fort King was a military post in present day Ocala, Florida and was established in 1827 to serve as an Indian Agency to the Seminole Indians and provide protection to the settlers. The fort was enclosed by a stockade consisting of split logs standing 20 feet high. It contained a blockhouse at one corner, two kitchens, quarters for enlisted men and officers, and storage buildings. In 1829 Camp King (as it was initially referred to) was closed as it was too difficult to get supplies to this inland fort from the port at Tampa Bay. However, escalating hostilities with the Seminole Indians lead to General Clinch reopening the fort in 1832. Throughout the Second Seminole War, Fort King played a crucial part. Through GARI’s archaeological research parts of the fort’s stockade walls have been located and plans are currently underway to re-create part of the fort as part of an exhibit for the newly created Fort King public park. More information about this venture can be found at the park’s website.

Bayport: A Civil War Naval Engagement

The Battle of Bayport occurred on April 3, 1863 at the port of Bayport, Florida, located on the Gulf of Mexico just north of the mouth of the Weeki Wachee River. Bayport was originally founded in 1842 by Major John D. Parsons, who had been awarded the land in exchange for his military service during the Second Seminole War. The town of Bayport, however, was not truly established until 1852, when Thomas H. Parsons of Cedar Key, a nephew of John D., purchased more lands in the area and other settlers, including his uncle, began to follow suit. Early in 1853, Bayport was designated as both a Port of Delivery and Port of Entry by an act of Congress, and quickly grew into an important commercial town. In addition to receiving imports, the port was also responsible for the exportation of a number of local commodities. In 1854, Bayport was formally named as the Hernando County seat. While this status was short-lived, and the seat was ultimately moved to Brooksville in 1856, Bayport’s continued significance to the area at the time is undeniable. The town’s success and strategic geographic location solidified the development of local and regional trade networks that transported commodities from the interior to the port and vice versa, leading to massive growth in Hernando County and attracting more settlers and land developers to the area throughout the 1850s. Bayport’s significance only continued to grow into the 1860s when the Civil War began. When Florida’s more significant ports of Pensacola, Tampa, and Jacksonville, were made inaccessible by the Federal blockade in the early years of the Civil War, the smaller and lesser known ports hidden along Florida’s Gulf Coast became essential to the Confederate war effort in the exportation of cattle, cotton, salt, foodstuffs, and material support. Bayport’s commercial status, coupled with its small, shallow harbor and naturally concealed position made it an obvious choice for blockade running. This enterprise, despite the numerous attempts made by the U.S. East Gulf Blockading Squadron to quash it, would continue at Bayport until the end of the war.

Unfortunately, the town and port of Bayport no longer exist as they did during the time of the Civil War. Like so many other nineteenth century Florida communities, Bayport has faded into obscurity, and all of its original landmarks and structures have been lost over time. The specific location of the original town proper, the port, and thus the battle itself, have yet to be scientifically proven. Previous related archeological studies conducted in the area have been tenuous at best, and attempts to identify evidence of the battle (most notably in the form of shipwrecks) have been unsuccessful. It is for this precise reason that this study has chosen to cast such wide net with respect to determining the project area. The project area for the study is vast, consisting of nearly 640 acres. The reasoning for this is so that we may test a number of hypotheses regarding the location of the battle. We will not discount outright previous research in the area, but neither will we rely solely upon it. This study will develop a field strategy that takes into account prior work, but is based primarily upon in-depth historical research, natural history research, and landscape analysis. In terms of historical research, careful analysis of historic land and tax records, plat and survey maps, and local oral histories will be necessary in targeting survey coverage to identify the specific location of the historic port and battle.

However, simply identifying and recording the location of the battle will not be sufficient. The current project will compile all extant primary and secondary resources identified through literature searches in order to create an in depth historic context for the Battle of Bayport. This research will help us to define Bayport’s nature as a commercial town and port within the context of mid-nineteenth century Florida, thus enabling us to determine Bayport’s significance to the Confederate war effort and it’s response to the Union Blockade of the Confederacy’s Gulf Coast. The Battle of Bayport is significant in that it exposed the vulnerability of the Confederacy’s undermanned coastal facilities to Union blockading forces, and interrupted the ability of the Confederacy to work with its contraband partners, making the port a liability with respect to contraband shipments. In order to more fully understand Bayport’s position within this context, every effort will be made to identify archival sources in the U.S. or Great Britain containing possible historic records or personal correspondence pertaining to: public and/or military officials associated with blockade running during the Civil War; foreign or domestic shipping, or ship-building companies associated with blockade running during the Civil War; and captain or crew members of blockade running vessels during the Civil War.

In addition, specific analysis of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, U.S. Coastal Survey Reports, and various other historical documents and maps will allow us to better understand the movements and motivations of both the blockaders and the blockade runners at and around Bayport near the time of the battle. These data along with information about tides, sea level, and weather conditions at the time of the battle will enable us to produce a concise, hour by hour account of the battle which will be essential for the military terrain analysis (KOCOA) and mapping of the site.

Archival Research

Aside from archaeological research, we frequently conduct archival research. Currently our grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program involves a fair bit of archival research relating to the Battles of the Withlacoochee. We will be traveling to various local, state, and national archives. We utilize a variety of documentary sources from diaries, letters, general orders, military documents such as post returns, maps, newspapers, and documents on microfilm.

If you have a project in need of archival research or assistance with your research please contact us so we can discuss how we may be of service.