Introducing the Arnold’s Bay Research Project

By Cherilyn Gilligan, Assistant Director of Archaeology and Research

We are excited to announce that Lake Champlain Maritime Museum was awarded a Battlefield Preservation Planning Grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program through the National Park Service to conduct archaeological research at Arnold’s Bay. Our team will be conducting underwater and terrestrial surveys starting this month until the end of October. Since September is Vermont Archaeology Month, we will be sharing weekly updates on this exciting research project as our own way of celebrating. (Why celebrate when you can do more research?!)

To kick off this series, we first wanted to share some context of this site: The battlefield site in Arnold’s Bay (formerly Ferris Bay), located on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, is where American troops under General Benedict Arnold burned their remaining fleet to prevent its capture by the British during the American Revolution. This engagement marked the end of the running battle down Lake Champlain following the Battle of Valcour Bay (the battle that caused the loss of American vessels Royal Savage, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Spitfire). After an exchange of fire and the burning of the remaining American vessels at Ferris Bay, Benedict Arnold and his remaining men, along with the Ferris family from the homestead on the bay, fled on foot toward Fort Ticonderoga. Four gunboats and the row galley, Congress burned with their flags flying. This battle on October 13, 1776 was the last major engagement in the northern theater of the American Revolution before the end of the campaign season of 1776. The site today bears the name Arnold’s Bay.

The scientific investigation of this nationally significant battlefield will produce site boundary and feature data that has yet to be gathered, and will modernize our understanding of the last crucial naval engagements in the 1776 campaign season, setting the stage for success in the Battle of Saratoga the following year. Delineating site boundaries will also enable the site’s local stewards to be able to plan for the protection and preservation of this site in the future.

Looting of this site has been noted recently by the new landowner. By inviting the avocational community to be a part of our accredited metal detecting class, we hope to educate our interested locals and turning them into site stewards to conserve and protect our region’s history. Investigating and mapping other battlefield features will help stewards of this site better understand the threats of erosion and zebra mussel colonization to this site, again helping us to better plan for protection and preservation of this significant site. The comprehensive report that will be produced from this study will be used to update the Vermont Online Resource Center (and may also be used as the basis for a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, offering further credence to the value of this site in the eyes of local and national communities and underlying the necessity to protect this battlefield.

Our project objectives propose an unusual approach to identifying and defining battlefield boundaries and features by combining our terrestrial and underwater survey techniques and use of remote sensing across a transitional terrain. Traditionally, underwater and terrestrial remote sensing surveys are produced separately, or one is left out entirely as seen in the underwater survey of the battlefield of Valcour Bay.[1] By conducting remote surveys underwater, through the shoreline, and on land, we will gain a fuller understanding of the battlefield and its features located in and around Arnold’s Bay and ultimately will aid in the advancement of methodology for mapping battlefields that extend from water to land.

For the duration of this project, we are collaborating with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community as well as local Abenaki leaders, in order to better understand and incorporate the native history of this place as well as native involvement in American Revolution conflicts like the one at Arnold’s Bay. Additionally, we are partnering with the Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist (AMDA) group who will teach an RPA certified metal detecting course on the terrestrial portion of the site from October 1-4, 2021.

Stay tuned for weekly updates as we continue our investigations!

[1] Arthur B. Cohn, Adam I. Kane, Christopher R. Sabick, Edwin R. Scollon, Justin B. Clement. Valcour Bay Research Project: 1999-2004 Results from the Archaeological investigation of a Revolutionary war Battlefield in Lake Champlain, Clinton County, New York (Vergennes: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 2007).