Archaeologists start work this week at the site of a 282-year-old colonial fort in Beaufort County.
Fort Frederick was built in 1733 to protect the fledgling British settlement at what is now Port Royal from Indian and Spanish attacks. Its tabby walls are still visible today, but the public has not been able to access the site until very recently.
Neither have scientists.
“There was a little bit of work done (in the 1990s),” South Carolina Department of Natural Resources archaeologist Sean Taylor said. “But not enough to tell us about what’s there.”
The old tabby fort is located on the edge of the Beaufort Naval Hospital. The Navy sold the 3-acre property to DNR in the mid-90s, but post-September 11th security concerns closed off access to the land. Taylor said Beaufort County and the state are planning to eventually build a new boat landing and road that would allow visitors to the site once again without having to go through the Navy property.
Tabby is a concrete-like material that is made from oyster shells. It was a popular and comparatively easy method for foundation work in the Colonial Lowcountry. Fort Frederick is one of the oldest such structures in existence today.
Taylor said his team spent the past two weeks doing work on the site around the fort, discovering evidence of a 19th Century structure nearby. The team is not sure what the building is, but believe it may have been a slave cabin or other small home.
Now, their attention for the next two weeks will be on the old fort itself. The tabby walls and a bastion (a fortified corner that once held mounted guns) are all that physically remain. But Taylor believes evidence of a powder magazine and bunkhouse may yet be found. Roughly half of the fort was washed away over the centuries by the nearby Beaufort River.
He said the team hopes any debris or other small items discovered will tell them more about those British colonists who manned the fort. “By digging up these artifacts, we can learn about the past lives of these people,” he said. “How well-off were they? How not well-off were they?
The team has also contracted with a local expert to strengthen the tabby walls in expectation of new visitors. Taylor said there are worries that children could climb the fragile walls, seriously damaging them.
The site will be open for tours during the preservation and archaeological work. Group tours will be offered every Friday through February 6 at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Anyone seeking to join one of these tours is asked to call SCDNR Heritage Trust archaeologist Meg Gaillard at (803) 734-0658.