The Archaeological Significance of the 1823 Joseph Heckle Map
The significance of the newly acquired Joseph E. Heckle map, drawn in 1823 in about the middle of the initial construction period of Fort Snelling, can be most clearly understood in the context of other documentation. It is in comparison to 1821 and 1835 cartographic documents and later historic descriptions that one can see the evolution of the fort from its earliest design plans to the final finished product. The new 1823 map gives us an insight into the changes that took the fort from an 1821 roughly planned irregular design to fit the land upon which it was built, to a sophisticated fortification that modified some of the landscape to make it more defensible. It lets us see the sequence of those changes and what happened when.
When the fort is viewed in this approximately half-completed context it becomes evident why certain changes occurred. For instance, the southwest wall of the fort was moved westward to provide a more defensible posture before it was decided to build the shops and guard house structures. It is primarily this change in the structural elements that allow the beginnings of redefining the place from solely a military function to one that might be characterized as a frontier community.
Vose's comments suggest that the walls and towers had been mostly if not completely constructed by April 1823. Archeological excavations uncovered the remains of the original hexagonal battery east of the Commanding Officer's Quarters (shown on the map). Snelling's statements in an August 1824 report indicted that this structure had been changed to a semicircular battery by that time. The changes that we see in the newly acquired Heckle map strongly suggest that the designers and builders of the fort had not begun to implement a series of military rules for the construction of irregular fortifications. However only 16 months later the changes were effected and included, among other things, implementation of rules that bastions should be of dissimilar shapes. By effecting the change in the easternmost battery they were able to comply with that guideline. Other foundations discovered during archaeological research in the 1970s clearly indicate changes in other bastions and wall alignments from those in the 1821 plans to those shown here.
Details evident in Vose's marginal notes provide the researcher with another perspective on the place and provide us with details not available in any other known documents about the fort. His statement, for instance, that all of the chimneys are brick except the "hewn log soldiers' quarters" tells us that this building was likely the first one constructed at the fort. It was probably built in the fall of 1820, before the soldiers began quarrying clay and making and firing bricks. His descriptions of the use of the boat pictured anchored at the landing provides us with insight into difficulties of everyday life, such as transportation, which we take for granted.
Rare documents such as this give us an insight into the thinking of the builders of Fort Snelling and provide us with a new perspective on the creation and evolution of one of Minnesota's most important historic places.
This article is by Robert Clouse, head of the Minnesota Historical Society's Archaeology Department. For more information about the archaeology, visit the department's web page at www.umn.edu/marp/.
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