NY historic site's skeletons still hold mystery

By Chris Carola

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 29 2011 6:00 a.m. MST

The archaeologists still don't know the identity of the skeletons the Fullers uncovered. They could be some of the hundreds of soldiers known to have died at Fort Edward between 1755-59, when some 15,000 troops occupied a sprawling complex that included barracks and huts on Rogers Island. Most of the deaths were caused by illness or disease, others from wounds suffered in skirmishes with French and Indian forces near the fort and farther north in the Adirondack wilderness.

The burials could include members of Rogers' Rangers, frontiersmen who served as the British army's main scouting force in the Lake George-Lake Champlain corridor. Led by Maj. Robert Rogers of New Hampshire, the Rangers were skilled in the hit-and-run tactics favored by their Indian foes. In 1757, Rogers wrote his "Rules of Ranging" while at Rogers Island.

His list of wilderness combat do's and don'ts has been used for decades as a small unit catechism for U.S. commando training, including the Army Rangers.

Upon Nastasi's death in 2007, ownership of the Rogers Island property passed to his son, Anthony, a Long Island contractor. The younger Nastasi has said he plans to honor his father's wishes that the property become a public park. After the state backed off from buying the site because of budget problems, the village and town entered the picture. Local officials have applied for a state grant that would enable the village and town to purchase the land, with the intention of turning it into a tourist attraction.

"We always suspected there were graves there," said Neal Orsini, a town board member in Fort Edward, long known for yielding 18th-century military artifacts. "You never know what you'll find. Everywhere you stick a shovel, something comes up."

After the state archaeologists finished their work in 2006, the skeletons were reburied where they lay. There are no immediate plans to search for more graves at the site, state and local officials said. Anthony Nastasi said he wouldn't object to more extensive excavations at the cemetery site.

"I'd love to see what's there," he told the AP.

If the local governments succeed in obtaining the Nastasi property, officials will have to decide how best to preserve the site, another archaeologist said.

"It potentially could be one of the most significant cemeteries of the period," said David Starbuck, a New Hampshire college professor who has led several archaeological digs on Rogers Island and in Fort Edward.

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