Shippensburg’s Fort Morris

Created by: Ellen Glunt

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“On July 31, 1755, following the defeat of General Braddock’s army in western Pennsylvania, Governor Robert Morris commissioned the construction of two stockade forts, one in Carlisle and one in Shippensburg. Fort Morris was one of a line of frontier defenses erected to protect local settlers and garrison provincial troops. While the location of the fort at Carlisle is well-documented, there has been much confusion over the location of Shippensburg’s small fort. For over one hundred years local historians have argued about this topic without reaching a consensus, so there are now three locations centered around the debate of Fort Morris’ site” (Marr, 2004).

Construction of Fort Morris

On July 9, 1755, Edward Morris, the governor of Shippensburg ordered that a fort be built after he learned of General Braddock’s defeat at the hands of the French and Indians. His intent was to provide protection for the troops and colonists during the French and Indian War. So, over the next year, several buildings, a 70'-deep well, and a log palisade were built.
Fort Morris was garrisoned until the early 1760’s, but preserved for several more years due to the efforts of Edward Shippen. Also, there is a record that an officer and eighteen provincial troops were stationed in Shippensburg during the winter of 1763-1764
On March 24, 1761, Shippen wrote, “I desire everybody in Shippensburg to take care of ye Fort for I will suffer a log of it to be thrown down on any pretense whatever.”

Description of Fort Morris’ Dimensions

General Forbes described Fort Morris as “a regular square with 4 bastions and 1 gate in that curtain which faces due east towards the town. There are three swivel guns on the salient angles of SE, SW, and NW bastions, but none on the NE. These guns are so fix’d in at they can’t be pointed to any object, but in one horizontal line. Loopholes are in many places intirely wanting, and where they are, are badly and irregularly cut, being only about four feet from the ground on the outside, tho’ more in some places on the inside. There are nine huts and houses within the fort sufficient for Barracks, magazine, and storehouse for about 150-200 men, a good draw-well, and an oven.”
The proportions of Fort Morris are described in a memorandum written on August 13, 1758 by Brigadier-General John Forbes after visiting the fort.

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Controversy over the Location of Fort Morris

There are three sites in Shippensburg which have been considered to be the location of Fort Morris. The three locations in question are Burd Street, Ridge Avenue site, and the King’s Street site (Bull’s Eye). Since there are no maps that pinpoint the location of Fort Morris, researchers must rely solely on a few extant records that have been authenticated. Fortunately there are enough valid records that enable researchers to make a knowledgeable and defensible argument as to the fort’s location.

The Ridge Avenue site

This site was proposed by Hayes Eschenmann in 1987 and was located at the crest of a hill a little over .3 of a mile south of the town center.

Eschenmann believed this to be the site of the fort because there was not a gun in the NE bastion.

This location is not viable because it places the town between the fort and the dangers from the west. Also, this location is 1900 feet from the town center which would not have been easily accessible by settlers fleeing to the fort.

A geophysical survey of a wooded tract of land at the intersection of Ridge and Walnut Streets on the south side of Shippensburg, Pa was conducted by Tethys consultants on December 19, 1990 and January 3, 1991. Tethys used a GEONICS EM-38 electromagnetic induction meter to survey the land. TCI detected no evidence of the remains of Fort Morris on the subject site.

The King Street Site (Bull’s Eye)

The King Street location is located at the western end of Shippensburg on a prominent hill known as the Bull’s Eye by the residents.

What factors eliminate this land as the site of Fort Morris? The first factor is this location is not conducive to the protection of settlers because it is nearly one mile from the original town center and in the 1750’s it would have been separated from the town by a large, swampy field along Middle Spring Creek. Another factor is that Edward Shippen did not purchase the 109 acre tract of land until 1762 and had the land surveyed October 16, 1762 which is seven years after Fort Morris was built to protect the colonists. The other factor is that on March 23, 1763 Edward Shippen wrote a letter concerning the standing timber located around the Bull’s Eye, which would have been cut if Fort Morris would have been located there.

Burd Street

This is the only location that matches all of the documentation regarding Fort Morris.

This location is on a small hill just over .1 miles west of the old town center.

Of the three disputed locations, this location is the closest to the old town center and is between the town and the dangers to the west.

“A 12 –pound cannonball, flintlocks, brass buttons, and similar evidence of soldier’s accouterments as well as buried logs have been found in the Burd Street Area.” No other evidence of an old fort has been found anywhere in Shippensburg.

“Thomas Barton wrote in his Journal, “At a little distance from the center of town is Fort Morris.” The Center of Shippensburg at that time was the intersection of King and Queen Streets. The Burd Street site is 800 feet from King & Queen Streets.”

“On the Northeast corner of the lot at 333 E. Burd Street, is a well, 6 feet in diameter and lined with stones to the bottom. An archaeologist from the William Penn Museum looked at the site and identified it as an old well.”

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David Ferry-owner of 333 East Burd Street

Preparing the Street

To prepare the site, three, 14 foot trenches were laid out in the northwest quadrant of the lot. After the trenches were excavated, twenty-six shovel test holes were dug on the west-side of the property. The shovel test holes were two feet in diameter and spaced six feet apart in a random pattern to promote detection of artifacts.

Trench 1 contained artifacts such as, window glass, brick, red earthenwares , hard white earthenwares, clothing, jewelry, household items, and recreational items. Three of the most important unearthed artifacts were a plain creamware shard, pearlware shards, and 19th century white earthenware shards. Pearlware is a ceramic type manufactured in England between 1790 and 1840. (Warfel, 2008).

Trench 2 contained 1,102 artifacts; many of which were similar to those found in Trench 1. A few important artifacts were a plain brass button with a convex crown, kaolin tobacco pipe bowl fragment, a kaolin tobacco pipe stem (commonly used during colonial times), Blue salt-glazed stonewares, and plain white salt-glazed stonewares.
Trench 3 contained 324 artifacts such as a plain tombac button, white salt-glazed stoneware, pearlware, and kaolin tobacco pipe bowl fragment.

A total of 2,878 artifacts were recovered during the excavation. The artifacts recovered that were from the fort period are: 22 ceramic shards, two metal buttons, one kaolin tobacco pipe stem, three kaolin tobacco pipe bowl fragments, and a piece of lead buckshot.


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Illustration from “In Search of Fort Morris”-by Stephen Warfel

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30x40 square-measurements for site

Artifacts found at 2009 Dig on 333 Burd Street

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This pottery would have been used by military men because local families would not have splurged on expensive pottery.
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Metal objects: buckles, buttons, and coins

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Utensils

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Buttons

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Flintlock

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Musket Balls

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Musket Flint

Links to Newspaper articles regarding Fort Morris (Most Recent Articles First)
“Archaeologists confident in Fort Morris find”
http://www.cumberlink.com/articles/2009/07/03/news/local/doc4a4eaf0434140776971045.txt

“Fort Morris Trip Includes History Lesson”
http://www.cumberlink.com/articles/2009/05/29/news/local/doc4a20b7514268b850719318.txt

“Fort Morris Digging Continue”
http://www.cumberlink.com/articles/2009/05/11/news/local/doc4a08244dc654c348210133.txt

“Fort Morris Site Digs for Money to Continue Excavation”
http://www.cumberlink.com/articles/2008/12/27/news/local/doc4957032507bcd092237398.txt

Resources

McCorriston, John. “An Analysis of the Known Facts Regarding the Location of Shippensburg’s Colonial Fort Morris.” April 20, 2004.

Marr, Paul. “Finding Fort Morris.” Middle States Geographer, 2004. 37:45-52

Warfel, Stephen. “In Search of Fort Morris: A report on 2008 Archaeological Investigations at the 333 East Burd Street Location Shippensburg, Pa.” September 28, 2008.