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The original site of Fort Boonesborough.

Fort Boonesborough

Site ID: 15Ma123

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​​​​​​​​​​Boonesborough was one of the earliest European-American settlements in the lands that would become Kentucky. Established by Daniel Boone in 1775, the fort was located along the Kentucky River near the route of the Wilderness Trail from Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky. The large rectangular fortification was a temporary home and sanctuary to many families who found protection there from British and Indian attacks during the Revolutionary War. After the war ended, some residents attempted to establish a town there, but the venture failed and the site was abandoned by 1820. The original fort site, marked with a stone memorial (shown above), is preserved in Fort Boonesborough State Park.

In 1987, the University of Kentucky conducted an extensive survey of the lower park area to confirm the location of Fort Boonesborough. During the course of that study, archaeologists excavated the remnants of a stone chimney belonging to one of the cabins, two large post holes that may have supported a gate, and a fire hearth filled with the bones of wild and domestic animals. Additional work was undertaken at the site in the early 2010s.

Sketch of Fort Boonesborough.


Excavations at the fort site documented remnants of a stone chimney base of one of the fort's cabins. A small patch of compacted soil was identified as a dirt floor in front of the hearth inside the cabin. Artifacts dating to the late eighteenth century were found resting on top of this floor remnant, lying where they had been discarded over 200 years before. Fragments of English-made refined ceramic tablewares and red clay earthenware crockery, hand-wrought nails, buttons, lead ammunition and gunflints, and tobacco pipestems all offered hints about what people owned and used during their stay at the fort. For example, the gunflints and lead bullets underscored the importance of firearms for defense and for hunting. Tobacco pipestems indicated that some settlers were smokers and undoubtedly planted tobacco to sustain their habit.

A hearth found outside the cabin area contained a large quantity of wild and domestic animal bone. Analysis revealed that wild animal species, such as black bear, white-tailed deer, buffalo, elk, wild turkey and catfish, were eaten along with cow and pig by those living at Fort Boonesborough.  ​

Archaeologists uncovered a cabin hearth filled with animal bones. 

Archaeologist at work at Fort Boonesborough.

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Bringing Home with Them

Among the more interesting artifacts recovered from the site were English ceramic sherds, including some from a treasured teapot and other decorated ceramic vessels. The recovery of these objects suggested to researchers that settlers brought vessels with them to the frontier, not only to remind themselves of home but also to maintain traditions in their new surroundings. Such expectations must have sustained them as they endured food shortages and the necessity of living off the land while they worked to establish a stable agricultural base.

Redware rim sherd with green stripe.

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