Two Kentucky war veterans may finally come home after 200 years.
Canadian archeologists discovered two anomalies in Tecumseh Park in Chatham-Kent, Ontario, indicative of grave shafts.
According to research done by a historian from the Kentucky National Guard, one of those proposed graves might contain the remains of Henry Countian Pvt. Foster Bartlett, who enlisted in the Kentucky Mounted Infantry and never returned home.
“Tecumseh Park is mostly used for special events by clubs or special interest groups,” said Tom Beaton, manager of parks, cemeteries and horticulture for the municipality of Chatham-Kent. “In 2007, we developed a master plan for the park with a heritage plan and to enhance landscapes for special events. Given the history of the area, it was then that an archeological survey needed to be done.”
The park sits on the fork of the River Thames and McGregor Creek in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. The park and the surrounding proximity where the Skirmish at the Forks, a battle between Native American forces and two regiments from Kentucky, took place lasted only a reported two hours. Long enough for two casualties from the Commonwealth.
John Sweeney, Senior Archeologist for Timmens Martelle Heritage Consultant, conducted the ground penetrating radar survey, which discovered the anomalies thought to be graves, said the process must follow government guidelines.
“In phase 1 of the project, we researched old atlases, national archives and old deeds to see where there might have been a structure or a cemetery,” Sweeney said. “During phase 2, we did a survey every 5 meters (16 feet) in the area and came across artifacts like ceramics, machined nails and different types of glass with some material dating the late 19th century. It needs to be understood that very few places aren’t disturbed.”
Sweeney confirmed anomalies found near the forks were indicative of graves.
“They have the same consistency as other grave shafts. The only problem is they are quite shallow,” Sweeney said. “The riverbank has been used a lot. When we do ground penetrating radar, we see the reflections of everything from tree roots and old foundations. Grave shafts are usually 3ft by 6ft like these and over time you can lose the definition of the edges. You do come across graves that are this shallow; it’s difficult to ascertain right now before a dig. I am suspicious. The excitement needs to be tempered sometimes with skepticism. What everyone is hoping for is a burial or old structure, but sometimes it ends up not being that.”
Sweeney said a dig of this importance has to be carried in several stages. Stage 3 of the process will involve test pits and setting up grids where soil will be sifted and examined. Canadian and American historians agree this would be the most likely place the Kentuckians would be buried.
A Canadian documentary film crew asked John Trowbridge, command historian for the Kentucky National Guard, to participate in a documentary about the War of 1812 in Ontario. The production company issued a media release about his upcoming visit and park officials at Tecumseh Park asked him to look into their project. The evidence convinced Trowbridge to be on site for the dig scheduled in late September.
“I found a couple of things, which lead me to believe that these two graves belong to two soldiers that were killed in a battle Oct. 4, 1813,” said Trowbridge. “The Kentucky Adjutant General Report ‘Roster of the Volunteer Officers and Soldiers from Kentucky in the War of 1812-1815’ lists Capt. Rice’s company from Henry County. Pvt. Bartlett enlisted in the company and was engaged until Oct. 4, 1813.”
Trowbridge explained that the majority of members of the company served until mid-November 1813. The date of Bartlett and Hardwick’s end enlistment coincide with the Skirmish at the Forks.
“If you read the journal of Capt. Robert B. McAfee’s, who commanded a company during this campaign, he goes into detail what occurred at the battle,” Trowbridge said. “He makes mention that, ‘…In this fight, Capt. Rice and Combs of the regiment each had a man killed,’ If you go through the complete rosters of Col. Johnson’s only two soldiers listed as having their military service ended on Oct. 4. Pvt. Bartlett of Henry County and Pvt. William Hardwick who served under Comb’s company from Fayette and Clark Counties.”
Skirmish of the Forks
To understand the impact on Kentuckians living during the War of 1812, one must first understand the background of the River Raisin Massacre.
In January 1813, U.S. forces fought a battle against the British forces and Native Americans reclaiming Frenchtown — modern day Monroe, Mich. Brig. Gen. James Winchester acted without orders and an inexperienced force including a Kentucky Rifle Regiment enjoyed their short-lived victory. British Maj. Gen. Henry Proctor attacked soon after, in the appropriately named the Second Battle of River Raisin, and forced the U.S. force consisting of 1,000 untrained and volunteer Kentuckians to surrender. The negotiated surrender ensured the U.S. soldiers that they would be protected as prisoners of war.
The British took prisoners able to walk northward and left behind those too wounded to travel. It was reported that after British forces left, a force of Native Americans massacred 30 to 100 wounded soldiers. This inflamed many Americans, especially Kentuckians, and caused many to enlist under Kentucky Governor Isaac Shelby.
Henry Countians John Callaway — builder of the Highland House — enlisted in September, and Foster Bartlett and his brother Edmund enlisted in August. One could speculate that the massacre not only heightened animosity against the Native Americans, but especially toward Gen. Proctor. It should be noted that Chief Tecumseh did not reportedly participate in the battle or massacre.
The U.S. forces later gained control of Fort Detroit and Fort Amherstburg. U.S. forces pursued Gen. Proctor’s retreating force and Native American allies. Gov. Shelby led five Kentucky brigades including a 1,000-member volunteer cavalry under the direction of Col. Richard Johnson — the company Foster Bartlett fought in.
British Maj. Gen. Henry Proctor retreated north and told Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his warriors the British would stop and fight at the Forks of the Thames — the fork of the River Thames and McGregor Creek where the Tecumseh Park makes up the southern most tip of the fork. The British continued northward deciding that Chatham wasn’t a defendable point while Tecumseh and his warriors felt it remiss to move farther away from the lands he hoped to regain for his people.
All accounts agree at this point: Tecumseh and his Native American confederacy considered Gen. Proctor a coward for not stopping to fight the Americans.
Tecumseh and his party awaited on the northern banks. Tecumseh’s force destroyed the first bridge crossing the McGregor Creek and waited under cover to stall the American forces in pursuit. On Oct. 4, 1813, despite their efforts, the 3,000 Americans overpowered the small force and Tecumseh retreated. It is believed the two Kentuckians died during this skirmish. Tecumseh died the following day at the Battle of the Thames dissolving his confederacy. British authorities charged Gen. Proctor with neglect during a court martial a year later and he returned to England in 1815.
Bartlett’s family came to Henry County some time during the 1700s. The earliest record of Bartlett appears in 1804. In April 1804, the Henry County Court appointed him Captain of Patrols, not listing the exact district, including William Parker, brother or father Thomas Bartlett and Rob Samuel to be his assistants. Later in December, Bartlett gets a marriage bond to marry Jane Scott. It is the only document in Henry County records with his signature.
“Looking at the 1810 census he is listed as having been less than 25 but more than 16 years of age,” said Trowbridge. “So he would have been in his early twenties. Apparently from a prosperous and trusted family in the county, having been court appointed as first Captain of Patrols (1804) and then a road overseer in 1805.”
Trowbridge’s research found Bartlett was appointed, ‘…Overseer of the road from the courthouse to the forks of the Little Kentucky.’
Bartlett appears on the 1810 census for Henry County and on the 1811 and 1812 tax list. Foster Bartlett didn’t write a will before joining the Kentucky Mounted Infantry as a private on Aug. 15, 1813.
In June 1814, a year after his possible death, the Henry County Court ordered an inventory of his estate. Thomas Bartlett, Foster’s father, lists him as deceased in his will written in 1817 and includes, ‘the children of my late son Foster Bartlett collectively, giving them equally one share.’
Trowbridge hopes a direct descendant can bring both soldiers home.
“I’m hoping that we can locate a descendant of these soldiers so that if remains are discovered during the upcoming dig in September-October, then a DNA test can verify that these are indeed the remains of these Kentucky soldiers,” Trowbridge said. “And we can begin the process of repatriation back to Kentucky and burial on the State Mound in the Frankfort Cemetery.”
Trowbridge plans to assist in any way with the dig and will attend the bicentennial celebrations around Chatham-Kent in late September and early October with a Kentucky delegation, which may include Gov. Beshear.
For more information about the bicentennial celebrations visit: www.1812ontario.ca.