Fort Southwest Point, Kingston, Tennessee ____________________________________________________________________________________

Some kids collect arrow points and instinctively know they want to be archaeologists when they grow up.  In contrast, I discovered historical archaeology later in life while I was just starting college.  During the fall of 1984 I was a sophomore at Roane State Community College in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Sam Smith, a historical archaeologist with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (and a former graduate student of Charles Fairbanks) was starting an excavation project at Fort Southwest Point in Kingston, Tennessee.  Sam hired local Roane State students as field crew members for the archaeology project.  I took a semester off to work at the fort in 1984 and later worked at Southwest Point again in the summer of 1986. 

Fort Southwest Point, located at the confluence of the Clinch and Tennessee rivers on a high bluff, was initially a small post manned by territorial militia beginning in 1792.  By 1794, the post was occupied by a small contingent of federal soldiers.  The soldiers protected Cherokee land from white settlement and escorted settlers to Nashville in the central part of the state.  By 1801, the post eventually became the location of the federal Agent to the Cherokee Indians and Military Agent for the War Department in Tennessee.  The post was eventually abandoned in 1811 and the military role of the fort shifted to Hiwassee Garrison on the Hiwassee River.   

During the 1984 and 1986 field seasons I helped excavate palisade trenches, the limestone foundation of a corner blockhouse, the trade house cellar, and a privy.  I was hooked after this field experience, and decided to pursue historical archaeology as a career.  Little did I realize that Fort Southwest Point was exceptional, and most historical archaeology sites are not quite as interesting as late 18th-century forts!  Oh, well-- live and learn...

Probably starting out as a single blockhouse or small enclosure in the early 1790s, the fort was expanded over time, eventually forming a large rectangular compound when it was completed.  The east end of the fort contained a large gate and corner blockhouses, forming a diagonal curtain wall for defense.  Strategically overlooking the Tennessee River, the west end of the fort contained a large retaining wall that was probably used for cannon placement.   


Artist's rendering of Fort Southwest Point, ca. 1810.*


*Fort sketch from:

Smith, Samuel D. (Editor)  1993  Fort Southwest Point Archaeological Site, Kingston, Tennessee: A Multidisciplinary Interpretation.  Tennessee Division of Environment and Conservation, Division of Archaeology, Research Series No. 9., Nashville, Tennessee.


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