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Archaeology work unearths Fort Daniel's history

DACULA -- Six years ago, Jim D'Angelo stood on the crest of a hill and knew he had found a piece of Gwinnett's history.

Since then, he's laid a grid, searched for artifacts and sifted through the dirt, unearthing the location of a fort integral to defending pioneer Georgians in what was once the frontier.

This weekend, adventurers young and old can join the archaeologist on the excavation site at the third annual Fort Daniel Faire.

"You can call it detective work," D'Angelo said of the process to unearth the mysteries of Fort Daniel, which has taken years. "We did not know how it was built, what we would find. We wanted to find out if something was there."

D'Angelo, now retired from his job researching cultural assets, began the search for Fort Daniel because of his interest in delivering a paper for a state archeology convention.

A historical marker along Braselton Highway gives a general description of the fort, which was near the juncture of treaty lines between the United States and the Creek and Cherokee American Indian tribes. But even the owner of the land knew little about the fort, even its exact location.

That's when D'Angelo stepped in, creating a grid to sweep for artifacts.

He found metal military buttons and musket balls, but it was the nails that provided the biggest clues. There, D'Angelo found wrought iron nails that dated back to 1790 and machine cut nails that he was able to link to a machine invented in 1805 that was obsolete by 1810.

With those findings, the archaeologist and friends and colleagues began to unearth more. Eventually, they were able to find a trench for one of the sides of fort and traces of burnt materials from a blockhouse.

The work has caused some to find even more historical documents and link the tale of Fort Daniel -- a bulwark linked to George Washington's Secretary of War Henry Knox and integral to the shipment of supplies in the War of 1812.

The fort was built in 1813, replacing the "fort of Hog Mountain" built a decade before. Just a few years later, it was gone.

But D'Angelo hopes that its place in local history will never be forgotten. Through the Fort Daniel Foundation, he and others are trying to convince county leaders to purchase the land and build a park dedicated to archaeology.

In the meantime, with the permission of the land owner, every year, foundation members re-enact life in the early 1800s and talk about the archaeological work meant to preserve the history.

The Fort Daniel Faire is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at 2505 Braselton Highway in the Hog Mountain area. Parking is located at NorthView Church at 2000 Gravel Springs Road in Buford.

Tonight, D'Angelo will present a lecture on the historical site at 7:30 p.m. at Fort Daniel Elementary, located at 1725 Auburn Road in Dacula.