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Our Undying Past

Preserving Queen Esther's Town

The riverfront site, on the far shore, is going to be protected by the Archaeological Conservancy.

News flash: The important American Indian village site where the protagonist of my historical novel Visions of Teaoga once ruled is gaining the protection of the national Archaeological Conservancy.

The nonprofit conservancy identifies, acquires, and preserves significant archaeological sites around the country. It has preserved 465 sites thus far – and now is happily adding Queen Esther’s Town in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

After more than a decade of effort, the group said, it recently signed an option to purchase 92 acres of the riverfront site. That will make it the conservancy’s largest preserve in the Eastern U.S.

The archaeologists were exultant. According to the conservancy, the site “contains the heart of Queen Esther’s Town, a very significant sprawling series of contact period villages.” It said the floodplain where the Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers meet “has staggering research potential for future scholars” not only because of Esther’s 1700s native village but also the centuries of prior habitation there.

White settler accounts say Queen Esther’s Town – also known as Queen Esther’s Village or Esthertown – contained about seventy “rude houses.” Readers of Visions of Teaoga learn how the Shawnee matriarch Esther led the mixed village from her large home, which whites called Queen Esther’s Castle. One account says her home “was long and low, built of hewn logs and planks, neatly done, with a porch over the doorway, and surrounded by a number of other buildings.” Her people planted crops and herded cattle on the broad plain, until the village was burned by Continental soldiers in 1778 because of the natives’ alliance with the British.

The conservancy says the preserve contains five recorded archeological sites, and “probably many more. Ceramic shards provide evidence of extensive occupations of Owasco cultures between about A.D. 900-1300. And even earlier occupations are indicated by temporally diagnostic projectile points dating to the Transitional (1200-1800 B.C.) and Archaic (1800-8000 B.C.) periods.”

This news came to me by way of an Onondaga Indian gentleman, Mitchell Bush, who purchased a copy of my book several weeks ago. Mr. Bush received a mailing from the conservancy about the Queen Esther’s Town purchase option, and kindly reached out to let me know. You can find more about it at the website archaeologicalconservancy.org and in the Spring 2105 issue of American Archaeology.

In confirming the news and doing some online research, I also came upon references to skeletons of “giants” unearthed at the site that were believed to be the remains of long-gone Susquehannocks (also known variously as Andastes, Conestogas or Minquas). In his 1943 History of Waverly (N.Y.), Capt Charles Albertson wrote, “The Broadhead expedition in the summer of 1916 secured the skeletons of several of this people on Queen Esther's Flats near the public highway leading to Towanda about 1/2 mile west of the Chemung river Bridge at Athens; many or all of these remains indicated that they were about seven feet in height.”

As you may know, that region of upstate Pennsylvania has undergone rapid change and development as a result of the natural-gas drilling boom. Let’s hope the Queen Esther’s Town site and its precious artifacts receive the protection and respect they deserve.
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