Burlington and the War of 1812

The War of 1812 was a nearly three-year long conflict between Great Britain and the United States.  The fighting extended from the Great Lakes to the coast of Maine, from the St. Lawrence River to the Gulf of Mexico, and on the high seas around the globe.  The war had its roots in a variety of grievances held by the Americans against the British.  Among these were the impressment of sailors taken from American ships and forced to serve in the British Navy, trade restrictions imposed by the British to prevent American goods or goods shipped by American traders from reaching France, with whom Britain was also at war, and British support for Native American groups actively resisting American westward expansion.  By the end of the war, an estimated 10,000 American lives had been lost.

For the entire war, from June 1812 to June 1815, the town of Burlington located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain just 40 miles south of the border with British held Canada, hosted an extensive American military base.  The site began as the rendezvous camp of the 11th U.S. Infantry Regiment, which had been recruited from Vermont and New Hampshire early in 1812.  The regiment cleared the site located on the bluff overlooking Burlington Bay in and around today’s Battery Park.  By the summer of 1813, the camp had taken on a more permanent nature.  The cantonment, as it was called, was a combination of temporary campgrounds (tents and huts) and a group of larger structures including an armory, artificer’s shop, hospital, magazine, barracks, a guardhouse, officer’s quarters, stable/barn, and a sand and sod earthwork known as “Churchill’s Battery.”  Troop levels in Burlington fluctuated throughout the war from several hundred to just over 4,000.

During Murray’s Raid, on August 2, 1813, the British after completing an attack on Plattsburg, New York, sent part of their large flotilla into Burlington Bay, triggering a twenty to thirty minute cannon duel with the American battery situated on the bluff.  The British withdrew after observing, but not seriously damaging, the American lake fleet under of Commodore Thomas McDonough that was moored below the battery.  Although no ships were sunk in this engagement, Burlington Bay, Battery Street area and Battery Park may still contain archaeological evidence (such as cannon balls) of this ship to shore engagement.

Although shelled once by the British in 1813, Burlington served principally as an encampment site/winter quarters for the army, as a point of detention for court marshaled soldiers, civilians suspected of smuggling or spying, and British or Canadian prisoners of war on parole, as a supply depot, as a base for raids into southern Quebec, and, perhaps most importantly, as the site of a large general hospital, and as a military burial ground.

The War of 1812 archaeological resources in Burlington constitute a nationally important historic site.  The City hopes that the information on this webpage will raise general awareness of the significance of the City’s role in the War of 1812 and the presence of archaeological resources related to the War of 1812 within the City.  The City of Burlington has provided the following documents to provide additional information on these historic resources:


What to know if you find an unmarked War of 1812 Burial

While the preferred archaeological management option for Burlington’s War of 1812 archaeological resources is preservation in place (avoidance), archaeology is not intended to be a bar to responsible development.  As Burlington’s current Municipal Development Plan states, “the presence of archaeological remains does not need to prevent development of a site.”  In some cases, a project can be redesigned to avoid important resources.  In other cases, complete or partial archaeological excavations can be employed to preserve the artifacts and information a site contains by their proper documentation and removal.

Vermont State law prohibits the disturbance of burial sites of any kind, even on private land, without the proper lawful permission that is usually granted by the town or City in which the burial is located.  This includes unmarked burials as well as those marked with memorial stones.  The Vermont State laws that protect burial sites can be found under Title 13 (Crimes and Criminal Procedure) of Vermont Statutes Annotated, Sections 3761 and 3764.

The State of Vermont has created specific provisions and guidelines to address the accidental discovery of unmarked burials on public or private property.  By definition, “an unmarked burial site means the location of any interment of human remains, evidence of human remains, including the presence of red ochre, associated funerary object, or a documented concentration of burial sites, but does not include a cemetery, mausoleum, or columbarium or any other site that is clearly marked as a site containing human remains” (18 VSA§ 5215b).  This law mandates, “when an unmarked burial site is first discovered, the discovery must be reported immediately to a law enforcement agency.  If, after completion of an investigation pursuant to (18 VSA§ 5205), the law enforcement agency determines that the burial site does not constitute evidence of a crime, the law enforcement agency must immediately notify the state archaeologist who may authorize appropriate action regarding the unmarked burial site” (18 VSA§ 5215b).

Finally, “there is an unmarked burial sites special fund established by the state for the purpose of protecting, preserving, moving or reinterring human remains discovered as unmarked burial sites (18 VSA§ 5215b).  These funds may be used to monitor excavation of unmarked burial sites. To protect, preserve, move or reinter unmarked burial sites and human remains, to provide for dispute resolution services, to purchase property or development rights in some circumstance, and for other appropriate purposes” This fund is managed through the commissioner of economic, housing and community development (now the Agency of Commerce and Community Development) (18 VSA§ 5215b).  Furthermore, the state can use the fund to survey land “on which there are known or likely to be unmarked burial sites” prior to development “if the commissioner determines that the process is likely to be effective” including “archaeological surveys and assessments and other nonintrusive techniques” archaeological monitoring of initial development related excavations (18 VSA§ 5215b).  In areas determined sensitive in the City performing archaeological assessments and archaeological site or field investigations, including radar scanning and any other nonintrusive technology or technique designed to determine the presence of human remains” (VSA§ 5215b) on private property prior to development would be encouraged particularly with the financial support of the State of Vermont.

Further Questions, Comments, Concerns

For more information on these and other issues, please contact one of the people listed below.

  • For general questions about Burlington's War of 1812 Resources, please contact Kirsten Merriman Shapiro, CEDO Special Projects Manager at kmerriman@burlingtonvt.gov or 802-865-7024.
  • For questions about Vermont’s Unmarked Burial Laws, please contact Jess Robinson, Vermont State Archeologist, at jess.robinson@state.vt.us



Much of the information provided on this page was prepared by the University of Vermont’s Consulting Archaeology Program thru grants from the U.S. Department of Interior – National Park Service – American Battlefield Protection Program, the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the State of Vermont’s Unmarked Burial Fund.