Almost more numerous than pipe stems were buttons found around the foundation and in the basement floor. Later buttons were made in two halves while the older buttons had a loop soldered to the back. Most of the buttons found at Ham House were of the older variety.

Most buttons with inscriptions were made in Britain, and a large proportion were originally guilded. Two buttons stand out for the story they tell.

At the SW corner of the building at construction grade was found what is clearly an American pewter or lead military button. It was quite small (14mm) and perhaps off a legging or arm. This particular button is not described in the Record of American Uniform Buttons (1), but the closest showing this style of eagle with raised wings were the U.S. Army buttons of 1792 in pewter and c. 1800 in lead.

Figure 1. American Military button

In 1812, Commodore Chauncey attempted to intercept the Royal George returning from moving troops to Fort George with a fleet of 9 vessels. The Royal George was the largest warship on the Great Lakes and its capture would seal the fate of control of Lake Ontario. The British warships of the Great Lakes were manned by the Provincial Marine - glorified merchantmen with some armaments. In contrast the U.S. fleet at Sackets Harbor was manned by experienced warriors from the Atlantic.

On November 9, 1812 Chauncey's fleet lay in wait for the Provincial Marine at the False Duck Islands. On the arrival of the Royal George late in the day, she managed to slip away into the North Channel through the Upper Gap and was able to disappear into the darkness. After anchoring for the night the U.S. fleet followed the Royal George into the Bay of Quinte the next morning and on passing Ernestown (now Bath), Chauncey dispatched the Hamilton and the Governor Tompkins into the village to seize the 'Two Brothers' - a schooner owned by Benjamin Fairfield. There is some local lore that a battle ensued, but the official record is that under a flag of truce, the schooner was handed over. One question is - did the Americans come ashore in force?

Though there is scant evidence for this, it is possible the Ham House foundation was built prior to the war. If so, the SW corner of the foundation wall where the button was found would be a natural sheltering point for soldiers coming ashore. Near the button at the same corner was also found a Springfield 1795 musket ball (the U.S. musket of the time). More importantly this musket ball was pocked. In English Civil War archeology this pocking was applied to musket balls for close-quarter combat under the false belief that it would cause the ball to fly erratically.

Figure 2. Royal Navy Officer's button 1812-1825

Following the fiasco of the Royal George at the Battle of Kingston Harbour, The Provincial Marine was replaced by the Royal Navy in March 1813. The first issue facing the Royal Navy was that they had no charts of the lake so the Kingston Hydrographic Office was created under the command of Capt. William Fitz William Owen, the younger brother of Edward Owen in command of the Royal Navy on the Great Lakes. Owen implemented many innovations in his early surveys of the Great Lakes (such as using rockets to synchronize measurements) and was assisted by Lt Vidal, John Harris and later Lt. Bayfield and Harris' wife Amelia.

All three officers went on to become admirals in the Royal Navy, Owen and Vidal creating the first modern charts of the African coast and the Indian Ocean while Bayfield mapped North America. All three also subsequently emigrated to Canada. Bayfield is considered the father of Canadian Hydrography.

In the winter of 1816/17 Vidal and Bayfield were in Bath to take soundings through the ice - a time that dendrochronology suggests Ham House was under construction. Could our button have belonged to Bayfield or Vidal? Given the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 demilitarized the Great Lakes, the list of Royal Navy officers visiting Bath before 1825 cannot be long.

Figure 3. 1816/17 Royal Navy Survey at Bath


1. Alphaeus S. Albert, "Record of American Uniform and Historical Buttons, Bicentennial Edition, 1997, SCS Publications