Tribute to Dr. David Starbuck

David Starbuck in 1986 at a field school field trip to Hancock Shaker Museum. (photo courtesy of Sandy Arnold)

(written by Historian Sean Kelleher)

The historical community lost a great author, advocate and archeologist the other day with the passing of Dr. David R. Starbuck.  Starbuck was age 71.  Starbuck conducted many archeological digs in the area especially at the Saratoga Battlefield and the Schuyler Estate.  He was a professor at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire and SUNY Adirondack.

Excavations at Saratoga National Historical Park. On this day there was a downpour so severe, it closed the Saratoga Race Course. Starbuck is wearing a hat that says “Dave’s Excavating” and is next to Lynn Bowlby.
(Photo by Sandy Arnold)

Starbuck had a great interest in the Saratoga region. He wrote a chapter on the American Fortifications at the Battles of Saratoga for the 2016 book The Saratoga Campaign Uncovering an Embattled Landscape (ed. by Griswold & Linebaugh). He conducted a number of digs at the battlefield in the 1980s including American Headquarters at the Ephraim Woodworth farm and the Taylor House site in the British Encampment area. Starbuck was the first archeologist to call out the significant Native American presence on the Schuyler Estate.

Starbuck working with Debbie Susciu and a kitten who appeared out of nowhere. The kitten became the mascot and eas named Sara (toga). At the end of the 1985 dig, the kitten was adopted by one of the field school participants. (Photo by Sandy Arnold)

Starbuck author of 22 books, including the popular The Great Warpath: British Military Sites from Albany to Crown Point (1999). Starbuck unearthed artifacts at forts and battlefields in New York and Shaker villages in New Hampshire. In the 1990s, his interest moved North of Saratoga to Fort Edward. He was involved in a number of excavations at Rogers Island and the sutlers hut in Fort Edward. His efforts made possible the exhibits at the Roger’s Island visitor’s center. In addition he had interests in Fort William Henry area. The last project where we intersected was the February of 2019 when a Lake George construction site unearthed the skeletal remains of several people have been found at a Revolutionary War burial ground. Starbuck was called initially and helped identify some of the artifacts.

Starbuck showing the excavation to WAMC’s Wanda Fisher. Bryan Howard, field school student from Colorado is in the foreground. Howard would go on to earn his Doctorate and is now the curator at the Fort Sam Houston Museum.(Photo by Sandy Arnold)

There was no doubt that Starbuck’s enthusiasm for archeology was infectious. He had many loyal students and field workers who would join Starbuck every summer for digs. It has become very common when people would hear about my Saratoga history connection that they would want to ask me about or share a story about Starbuck.

Starbuck and NPS technician Linda White interviewing a local Saratoga man about his recollections of cultivating the fields around the battlefield.
(Photo by Sandy Arnold)

One last thought was Starbuck was a favorite source of the local press.  He knew how to make history interesting.  He also knew with that interest would come support.  He was a strong advocate for our historic communities.  One of his noteworthy made for TV moments was the 2003 exhumation of Jane McCrea’s grave in Fort Edward. The 17-year-old’s death, at the hands of British-allied Indians in 1777.  This is an epic story that has retold numerous ways, for a variety of reasons, and has drawn tourist to the area for almost 250 years.  Starbuck found a 21st century way to tell that story and bring more interest into the local history community.  

Below is his obituary

David R. Starbuck

CHESTERTOWN – David R. Starbuck, noted archeologist, author and professor, died Sunday evening December 27, 2020 at Glens Falls Hospital surrounded by friends. David was predeceased by his parents Samuel and Frances Starbuck and his brother James E. Starbuck. He leaves behind his many friends, students and archeological family that shared his passion.

A proud native of Chestertown, David attended Chestertown Central School, graduating in 1967. He attended St. Lawrence University for two years before transferring to the University of Rochester where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. David received his Masters Degree and Doctorate in Anthropology from Yale University.

David was always fascinated by archeology and history. He knew at an early age that he would follow a career as an archeologist. He was a lecturer and assistant professor at Phillips Exeter Academy, Dartmouth College, University of Vermont, RPI, Boston University, Yale University and most recently Professor of Anthropology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire from 1992 to 2020.

David conducted countless archeological digs in northern New York, including Fort William Henry and Battleground Park in Lake George, Rogers Island and Merchant’s House (Sutler’s) in Fort Edward and Saratoga National Historical Park. His love of local history, especially that of the French and Indian War were unparalleled.
David was a noted author and has published numerous books and articles regarding his archeological digs. His favorite areas included the Shaker Village sites in New Hampshire and Loch Lomond, Scotland, the home of his maternal ancestors.
He was a world traveler, often taking his students and friends to some of the best archeological dig areas around the world, including Mexico, Egypt, South America, Italy, Israel, Cambodia and England.

When asked, “What is the best thing you have ever done.”, his reply was “The fact that I’ve had a thousand or more diggers, thousands of students, and I have taught 70 field schools.” “If given the chance, I will dig to the very end – it is my passion.” David finished his last dig in Fort Edward in November of this year while fighting stage four pancreatic cancer. Mission accomplished!

Graveside services will be conducted in late Spring followed by a celebration of life at David’s farm in Chestertown. Dates will be announced.

One thought on “Tribute to Dr. David Starbuck

  1. Pingback: Now you know all the secrets. | Teaching History Matters

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