Hessian remains discovered at site of Revolutionary War battle

By MATT ROURKE and SHAWN MARSH
Associated press

NATIONAL PARK, NJ (AP) — Researchers believe they have discovered the remains of as many as 12 Hessian soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War in a mass grave in New Jersey, officials said Tuesday.

The remains, found at the site of Fort Mercer and the Battle of Red Bank in 1777, lay for 245 years until a human femur was discovered in June during an archaeological dig of a trench system that surrounded the fort, scientists said. Further excavations yielded more skeletal remains and artefacts, including pewter and brass buttons and a gold guinea of ​​King George III, believed to have been a soldier’s pay for a month.

A team of Rowan University scientists and Gloucester County officials presented their preliminary findings at a press conference at Red Bank Battlefield Park, just south of Philadelphia.

Officials believe the remains are part of a mass grave of Hessian soldiers – German troops engaged by the British – who were among around 377 soldiers killed by colonial forces in the Battle of Red Bank. The Americans lost 14, according to historians.

The victory allowed the Americans at the fort to delay the British from transporting supplies up the Delaware River.

“Based on everything we found and the context of what we found, these appear to be Hessians,” Wade Catts, senior archaeologist with South River Heritage Consulting of Delaware, said in a statement.

The remains were turned over to forensic anthropologists from the New Jersey State Police Forensic Unit to extract DNA from the bones and teeth to identify their origin. Additional studies are underway to examine life history, health, and disease.

Scientists hope to be able to identify the remains and find their descendants.

“We hope that eventually, maybe, we can find some of these people,” Rowan University public historian Jennifer Janofsky said in a statement. “If we can extract their stories, and if we can tell their stories, that allows us to put a name to a face. And that, to me, is a very powerful moment in public history.

Officials said the remains were excavated with “extraordinary care” to preserve the dignity of the war dead.

Once the study is completed, they will be buried at another site and the trench will be filled. The land will be integrated into the park on a cliff overlooking the river.

“Archaeology helps us better understand what happened on the battlefield,” Janofsky said.

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Marsh reported from Manasquan, New Jersey.