Scientists Uncover Remains of Hessian Troops From 1777

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Researchers believe they have uncovered in a mass grave in New Jersey the remains of as many as 12 Hessian soldiers who fought during the Revolutionary War, officials announced Tuesday. The remains, found at the site of Fort Mercer and the 1777 Battle of Red Bank, rested for 245 years until a human femur was found in June during an archaeological dig of a trench system that surrounded the fort, scientists said. Additional excavation yielded more skeletal remains and items including pewter and brass buttons and a King George III gold guinea, the AP reports, which would have been a soldier’s pay for a month.

Scientists from Rowan University and officials from Gloucester County presented their preliminary findings during a news 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 hired by the British—who were among about 377 troops killed by Colonial forces during the battle. Americans lost 14 men, historians said. The victory allowed Americans at the fort to delay the British from moving supplies up the Delaware River. The remains have been turned over to forensic anthropologists for the New Jersey State Police to extract DNA from the bones and teeth. Additional studies are being conducted to examine life history, health, and disease.

Officials said the remains were excavated with “extraordinary attention” to preserving the dignity of war dead. The scientists will try to identify the remains and locate descendants. “We’re hoping that eventually, perhaps, we can find some of these individuals,” Rowan University public historian Jennifer Janofsky said in a statement. “If we can extract their stories, and if we can tell their stories, it lets us put a name to a face. And that, to me, is a very powerful moment in public history.” When the study is complete, the remains will be interred at another site. The trench will be refilled, and the land will be incorporated into the park on a bluff overlooking the river. About 30,000 German soldiers fought for the British in the war, with about 5,000 deciding to remain afterward, per PBS.

(Read more archaeology stories.)

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