A Battlefield From 1777 Yields a Dozen Mercenaries’ Remains

Archaeologists working at Purple Financial institution Battlefield, a web site alongside the Delaware River south of Philadelphia, have uncovered the stays of 13 Hessian mercenaries who have been killed throughout a bloody Revolutionary Struggle battle.

The stays have been present in a former trench that was a part of the defenses of Fort Mercer, the place 500 American patriots have been stationed to stop British ships from supplying troops within the metropolis. On Oct. 22, 1777, a contingent of two,000 Hessian troopers preventing for the British got down to overwhelm the small power, however the day resulted in a powerful defeat, with 377 Hessians killed however solely 14 American casualties.

“Finding bone, finding Hessians was not on my radar,” mentioned Jennifer Janofsky, a historian at Rowan College in Glassboro, N.J., and the director of Purple Financial institution Battlefield Park. “We have documentation from that period showing where mass graves are. This was not on the map.”

Genetic research are being performed on the stays, which embrace remoted physique components. The hope is to finally join these to the names of troopers identified to have been killed within the battle and solid a finer gentle on life and dying throughout the Revolutionary Struggle.

Among the bones show wounds from musket balls and from grapeshot that may have been fired from cannons contained in the fort or from ships within the river. “These guys were being hit by all kinds of things,” mentioned Wade Catts, principal archaeologist for South River Heritage Consulting in Newark, Del., who led the scientific fieldwork. “What a horrible place this would have been.”

Dr. Catts mentioned he believed that the Hessian stays belonged to members of the Regiment von Mirbach, which is thought to have attacked the middle of Fort Mercer’s defenses. He was excited by a further discovery: a British gold coin, price about one month’s wage for the common soldier, that will have belonged to Lieutenant Colonel Ernst Rudolf von Schieck, who commanded the Hessian regiment and died within the preventing.

“This is really an opportunity to expand our knowledge of the Hessian forces — about their material culture, about the men themselves,” Dr. Catts mentioned.

The American troopers defending the fort have been from the First and Second Rhode Island Regiments, the Sixth Virginia Regiment and included a small variety of New Jersey militiamen. The Rhode Island regiments have been among the many nation’s first built-in navy items. Ten to fifteen p.c of the power was made up of Black troopers and members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The fort was additional supported by 13 ships of the Pennsylvania Navy, with cannons that fired chain and bar shot — usually used to break a ship’s sails — on the Hessian attackers.

For Dr. Janofsky, the human stays add poignancy to the story of the battle. Among the many useless was a person between the ages of 17 and 19, the identical age as a lot of her historical past college students. “Very few of us have seen the violence of the battlefield, and it’s what we’ve been looking at for the past months,” she mentioned. “I feel like we are charged with helping our visitors understand that moment.”