Hessian remains found at Revolutionary War battle site in New Jersey

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Flags indicate the location of human remains discovered at the Red Bank Battlefield Park in National Park, N.J., Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. Researchers believe they have uncovered the remains of as many as 12 Hessian soldiers who fought during the Revolutionary War. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Researchers have discovered the remains of as many as 13 German soldiers who fought for the British during the American Revolution, officials announced Tuesday. The researchers found the remains in an apparent mass grave at a battlefield site in New Jersey.

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 archeological 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, which would have been a soldier's pay for a month.

Researchers turned over the remains to forensic anthropologists at the New Jersey State Police forensic unit to extract DNA from the bones and teeth to identify their origin. The scientists hope they can identify the remains and find their descendants.

"We're hoping that eventually, perhaps, we can find some of these individuals. 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," Rowan University public historian Jennifer Janofsky said in a statement. "History is an ongoing process. It's not like we've written the Battle of Red Bank and we know everything that happened. Archeology is helping us better understand what happened on the battlefield."

A team of scientists from Rowan University and officials from Gloucester County presented their preliminary findings during a news conference at Red Bank Battlefield Park.

Officials believe the remains are part of a mass grave of Hessian soldiers — German troops hired by the British — who were part of about 377 troops killed by Colonial forces during the Battle of Red Bank, historians said. The victory allowed Americans at the fort to delay the British from moving supplies up the Delaware River.

"Based on everything we've found and the context of what we've found, these appear to be Hessians," Wade Catts, principal archeologist for South River Heritage Consulting of Delaware, said in a statement. "We will do more research on that, but, right now, our working hypothesis is that these are Hessian soldiers. The trench is a remarkable space. It's a significant archeological site."

Catts added that a mass burial at a Revolutionary War battlefield is highly unusual.

Officials said the remains were excavated with "extraordinary attention" to preserving the dignity of war dead.

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.

"Too often, the revolution is viewed as a sanitized event. It's one thing to discuss the battle in the abstract. It's another to witness firsthand the violence of that day," Janofsky said. "We now have the opportunity to work with our visitors to understand the emotion, pain, loss — and absolute horror — of war."

With The Associated Press.