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Skeletal Remains Discovered Beneath Ridgefield

Skeletal Remains Discovered Beneath Ridgefield Home May Belong To Revolutionary Soldiers

Nick Bellantoni and Scott Brady

Construction activities working to lower the dirt grade under a house basement dating to 1790 uncovered human skeletal remains in Ridgefield, CT.  Local police were contacted and reported the discovery to the Office of the Chief State’s Medical Examiner, whose forensic team identified the remains as being historic and not part of a modern criminal investigation.  In turn, the state archaeologist was then notified to assume the enquiry.  In Connecticut, the state archaeologist has statutory responsibility for investigating human remains that are over 50 years.

Subsequent excavations, assisted by FOSA and ASC members, as well as anthropology graduate students from UConn, have yielded four skeletons of young, robust adult males, four of which were hastily buried together in a common shallow grave where the bodies are commingled with overlapping arms and legs.

The discovered burials are located in the area of the Revolutionary War Battle of Ridgefield (April 27, 1777), which followed British General Tryon’s raid on Danbury where his troops destroyed a Patriot arsenal and burned a number of houses.  As Tryon’s companies were marching back to rendezvous with their ships anchored off of Westport, they passed through the Town of Ridgefield, where American Generals Benedict Arnold and Gold Selleck Silliman erected a barricade at a pinch point along the northern part of Ridgefield village to intercept the British advancement.  Meanwhile, American General David Wooster’s regiments were harassing the British rear guard when the general was shot and killed prior to the redcoats fighting with Arnold and Silliman’s forces.

The British clashed with the Patriots at the barricade driving the defenders into withdrawal to regroup at the Saugatuck Bridge in Westport in order to mount a new attack.  Winning the day, the British encamped overnight in Ridgefield and buried their dead where they lied on the battlefield.  Tryon’s report listed 24 British killed and 28 missing.  Historians recorded 16 British soldiers and eight Patriots were buried in a small field to the right of the American position on the battlefield, though subsequent research offers varying estimates of the dead.

Our working hypothesis is that the burials found under the basement were victims of this historic battle.  Material culture recovered from two individuals includes 38 brass and pewter buttons, which are in the process of being cleaned of corrosion to assist in determining insignias.  The Office of State Archaeology will be assisted in the forensic and artifact identifications by in-state universities, including the University of Connecticut, Yale University, Quinnipiac University, as well as Archaeological and Historical Services, Inc., and other laboratories around the country.  Further information will be forthcoming as laboratory analyses continue.

Scott in the Middle Cellar

The Lt. John Hollister Site, Glastonbury, CT

The Lt. John Hollister Site is located in South Glastonbury, Connecticut. The site was identified in 2015 and ongoing excavations have established that this is one of Connecticut’s most significant historical sites, reflecting two generations of early colonial settlement along the Connecticut River between 1650 and 1710.

The Mason-Marshall Site, Windsor, CT

The Mason-Marshall Site is located in Windsor, Connecticut.  This site was identified in 2015 as the home site of Captain John Mason.  The lot was purchased in 1655 by Samuel Marshall whose family occupied it until the mid 18th century.

enameled EWSGSW

Stiles-Ellsworth Site, Windsor, Connecticut

The Stiles-Ellsworth Site is located in Windsor, Connecticut. This lot was first occupied by Windsor founder Francis Stiles in 1635 and was purchased by the Ellsworth family in 1665. Work was first conducted by UConn archaeologist Robert Gradie in 1990, and was followed up in 2017 by a ground-penetrating radar survey and excavation targeting a large buried cellar feature.

Features at the Dug Road Site

The Dug Road Site, Glastonbury, Connecticut

The Dug Road Site is an important Late Archaic habitation site that was exposed during construction in 2014.  Emergency excavation revealed a number of large earth-oven features used for roasting food between 4200 and 4800 years ago.  Artifacts from the site included quartz Narrow Stemmed projectile points typical of the period, as well as a large basalt adze probably used for boat building.  A rectangular house floor was also identified on the edge of the site but was only partially excavated.  It’s dimensions suggest use of a small longhouse style dwelling, rather than a round wigwam.  The site is just one of a nearly continuous series of Archaic and Woodland period sites located on this well-preserved section of the floodplain in South Glastonbury.

Frozen Charlotte

The David Humphreys House, Ansonia, Connecticut

The David Humphreys House is a National Register listed structure and home to the Derby Historical Society. The house was constructed in 1698 and is the birthplace of David Humphreys, aide-de-camp to George Washington during the American Revolution, and the young nation’s first ambassador.  The archaeological work conducted here by volunteers uncovered evidence of a forgotten rear lean-to, as well as the remnants of daily life between ca. 1700 and the 20th century. Among the most interesting finds were children’s toys, including clay marbles, a tin soldier, pencil leads, and an inch-long mid-19th century porcelain doll known as a “frozen Charlotte.”

Excavation at the meeting house

The Long Society Meeting House, Preston, Connecticut

The National Register listed Long Society Meeting House was constructed in 1726 and an adjacent cemetery was established.  The meeting house was rebuilt in 1817-1819 based on the original 18th century style.  The structure’s low sill line resulted in significant damage to the wood. Poor drainage necessitated the construction of a French drain along the north and east sills. The proximity of burials precluded use of heavy equipment, so the Office of State Archaeology was called in for advice. OSA excavated the area of the drain by hand with the help of FOSA volunteers in the Spring of 2015.