June 21, 2017

Archeological Study Uncovers Artifacts, Additional Evidence of Princeton Battle 

Artifacts found recently on the Princeton Battlefield, including rifle balls and buckshot, period buttons, brass buckles, and an iron axe head, are helping to shed light on the events of January 3, 1777.

An archeological and historical study just completed by the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS) and its consultants, archeologist Wade Catts of Commonwealth Heritage Associates and historian Robert Selig, did not yet find an anticipated mass burial site, but they will be carrying out additional investigations in the coming months. 

In total 98 objects were found, and the 122-page report, summarized in a well-attended presentation in the main room of Monument Hall last week, was able to reach a number of conclusions about details of the battle.

“Princeton as a battle site is one of the most important of the war, and it’s important to do anything that can be done so that future generations can understand it better,” Mr. Catts said.

He noted the large gathering last week and the high level of interest and excitement. “The immediacy of touching physical evidence of the past is very exciting,” he added. “It was heartening to me to have a 14-year-old boy come up and say he was interested and he’d like to be involved. You can learn about the past from objects and artifacts. They show you that the American Revolution is not something that has just gone away. There’s still a lot of interest.”

Mr. Catts pointed out that the physical evidence of the battle that took place 240 years ago is not extensive, “but it’s significant archeological evidence.” The rifle balls and buckshot were definitely fired from American weapons of different types and sizes, he added, and the balls had been flattened from impact.

These findings provide evidence of the British retreat, according to Mr. Catts. “We were working on the D’Ambrisi property,” he said, “and what we found depicts the retreat of the British, with the Americans on the ridge firing down on the British as they were running. There is archeological evidence of this retreat.”

The buttons and brass buckles found were also from the period; they could be trouser buttons, vest buttons, overcoat buttons, or accoutrement buttons; and are probably related to the battle.

Mr. Catts and his research team are looking forward to further testing and historical research later this summer in hopes of finding the burial site. Behind the colonnade, Mr. Catts described, there is a large “anomaly” in the ground, an irregularity in the formation of the earth, 20 feet by 10-15 feet by 4-5 feet, that he thinks could be a large burial trench. The PBS is currently seeking the required approvals for excavating that anomaly.

References from oral historical research and local histories indicate a burial site, and near the colonnade there is a medallion, placed in 1918, which states, “near here lie buried the American and British officers and soldiers who fell in the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777.”

Additional historical research reported by Mr. Catts and Mr. Selig provided further evidence of the location of the Saw Mill Road and of the controversial role of Colonel Nicholas Haussegger, who was supposedly court martialed for trying to surrender his regiment to the British.

Mr. Catts noted that research findings, including Native American artifacts from as far back as 800 to 1,000 years before the Battle of Princeton, suggest that there are many stories to be told from other eras in the history of Princeton and its battlefield.