Archeologists to examine pre-k site for bones of Maryland 400

Hold the line!: Continental troops hold off a massive British force in this painting depicting the Battle of Brooklyn.
Painting by Domenick D’Andrea

Excavating news!

Archeologists are finally going to dig into a vacant Gowanus lot that some believe to be the final resting place of the Maryland 400 — thrilling news for local history geeks, who are excited to know once and for all if the Revolutionary War heroes are buried down below.

“This is one of the great mysteries of New York history that we don’t have an answer on,” said Chris Ricciardi, founder of Chrysalis Archeology.

The city is currently in negotiations to purchase the empty Ninth Street lot between Third and Fourth avenues, after Council voted in December to acquire the site for a 180-seat pre-kindergarten school.

But before it can start construction, the state’s historic preservation agency requires the city to contract archeologists to spend a few days excavating the property to determine its cultural value.

Some local historians have long believed the location may well be on top of a mass grave containing the remains of the troops who sacrificed their lives during the Battle of Brooklyn to buy General Washington time to escape British forces.

Ricciardi points to 19th-century journals that put the grave site around that location, along with maps describing that area as hilly, compared to the vast marsh that once covered Brooklyn — which would have made it an appropriate burial location.

“They wouldn’t have thrown them in the muck,” he said. “This was a gentleman’s war.”

But not all borough history buffs agree — the Old Stone House, King County’s premier memorial to the Battle of Brooklyn, has circulated a lengthy report debunking claims that the Ninth Street site is home to any Marylanders.

The report’s author not only refutes the lot’s claim to fame, but also argues that it is unlikely any one such mass grave exists in Brooklyn, positing that the legendary last stand of the 400 soldiers from Maryland was more myth than fact, and that — in all likelihood — the regiment’s sacrifice played out in several smaller engagements fought all across the borough.

Also the soldiers were hardly gentlemanly enough to have dragged the Americans’ bodies for a mile through the bog to higher ground.

“It is highly likely that those who were killed were interred in shallow graves close to the spots where they fell, and not carried half a mile (or more) through a marsh,” wrote historian and Old Stone House board member William Parry.

But even if the city’s archeologists find little more than dirt and old concrete, they’ll at least have ruled out a small spot in Brooklyn where the Marylanders are not, and that brings them one step closer to the prize, Ricciardi said.

“The dig will help answer the question one way or the other,” he said. “If it’s not here then maybe it’s at two or three other sites. It helps narrow the field.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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