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Gowanus Lot OK'd for School After No Slave or Soldier Remains Found: State

October 17, 2017 9:55am | Updated October 17, 2017 9:55am
A memorial that pays homage to the area's history stands above the barren Ninth Street lot that some thought was a burial site for slaves and soldiers from the Maryland 400.
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DNAinfo/Caroline Spivack

GOWANUS — Archaeologists have determined there are no remains of Revolutionary War soldiers or slaves buried on a vacant Ninth Street lot, clearing the way for the city to build a pre-K school, according to the state Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation Office. 

Surveyors discovered a smattering of decrepit 19th-century artifacts along with a well, cistern, privy and hunk of brick wall of a farmhouse, but no remains of the legendary Maryland 400 soldiers or slaves were discovered. As a result, state officials have concluded the site is not eligible for historic preservation, according to a representative with the office that ordered the excavation.

"Based on the information provided, no historically significant archaeological deposits or features were encountered and no human remains or evidence of human burials were identified," wrote Philip Perazio, with the state's archaeology unit, in a Friday letter to the School Construction Authority. 

Historians have long suspected that the lot between Third and Fourth avenues next to the American Legion hall on Ninth Street is the burial ground of a regiment of troops who died during the Battle of Brooklyn on Aug. 27, 1776 — fending off the British to bide Gen. George Washington and his men time to retreat to Manhattan.

But the rediscovery of the diary of a 19th century farmer who lived on the land corroborated another historical account of the site as a potential slave burial, and prompted local leaders to urge the city and state to continue exploring the land for remains.

A partial excavation was conducted over the summer by the city's archeological contractor, AKRF. No remains were uncovered, but after officials reviewed additional finds, including underground shafts, the state said another dig was warranted and in September archaeologists' shovels hit the ground once more.

Pouring over the soil has turned up no notable artifacts or graves, however, prompting archaeologists to conclude that it is unlikely that the land harbors bodies, clearing the way for a 180-seat pre-K to be built at the site.

"No evidence of human remains or grave shafts was observed anywhere within the Phase 2 work area," wrote Elizabeth Meade, an archaeologist and technical director for AKRF. "It is therefore exceedingly unlikely that intact 18th century archaeological sites or human remains are located on the project site." 

AKRF is in the process of conducting lab tests and compiling a final report on the findings of both digs.

The School Construction Authority did not immediately respond to requests for comment.