Archaeologists at Red Bank Battlefield have uncovered what they think is a fragment from a cannon that exploded during a 1777 Revolutionary War battle, in which American troops triumphed over British and Hessian adversaries.
“It’s a big, big deal,” said Jennifer Janofsky, curator of the Whitall House, an 18th-century Quaker home on the Gloucester County battlefield.
“We do know based on research that’s been done by JMA, our archaeological team, that there was a cannon about that size that did explode during the battle,” she said.
The fragment was first detected by ground-penetrating radar that noticed an “anomaly.” When archaeologists dug up the spot, they found the heavy, 4- by 3-foot hunk of metal.
Janofsky guesses this piece is likely from the exploded cannon mentioned in historical records, because Revolutionary War-era artillery was so durable, rarely blowing up.
“These are substantial guns. They don’t just fall apart,” she said. “So just by taking a look at the condition of the fragment, it was clear that something had happened to it.”
Battlefield staff, who will apply for a grant to pay for the costly task of lifting the heavy fragment out of the ground, will then send it to JMA for testing to find out if it is a piece of the cannon in question.
What made the discovery even more rewarding, said Janofsky, was that visitors and several groups of elementary school students had a hand in the historical dig at the 44-acre public park overlooking the Delaware River.
“It really was this amazing opportunity for us to learn more about the Battle of Red Bank, but to also offer our visitors this look into how we do history,” she said.
“They were able to actually participate in the dig and literally get their hands dirty with history.”