State: No slave or soldier remains found at Gowanus lot

Sen. Hamilton casts doubt on validity of dig

October 18, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After two archaeological digs at an empty lot in Gowanus, officials have concluded that the property on Ninth Street and Third Avenue does not contain the remains of 19th-century slaves or Revolutionary War soldiers. Photo courtesy of AKRF
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Abandoned lots in Brooklyn are filled with many unique things, namely graffiti, rats and drug paraphernalia.

One vacant property in Gowanus, however, was thought to contain something a bit more noteworthy: the remains of 19th-century slaves and Revolutionary War soldiers.

But after the environmental, planning and engineering firm AKRF conducted two digs at the site, archaeologists concluded that the space at Ninth Street and Third Avenue did not contain anything of historic significance.

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

While no remnants of humans were found, three artifacts were discovered, including a stone privy, a brick cistern and a stone well.

A 180-seat pre-K school is planned for the site, which connects to Eighth Street.

In August, officials requested that the groundbreaking be delayed until proper research could be conducted.

State Sen. Jesse Hamilton and other elected officials called for an independent archaeological and architectural investigation at the lot after an initial dig earlier in the summer revealed underground shafts.

Furthermore, officials asserted that the holes, which went three to six feet underground, were not deep enough.

Hamilton and his colleagues had reason to believe that slaves were buried at the site based on Gowanus landowner Adriance Van Brunt’s diary entries from 1828 to 1830.

The Van Brunt diary can be viewed by appointment only at New York Public Library’s temperature-controlled Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Hamilton, however, told the Brooklyn Eagle that D.C. Martin, a qualified bioarchaeologist, or skeletal archaeologist, told him that the excavation was “unsatisfactory” and “incomplete.” Hamilton is demanding that the Office of Parks and the School Construction Authority employ professionals with expertise in skeletal archeology to improve the validity of the study. 

“We demand that the authorities examine the entire site, particularly since experts have said the location of the cistern along with various documentation suggest that a gravesite is located on the property,” Hamilton told the Eagle. “I remain concerned about AKRF’s track record in conducting such sensitive investigations. 

He added, “I would like to remind the NYS Office of Parks that AKRF gave insufficient weight to peer reviewers’ findings in AKRF’s 2007 report on the Underground Railroad in Downtown Brooklyn. … We need to honor the contributions veterans and enslaved Africans made to Brooklyn — not build a school over their bodies. They deserve respect.”

In addition to slave remains, several preservationists and historians believe that 256 members of the Maryland 400 were buried there.

The Maryland 400 was a group of courageous soldiers who continually charged at a superior British side during the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn on Aug. 27, 1776.

Above the American Legion Post 1636, which sits adjacent to the lot, is a New York State Historical sign from 1947 that reads, “Maryland Heroes, Here lie buried 256 Maryland Soldiers who fell in the Battle of Brooklyn, Aug. 27, 1776.”

The second dig, which was conducted in September, produced no remains of the soldiers or slaves. The state’s Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, therefore, concluded that the pre-K school could be built.

“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, an analyst with the state’s Historic Preservation Program.  

“Therefore, this office recommends that the Gowanus pre-K archaeological site, located within the confines of the current project area, is not eligible for listing on the State or National Registers of Historic Places. Consequently, the planned project will have No Impact on cultural resources.”  


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