New details of soldiers’ remains found in Ridgefield revealed as research continues

RIDGEFIELD — The unfolding of the story — and the magic of the discovery — were highlighted Friday night in a forum presented by the Ridgefield Historical Society to kick off the weekend-long celebration of the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Ridgefield.

Hundreds attended a panel program at East Ridge Middle School discussing the skeletal remains of what are believed to be four men who fell in the historic Battle of Main Street between British and American troops on April 27, 1777.

“It’s taken to a whole new level this year,” said Managing Director Nancy Rowe of the celebrations.

State archaeologists and researchers from various universities continue to study the remains, which were found in December 2019 while working in the basement of a historic home near Main Street.

“This all starts with a criminal investigation,” said Nick Bellantoni, a Connecticut state archaeologist emeritus, recounting how his office was contacted after the state coroner found the remains of the first person found in late 2019 were estimated to be over 100 Year old.

Known for the time as a very tall man, standing just under two meters tall, he was found with his head facing west and his feet directly east – the ceremonial custom at Christian burials of the time.

Further examination revealed a second skeleton, then a third and fourth, indicating a likely rapid and relatively unceremonial burial without the use of caskets. Because they were all adult males, researchers thought it was unlikely that they were a family grave, but rather the burial of fallen soldiers from the nearby battle.

“They were hastily buried, it seems,” said Bellantoni, who praised the homeowners for allowing the research and excavation work to take place over two months in the dead of winter.

“We’ve been blessed with some wonderful, really very cooperative property owners,” he said, understanding the importance of this discovery.

Also discovered with the remains were 37 brass alloy buttons and two pewter buttons, most likely from waistcoats or jackets, but not detailed enough to identify exactly which side these men were fighting on.

“Any fully clothed person would have great potential for many buttons,” noted Sarah Sportman, current Connecticut state archaeologist, especially men of this period.

However, one button in particular, known as Button 32, turned out not to be a button at all, but rather a terminus – or connecting button – at the base of a gunpowder horn, indicating these men engaged in combat.

“I think there’s a lot of potential here to learn a lot of cool information,” she said, as analyzes progress in areas that include genetic, radiological, osteological and dental analysis, not to mention genetics.

Over the next year of research, she said, scientists might be able to determine who the men were related to, where they came from and details about their lives.

“The lab procedures themselves are time-consuming,” she said, but work is underway, thanks in part to a sizeable grant that came through the American Battlefield Protection Program.

The grant money will also be used to conduct further research in the city over the next two years to learn more about the battlefield itself.

“This is a major battlefield that there is probably no way that will be completed within the mining cycle,” said David Naumec, historian and field researcher at Heritage Consultants.

He said future work by the ABPP will hopefully include educational components related to expanding the history and history of the Battle of Ridgefield for the city.

“For historians and archaeologists, this is a moment of incredible discovery,” said Walter Woodward, Connecticut State Historian, who moderated the presentation.

“In Connecticut, the Battle of Ridgefield is arguably… one of the most important moments,” he said.

The program included Kevin McBride, archaeologist and field researcher with Heritage Consultants, as well as local historian and author Keith Jones, who wrote the book Farmers Against the Crown about the battle itself.

“Every Ridgefielder knows the story … You can’t buy a house in town without learning that,” he said.

However, in light of this new discovery, Jones said much more about it could soon come to light.