Rowan students will search for Revolutionary War artifacts at Red Bank Battlefield

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"Volunteers Joe Reilly, Drew Stanzeski, Guy Digiugno and others processed soil and debris from trenches to salvage tiny artifacts from the Red Bank Battlefield Archaeology project." - Photo via Rowan University

Looking to get your hands dirty in historic soil?

Rowan University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) will be holding a summer field school in Gloucester County’s national park, called Battle Lab: Archeology and Public History at Red Bank Battlefield. The park is located on the Delaware River’s waterfront and is where the Revolutionary War battle between Hessians and American revolutionaries took place on Oct. 22, 1777.

Jennifer Janofsky is a history professor at Rowan, director of Red Bank Battlefield Park, and is part of the Megan M. Giordano Fellowship in Public History.

“Students will literally be getting their hands dirty, they will hand excavate the unit, they will screen for artifacts, they will create exhibits that our visitors can learn about the battle and what happened there in 1777. So the whole course is designed around the idea of students participating in the history and archaeological process in a way that you just can’t do in a traditional classroom,” said Janofsky. 

The park is also an active archeological site where those working continue to find artifacts like musket balls, canister shots, grapeshot, buttons, buckles and coins. Last year, a volunteer at the site found human remains, which later led to the discovery of a mass grave of what is believed to be 13 Hessian soldiers that died on the battlefield over two and half centuries ago. 

Wade P. Catts is the president and principal archeologist at South River Heritage Consulting LLC and was contracted by the park to conduct a survey of the area.

“This was a major American victory during the American Revolution, that is frequently overshadowed by things that happened in other parts of the country at about the same time, so Red Bank isn’t ever really seen as the remarkable battlefield victory that it was,” said Catts.

The class will be the first field school run by Rowan and will take place from May 15 through June 23 on Thursdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The school is open to students from all majors, though according to Janofsky the majority of students will likely be history and anthropology majors. The course can also be taken by non-matriculated students. 

The field school will also require students to attend and participate in one of the four Saturday public archeology days on May 21, June 4, June 10 or June 17 held by the Gloucester County Parks and Recreation Department. 

The class is offered as both a special topics history and special topics anthropology, Rowan also has a version for graduate students and may count toward the experiential requirement for CHSS majors. 

While this will be the inaugural field school, the college hopes to expand and create more of these opportunities for students in the future. 

“There’s a lot of history that has taken place in Gloucester County, whether it be Native American sites, Revolutionary War sites, or colonial homesteads. And so, as we move forward with the field school program, it’ll be exciting to consider what other opportunities are out there for students,” said Janofsky. 

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