Nail chronology as an aid to dating old buildings
We made several collections of blankets for the destitute soldiers, also shoes, stockings, and breeches for the convalescents in the Hospital, many of whom had come here in rags swarming with vermin, while others during their stay were deprived of their all by their comrades The recovered objects, as well as the skeletal material collected by the construction crew and the skeleton excavated by Dr.
Once the coroner determined the skeleton was “very old” and had been in the ground for quite a while, city officials contacted the PHMC seeking assistance, as they believed the remains had historic significance. Dorothy Humpf and I, staff archaeologists with the Bureau for Historic Preservation, were dispatched to Bethlehem for one day to examine the recovered human remains.He had no hesitation in declaring that we lost from ten to twenty of camp diseases for one by weapons of the enemy We submitted several of the corroded coffin nails to former PHMC objects conservators Brian Howard and April Berry for analysis in an effort to help date the burials.Nails can be useful dating tools because significant changes occurred shortly after the American Revolution in the manner in which they were manufactured (Nelson 1968: 1-10; Noel-Hume 1970: 253).Samuel Finley of the hospital staff there: All the doctors were of the opinion that only about two hundred patients should have been admitted, whereas from five to seven hundred had been crowded into the building at times.To enable me to form some idea of the great mortality, he asked me whether I was acquainted with the Sixth Virginia Regiment, commanded by Colonel Gibson, reputed to be one of the best in the army, and stated that forty had been admitted, but not three would return to their regiment, all the rest had been buried.Their odd figures frequently excited the laughter of our soldiers199).The other two individuals recovered in Bethlehem were slightly older, one of whom was about 20 to 25 years old, while the other is estimated to have been about 30 to 35 years old at the time of his death.Immediately upon arrival at the burial site, we understood why this discovery was thought to be of historic importance.Located in the immediate vicinity is a memorial, consisting of a crypt and an inscribed bronze tablet, which reads: On two occasions during the Revolutionary War, from December of 1776 until March of 1777 and again from September of 1777 to May of 1778, upon General Washington’s orders, his medical officers commandeered a large, nearby communal building of the Moravian community, which founded Bethlehem in 1741, for use as a military “hospital.” At the time, the imposing multi-story limestone building was known as the Brethren’s House, where unmarried men lived in a dormitory-like setting.While written accounts indicate that epidemics of typhoid and smallpox plagued the Bethlehem hospital, it is impossible to determine solely on the basis of osteological indicators whether the three individuals died as a result of these or another highly contagious disease.This is because these are relatively fast acting diseases which rarely affect bone, with death usually occurring before a bony response is produced. Humpf felt it highly likely that these three individuals died from an epidemic disease.