By Jeremy Roth
Successful individuals stepping foot on the College’s campus is far from out of the ordinary, but there may have been one that trumps them all: George Washington.
As part of Anthropology Day on Thursday, Feb. 16, Professor of anthropology George Leader took to the Social Sciences Building on Friday, Feb. 17, to present his case as to whether or not Washington once walked on the College’s soil.
At the start of his lecture, Leader reminded everyone of an archaeological site on campus that is rich with history: the William Green Farmhouse.
This building is one that students may have walked by for years without knowing its true historical value.
“The house is more than just the birthplace of TCNJ out here on campus,” Leader said. “It’s an important monument to our revolution that gave birth to the United States.”
The farmhouse is located behind the baseball field, just beyond the outfield wall next to Green Lane. Dating back to the 1700s, Trenton, N.J., and what is now one of the best public colleges in the nation, was nothing but farmland.
At the time, the British occupied Trenton, and Hessian forces stood on guard. On Christmas Eve 1776, Washington’s cavalry called the Light Horse split into two groups in an attempted sneak attack.
With one coming inward and one coming down the river, it seemed that they would have come close to the farmhouse, but not quite all the way there.
Although there is no firm evidence of a military presence, documents indicate that when British and Hessian forces fled toward Princeton, N.J., there were skirmishes up and down Pennington Road.
Winter 1777 brought a new commander to Washington’s Light Horse, Polish-born Casimir Pulaski. After Ben Franklin requested his assistance, Pulaski led his men from farm to farm, soaking up any resources that were available in order to survive the harsh conditions.
Given that there was not much infrastructure on the farmland in Trenton, Green Farmhouse would have been easy to find, so there is speculation that Pulaski had ventured through. Phebe Green, the wife of William W. Green — a grandson of the original owner of the Green Farmhouse, according to the farmhouse’s website — wrote a pension application for her late husband in the 1800s.
On the application is a sworn statement saying that Washington’s Light Horse billeted there. However, the hunt for more information and documentation continues.
The College bought the house in 1960, and not too long after, it was closed up. The last occupant of the house was a football coach who lived there with his family.
Despite its age, the farmhouse still preserved a lot of its history. Sections dating back from the 1700s to 1800s still remain, including the Flemish brick bond on the oldest section, which was popular with upper middle-class families at the time.
The inside is currently run down, with evidence of feral cats, possums and fecal remains of several other animals. Still, it does not take away the beauty of the building’s history.
“The more we know about it, the more reason there is to preserve it,” said Annie Elfers, a senior sociology major. “It’s the sort of thing that would be a sense of pride for our campus, and also, it’s really a beautiful building.”
Now, with the farmhouse and its history enclosed on campus, it was time to excavate. From 1989 to 1995, South of the farmhouse was explored, revealing artifacts, such as metal, shell, cork and pig teeth.
The dig also uncovered ceramic samples, which indicated what was traded with other nations and the wealth of those who had lived in the house. By measuring the discovered stems and fragments from clay reed pipes, trade deals were made as far back as the 1700s.
Before the sporadic field notes and artifact samples could be organized and published, the professor in charge retired, leaving questions and missing pieces of the puzzle behind.
Of course, this did not stop Leader from taking matters into his own hands. He continually takes his classes out to the farmhouse, educating them and allowing them to look for a part of history.
“Archaeology is a destructive science,” Leader said. “When you take something out of the ground, you can never put it back in.”
In the 2015 excavations, about 600 new artifacts were recovered, including clay reed pipes, Indian head pennies from the 1800s and ceramic marbles that could have been a child’s toy. Digging also removed layers to see the different types of soil, which corresponded to different time periods.
The search continues for other artifacts and missing pieces that made up the farmland. Recently, Leader reported that they received a donation to do ground penetrating radar, which has the potential to identify smokehouses, military artifacts and privies filled with trash that could signify the time period in which they were from.
“The potential of the house is just absolutely fantastic,” Leader said. “For years to come, students can work on this project, and it’s really about being a detective of the past and trying to piece together what actually went on on TCNJ’s campus.”
Leader concluded that Washington probably did not step foot on campus, however, Pulaski and Washington’s Light Horse likely billeted at Green Farmhouse many times.
“The fact that some of the most important figures in the revolution might have been here on campus is really fascinating,” Leader said. “It’s something students should appreciate and be aware of.”