Archaeologists Find the Lost Remnants of America’s First Soldiers

The Revolutionary War artifacts tell the story of what General Cornwallis tried to destroy forever—but couldn’t erase.

British General Charles Cornwallis ordered the burning of a Continental Army barracks in Colonial Williamsburg in 1781. What he hoped to destroy forever was recently found by archaeologists, giving experts a fresh perspective on the life of Continental soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

As crews made way for the construction of a new sports center on Colonial Williamsburg Foundation property, archaeologists first took to the area to see if 18th century maps and period documents referencing the construction of barracks in 1776 through 1777 produced any archaeological fruit.

They have plenty to pick from, as the nearly four-acre site has artifacts showing both the barracks and everyday life of soldiers.

“Archaeological evidence of continental barracks in Virginia is rare,” the foundation says in a blog post. “This site, which was occupied from 1777-1781, is particularly valuable since it was built and used only for one purpose. In addition, a significant portion of the site has been largely undisturbed since the barracks were destroyed.”

Archaeologists have excavated only a small section of the area—the sports center was shifted on the site to ensure future exploration of the barracks—but the team has already found bricks and an intact chimney base, gun hardware, lead musket shot with toothmarks, high-end ceramics, and personal items likely owned by officers.

“What we know about the barracks from historical documentation is that, in August 1776, just a month after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Commonwealth of Virginia ordered the construction of those barracks, Jack Gary, executive director of archaeology for the foundation, tells Fox News Digital.

The barracks were said to house up to 2,000 soldiers and 100 horses, even if they were originally anticipated to accommodate 1,000 soldiers.

Those barracks didn’t last long, though, with Gary saying a report from a soldier describes the burning of the barracks by British troops while they moved toward Yorktown in 1781.

“Later on, after the Cornwallis troops moved through, they could see the barracks on fire in the distance … For us as archaeologists, this is a burning event, which is a catastrophic event,” Gary tells Fox News. “But it can also lend itself to really good preservation.”

One of the more intriguing items discovered is the bounty of lead shot with toothmarks. The foundation’s blog post says the shot was chewed on by bored soldiers to help pass the time, but also because the lead had a sweet taste.

Experts hope that as they excavate additional sections of the barracks, they discover more about the way of life for Continental Army soldiers in the late 1770s.

Tim Newcomb is a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest. He covers stadiums, sneakers, gear, infrastructure, and more for a variety of publications, including Popular Mechanics. His favorite interviews have included sit-downs with Roger Federer in Switzerland, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, and Tinker Hatfield in Portland.

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