Saving Baptist Skeletons in Philadelphia

Baptist Bones

This past summer, while touring colonial Philadelphia with the teachers in the Gilder-Lehrman Princeton Seminar, our guide George Boudreau pointed us to an excavation site and said something like, “they started excavating this site last year and began hitting dozens of Baptists.”

The line got a good laugh from the teachers.  George was referring to an Arch Street condominium project that is being constructed on the site the First Baptist Church burial ground.  The First Baptist Church was founded in 1698.

It now seems that some of those Baptist bones were dumped in a landfill this spring.  Archaeologists are furious.

Here is a taste of Elena Gordon’s piece at WHYY-Philadelphia:

The remains of hundreds of people who lived in Philadelphia during the 18th century may have been dumped in a Conshohocken landfill this spring, according to a prominent Philadelphia archaeologist.

“It’s appalling,” said Doug Mooney, president of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum, after reviewing PMC Property Group’s latest report on its construction and excavation efforts at 218 Arch St.

“It represents a loss of information,” he said. “It represents just a completely callous attitude on the part of the developer.”

Mooney made those conclusions based on how much earth was removed to a landfill during construction work in between two periods when archaeologists were collaborating with the developer.

The PMC report does not say that any remains were ever found and transferred to a landfill.

“It didn’t happen,” said PMC vice president Jonathan Stavin, when asked to comment. When remains were first identified, he said, the company immediately contacted the city coroner’s office.

Mooney, meanwhile, said he can “never know with certainty how many burials were removed.” But after reviewing the site maps and details in the report, he said he found “abundant information that you can connect the dots and draw that conclusion.”

Since last fall, the remains of nearly 500 people, some still in crumbling coffins, have been excavated from the Arch Street site, where PMC Property Group has been constructing condominiums. The remains were linked to a Baptist cemetery that was thought to have been moved in the mid-1800s. They are now being studied by volunteer archaeologists from Rutgers University, The Mutter Museum, and the College of New Jersey.

Read the rest here.