Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is this the skull of Count Carl Von Donop, Hessian Commander?

On Saturday, January 29th, five intrepid docents from the Whitall House, Red Bank Battlefield, National Park, NJ, drove up the snowy highway to the Clarke House, on the Princeton Battlefield. We enjoyed a highly informative tour given by John Mills, a lifelong Revolutionary War historian, re-enactor, and historic site curator. He's also a black-powder expert. I saw Mills do a black-powder demo at Walnford historic site many months ago. He demonstrated both cannon and rifle firing. On this day, he gave us a fascinating description of this momentous battle of the Revolutionary War. It is generally regarded, along with the Battle of Trenton, as the turning point in the war for Independence. It is part of what is known as The Ten Crucial Days. This farm house is the site of the death of the heroic General Hugh Mercer, who was bludgeoned, bayonetted and died of his wounds in the Clarke farmhouse.

The house has both period furnished rooms and a museum that features weapons and ammo as well as many prints, and maps depicting the battle.
The grounds were breathtakingly beautiful in the fresh deep snow.

After touring the Clarke House, we headed to New Brunswicke where we examined the alleged skull of Count Carl Von Donop, the Hessian commander who died of his wounds at Red Bank Battlefield in October of 1777.

The skull was donated to the special collections department of the library but no other provenance exists to identify the donor or prove whether the skull is in fact Count Von Donop's. He was buried near the site of the battle and it has been alleged that his bones were later dug up. It is known that bones of the soldiers buried on the battlefield were washed out the banks of the Delaware after floods, and dug up by vandals and scattered.

Hessian wounded were treated in the Whitall house. Those that died on the spot were buried in unmarked graves. Others died nearby in the Woodbury Friends Meeting House and their remains were buried in The Strangers' Cemetery which was later moved to an almost forgotten site outside of town. More Hessians who died on the retreat were buried in Glendora. Survivors who were captured, were imprisoned in Philadelphia.

The monument at Red Bank Battlefield is engraved with a quote alleged to have been uttered by the dying Count Von Donop that he died "the victim of my own ambition and the avarice of my prince." Some dispute that he ever actually said this and it was attributed to a later observation by an unnamed French man.

If you are interested in learning more about this battle, I'll be listing some good books from a brochure offered at the Clarke House.

location of the Clarke House and Princeton Battlefield:
500 Mercer Road, Princeton, NJ 08540-4810, 609-921-0074

location of the library that houses the alleged skull of Count Von Donop:
Ronald L. Becker
Head, Special Collections
Rutgers University Libraries
169 College Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1163
(732) 932-7006 x362 phone
(732) 932-7012 FAX

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