Skeletal Discoveries At Griffith Morgan House

BobFisher-HughesBy Robert Fisher-Hughes, AAP Columnist and Amateur Historian

Five years after Pennsauken Township was created, a macabre mystery was literally unearthed at our own historic Griffith Morgan House, situated in the community known then as Morris Station. Evanescent as a specter, what was then revealed is subject only to theory and imagination.

GriffithMorganIn those days, the City of Camden was in great need of a reliable source of water and obtained land at Morris Station to establish artesian wells. An artesian well is one which draws from an underground water source that is already under pressure, causing the water level to rise within the well as a result. This makes the natural replenishment of the water in the well and its drawing from the ground a much easier feat than pumping water. Over 70 such wells had been drilled by 1897, including one with a reported capacity to supply a million gallons of water per day. Like the Griffith Morgan House itself, the Camden water facility remains in service to this day, though using updated technology.

It was in the course of the digging a trench for a water main from the wells that the mystery was uncovered. As reported in the Camden Daily Telegram, while digging in the front yard of Anton Beckenbach, the long-time habitant of the Morgan House, a shallow grave was uncovered.

To quote the surviving account in the Daily Telegram, “the bones are believed to be the remains of an Indian brave and squaw and are thought to have been interred over two hundred years ago. From the position in which they were unearthed they were evidently encircled in each others’ arms when placed under the sod as they were lying face to face, close together with the bones of the arms of either one around the frame of the body of the other.”

It is not revealed what led to the conclusion that the skeletal remains were Native American, presumably Lenape. There is no mention of other native relics buried with the skeletons as was often the case. The Lenape are known to have frequently left tools, weapons or pottery items in burial pits with the remains. It is also known that the Lenape dug only shallow graves, 12 to 18 inches deep, but often mounded with dirt and clay above. Assuming the passing of 200 years, would the remains still lie beneath only 18 inches of soil? Given the deliberate care in arranging these remains in an apparent embrace, is it likely these other rites would have been ignored here?

Was this a Lenape interment, apparently signifying the loving attachment of the deceased in life? If so, what tale led to their end, together, buried in a shallow grave near the mouth of Pennsauken Creek?

If the identification of the remains with the Lenape was mistaken, what might be the meaning of the discovery of two skeletons, a man and a woman, in a shallow, unmarked grave?

We will probably never know the answers. This was not an age when a public project was halted when an archaeological discovery came to light. This was 1897.

According to the newspaper reports, although the skeletons were in an excellent state of preservation when uncovered, they quickly began to crumble. Their final disposition, if any, is unrecorded.

Sources for this article include: Camden Daily Telegram, June 21, 1897; and “The Lenape-Delaware Heritage, 10,000 BC to AD 2000,” Herbert C. Kraft, Lenape Books, 2001.

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