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Human skeleton in a grave (representational image). Source: Idanthyrs / Adobe Stock.

Teenage Colonist's 400-Year-Old Dumped Remains Found in Maryland

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The skeleton of one of the first colonists in the U.S. has been discovered in a ‘haphazard’ burial in Maryland. It is believed that this teenager, who was buried with a shattered leg and no coffin, was possibly a passenger on one of the first ships to land in Maryland in March 1634 AD, making him one of the earliest colonists in the New World.

This story begins in 1992 at an excavation site in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, U.S.A. A team of archaeologists were digging into what they believed was a fence-post hole, when they came upon the lower legs of a skeleton. Then, last week, archaeologists unearthed the remains of the 17th-century adolescent boy at the site.

Smashed, And Dumped in The Ground

According to Live Science, the boy’s body was measured by biological anthropologist Kari Bruwelheide, and data management specialist Katie Barca, both of the Smithsonian Institution. They described the approximately 15-year-old boy as having been about 1.52 metres (5 ft) tall, with a square jaw. It was later discovered that the boy had suffered a broken right leg and damaged ribs.

Furthermore, the teenager’s right arm was stretched unnaturally across his chest while his left hand was clenched in a fist. The researchers said the boy’s broken body had been “unceremoniously dumped” in his grave, with no shroud or coffin, and an article in the Washington Post says the teenager probably had “no family to mourn him”.

A Monumental Discovery

Travis Parno, director of research and collections for Historic St. Mary’s City, said the team of archaeologists believe the boy was one of Maryland’s first settlers in the New World. The structure of his face suggests he was European. It is thought that the boy might have sailed to America on The Ark or The Dove, which were the two ships used to transport the first settlers to the new colony of Maryland in March 1634. Both ships were owned by the Calvert family, who were staunch English Catholics, and having this historical pedigree Parno described the discovery of the boy’s body as a "monumental discovery”.

Two years ago, Dr. Parno announced that his team had discovered the outline of the lost colonists fort, about 112.65 kilometres (70 miles) southeast of Washington, near the old Colonial capital of Maryland. The fort was built soon after the colonists' arrival in 1634 AD, and the teenager’s body was found buried just outside of the fort’s walls.

Dr. Parno said the site represents “the earliest Colonial archaeological site in Maryland,” and that it illustrates the first European colonization in the Chesapeake region. Therefore, the boy arrived in what would become America in the first years of the settlement, “as part of the vanguard of the Colonial invasion." Parno added that the discovery of the body raises many questions: including “why he came to the New World, and what hopes and dreams he might have had”.

A reconstruction of a farm from Colonial Maryland. Historic Maryland’s first Capital, St. Mary's City in the wilderness of Maryland. Source: Norm / Adobe Stock.

A reconstruction of a farm from Colonial Maryland. Historic Maryland’s first Capital, St. Mary's City in the wilderness of Maryland. Source: Norm / Adobe Stock.

Cracked Bones and No Coffin – What Happened?

Dr. Kari Bruwelheide said the discovery of the boy’s body tells “a fascinating story of how young people helped settle these colonies.” However, why the boy’s body was so damaged, and buried with no coffin or shroud, and with his arm pulled across his chest, remains “a puzzle.” Adding to the mystery, it is not yet clear why the boy’s right leg bones, both his fibula and tibia, were “cracked or broken”.

Because of the shattered state of the boy’s body, and the fact that he was buried unceremoniously, it was concluded that he had probably sailed to the New World by himself. Dr. Bruwelheide said that if the boy had family on the ship, or in the colony, he would probably have been buried “a little more ceremoniously.” However, it remains a possibility that the boy was an indentured servant who was planning to work for a specific period of time to pay for his passage to the New World.

Top image: Human skeleton in a grave (representational image). Source: Idanthyrs / Adobe Stock.

By Ashley Cowie



How terrible it must have been for his family across the pond (assuming he had a family of course. Definitely a possibility he had none but hard to say) imagine your teenage son coming home one day and says "hey guys, so I'm gonna hop on this ship that's headed to the Americas so.... well okay bye now!" And his family waits. And waits. And waits. Then come to the horrible realization that he very well may have died, as for how and where, they have no idea. It's not as if they could have received a text or call, hell I'm sure even a hand written note had like a 30% chance of getting back over to Europe. This poor young man. Dying in a strange land, not even a proper burial... I just hope his soul is at peace.

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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