One of five squares that were part of William Penn's design for the city, Washington Square holds a unique position in the city's history. The square served as a potter's field for burials, and later as a cow pasture. Two creeks flowed through the square and were popular fishing spots.
With the start of the Revolutionary war, the square became a burial ground for soldiers. Colonial troops, British soldiers and prisoners of war from a prison located across from the square were all buried in this spot. Death from wounds, fever and smallpox all contributed. Historians estimate that more revolutionary war dead were buried here than anywhere in the country. After the war, yellow fever epidemics added to the mass graves on this spot. The square was later used for cattle markets.
The city began improving the area in 1815 and in 1825 named the area Washington Square after President George Washington. The area around the square gradually evolved from one of squallor to a fasionable residential neighborhood. Legal firms and publishing houses were built in the area surrounding the square.
During the 1950's the city built a monument to Revolutionary War dead in the form of a tomb to an unknown soldier. Archaeologists unearthed the remains of a 20 year old male mortally wounded by a musket ball. Who he was, Colonial or British soldier, is unkown.
Among the inscriptions around the memorial is one which reads "In unmarked graves within this square lie thousands of unknown soldiers of Washington's Army who died of wounds and sickness during the Revolutionary War."
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