Salter saga continues

Published 10:22 pm Saturday, June 12, 2010

Contributing Editor

The remains of Edward Salter, believed to have been a member of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew, will be transported to the Smithsonian Institution on Friday.
The remains will be transported by Paul Funeral Home of Washington. Some of Salter’s presumed descendants will accompany the remains to the Smithsonian Institute, where Doug Owsley, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, will examine and test the remains, which is expected to take from 30 days to 45 days.
Also accompanying the remains will be Raleigh-based researcher and author Kevin P. Duffus.
“I will be following with members of the next of kin,” Duffus said Wednesday just hours after Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. approved an agreement between the state and Salter heirs regarding disposition of the remains. The agreement calls for the State Office of Archeology to hand over the remains to the heirs Friday.
The bones of the man believed to be Salter ended up in Raleigh after what was then Texasgulf (now PotashCorp Aurora) asked for permission to install a bulkhead on the west bank of Bath Creek. Archeological examinations before that work began yielded the remains in 1986.
Duffus said testing by Owsley could determine that the remains are those of a man born in Barbados, where Salter is believed to have been born. Duffus contends they are the only remains — anywhere in the world — of a known pirate.
“This easily could be a national story,” Duffus said.
DNA identification may be possible in the future, but for now other tests can narrow down whether the bones match up with what is known about Salter, Owsley told The Associated Press. Examining the bones can determine whether they come from a man or woman, whether a person was well-fed, whether he ate a diet common to Great Britain or North America of that period, whether he was healthy or sickly and whether he performed manual labor typical of a barrel-maker, Owsley told the AP.
‘‘We can help them better understand whether that man is Salter,’’ said Owsley, who heads the Division of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in an interview with The Associated Press.
About a year ago, Duffus sought to be named executor of Salter’s estate so he could have the remains examined, but in his ruling Wednesday in Beaufort County Superior Court, Sermons denied that request. Instead, he said the remains would be turned over to Salter’s heirs for disposition as they see fit.
The heirs plan to reinter the remains somewhere in Beaufort County after they are examined. The Smithsonian Institution will return the remains to the heirs not later than Sept. 17, Duffus said.
Duffus believes the remains are those of Salter, a barrel-maker who died in 1735. He said there is evidence Salter was a member of Blackbeard’s pirate crew who escaped being hanged and returned to settle in Bath. Salter went on to become a ward of St. Thomas Parish and an assemblyman representing Beaufort County in 1731.
A forensic examination by researchers at Wake Forest University showed that the individual was right handed, with “the right ulna being more robust than the left.” The skeleton was that of a man who had “significant and pronounced strength in the arms and upper body rather than the legs,” according to court filings. Duffus has speculated that those findings are consistent with those of a man who had worked as a barrel-maker.
Duffus said Salter’s legacy should not be one that focuses solely on the likelihood of Salter being a pirate, but it should include his entire life.
“He was only a pirate for 11 months,” Duffus said.