PotashCorp pondering ‘pirate’ plot

Published 7:05 pm Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Staff Writer

Phosphate-mining giant PotashCorp is considering a request to allow the reburial of purported pirate crewman Edward Salter’s remains on a plot of land owned by the company.
The remains, believed to be those of the wealthy Bath merchant who might have been a member of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew, are scheduled to be turned over to Salter’s heirs Friday at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The remains will be brought back to Beaufort County in a hearse provided by Paul Funeral Home of Washington.
The bones have been undergoing forensic analysis at the Smithsonian as part of an attempt to gain insight into the life of Salter, who died in 1735.
Several of Salter’s court-recognized heirs have asked PotashCorp to allow the remains to be reinterred on land the company owns at Beasley Point in Bath. The bones were unearthed at the point in 1986, before the property was bulkheaded to prevent further erosion of the creek bank.
The bones ended up in the state’s custody for nearly a quarter-century.
PotashCorp is willing to meet with the heirs to talk about the proposed reburial, a spokeswoman said, suggesting the company didn’t want to convey details before that conversation takes place.
“We have some options that we want to discuss directly with the family,” said Michelle Vaught, spokeswoman for PotashCorp’s Aurora facility. “There are different options over there (at Beasley Point), and that’s what we want to discuss with the family.”
The remains were kept in storage by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources until the heirs, advised by Raleigh researcher Kevin Duffus, asked the courts to allow the bones to be returned to Beaufort County.
The return of the remains was assured after a ruling by Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons, who found it would be up to the heirs to reinter the bones, according to previous reports in the Washington Daily News.
In an Aug. 31 letter to William J. Doyle, president and chief executive officer of PotashCorp, several of the heirs asked the corporation “to correct a great injustice done to” their ancestor.
“For the past 24 years our ancestor’s bones have been kept in a cardboard box on a shelf in the State Archaeologist’s Research Center in Raleigh, N.C.,” reads the letter, which was signed “on behalf of Edward Salter’s next of kin” by heir Suzy Dixon Bennett of Plainfield, Ind., and lists the names of three other heirs.
“In Edward Salter’s last will and testament, he asked his executors and family to make sure his body be ‘decently interred,’ following the Church of England’s Rites of Christian Burial,” the letter continues. “He was buried in a substantially constructed sarcophagus at his home on Bath Creek at a place known today as Beasley Point. We understand that the location of his burial is on property owned by your Sales Division in Northbrook (Ill.). It is our fervent, unwavering and solemn desire to have our ancestor’s remains reinterred at or very near his original birth place on Bath Creek as soon as possible, as was his dying wish.”
In a Sept. 9 letter to Bennett, Steven Beckel, general manager of PotashCorp’s Aurora facility, says he is “more than happy to discuss” the heirs’ request to reinter Salter’s remains on the company’s land.
In a recent interview, Duffus said one of the heirs had read Beckel’s written response to the heirs’ letter. Duffus indicated the heirs would be willing to meet with Beckel to talk about reinterring the remains at Beasley Point.
Duffus has said the remains will be reinterred temporarily at an undisclosed location in late October. The bones will stay at this location until they can be reburied permanently elsewhere, he has said.
One of the heirs, Brian Blount, of the Springfield, Mo., area said he and his aunt, fellow heir Joan Bass, plan to attend the temporary reburial next month, even though he’s not comfortable with the notion that Salter might have been a pirate.
“The thing that bothers me is everything I’ve found on Edward Salter, I can’t prove that he was an actual pirate,” Blount said this week in an interview. “What they keep saying is that there was an Edward Salter that was a (barrel-maker) that was kidnapped by Blackbeard off the coast of Puerto Rico.”
Blount said all the evidence he’s found shows that Salter led “an exemplary life” and was a respectable person.
Salter was a ward of St. Thomas Parish and represented Beaufort County in the state assembly in 1731.
“Being a descendant, I’m not sure how far I want to go as far as this pirate thing,” Blount commented.
Asked what he’d like to see happen to the remains, Blount replied, “I would like to see him put in a grave and left alone.”
Another heir, the Rev. John Stephen Park of Fort Wayne, Ind., recently told the Daily News that Salter’s story is one of redemption because the alleged pirate evidently changed his ways.
“By association with Blackbeard, Edward Salter has some mixed history, or there’s some legend mixed in there, but he’s a person of many sides, and it prompts you to ask questions,” Park said. “What is redemption about?”
Park said he’s also scheduled to attend the temporary reinterment next month.
“The story is not only historical but it’s also about how we relate to those who have been buried and how we understand human life and dignity,” he said.