Secotan project studied

Published 11:22 pm Sunday, October 17, 2010

Staff Writer

Phosphate-mining company PotashCorp is cooperating with local officials who seek further archaeological investigation of historically significant property the corporation owns in the Bath area.
The land, sited near Archbell Point on Bath Creek, cradled a colonial residence of Gov. Charles Eden and a plantation owned by Edward Salter, a wealthy Bath merchant, and a purported member of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew, who died in 1735.
Salter’s bones were recently returned to Beaufort County after being examined at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The remains will be temporarily reinterred at an undisclosed location this month, but a majority of Salter’s known heirs have said they wish to have the remains permanently reburied on PotashCorp’s land, where they were unearthed during an archaeological survey prior to bulkheading work in the late 1980s.
In a Sept. 30 letter to officials, including Jerry Langley, chairman of the Beaufort County commissioners, Steven Beckel, general manager of PotashCorp’s Aurora facility, wrote the company has consulted and solicited recommendations from Patricia Samford, director of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.
“She in turn gathered input from additional experts whose combined years of archaeological experience total approximately 250 years,” Beckel wrote. “In short, we support wholeheartedly what (Samford) and her colleagues recommend as a methodical and scientific approach to any further investigation of the site.”
PotashCorp did not compensate Samford for her research or recommendations, said Michelle Vaught, the company’s Aurora spokeswoman.
Beckel wrote the company “will discuss directly with (Salter’s) heirs their request to reinter” the remains on Potash land along Bath Creek.
The Salter matter aside, some county leaders have said they’d like to look into the PotashCorp property’s buried secrets, and perhaps construct a replica Indian village of the kind that was there in the distant past.
“I think the company wants to be very cooperative in pursuing this opportunity,” said Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill. “We’re very appreciative of the company’s cooperation, and we look forward to working with all the concerned partners to get closure for Edward Salter’s descendants and study the significance of Secotan.”
PotashCorp’s letter represents “a positive development,” agreed Kevin Duffus, a Raleigh author and researcher who was integral to bringing Salter’s remains back to Beaufort County, after the years they spent in a state storage facility.
“I look forward to the day when the American public will have the opportunity to learn more about the very first beginnings of the country that we live in today, which we believe started very close to that property,” Duffus said.
Some experts in history and archaeology say part of this corporate-owned land, specifically the portion known as Beasley Point, is the most likely candidate for the lost Secotan Indian village.
Secotan was the Algonquian domain painted by English watercolorist John White, who took part in a 1585 expedition to America.
White’s New World paintings are world-famous, and the Secotan images are featured in history museums around the globe.
In a memorandum to PotashCorp officials, Samford acknowledged the Bath land’s known Indian components, and referenced artifacts the plot yielded during the state-led, 1986 archaeological survey.
“Artifacts, subterranean features and other forms of material evidence from the site would hold important information for helping shed light on that critical, but very brief, period of initial contact between Native Americans and Europeans,” Samford wrote. “If Secotan could be definitively located and appropriately excavated, it would have interesting and valuable stories to tell about the beginnings of our nation.”
While Samford conceded “there is no doubt that there is a Native American archaeological component along the western shore of Bath Creek, on property owned by Potash,” she added it isn’t certain this site is Secotan, and noted that “many other locations along the Pamlico (River) and its tributaries” also could be candidates.
Duffus and others say archaeological work over the past 50 years eliminated other candidate sites in the area.
In her memorandum, Samford suggests proceeding with caution at Beasley Point.
“An ethical and responsible strategy would also include only sampling the site, leaving at least 75% of the village for future generations of archaeologists,” she wrote. “The site at present is in no danger of destruction at the hands of the owner, and leaving portions of the site for future generations is not only ethically responsible, it would mean that newly developed technologies for dating and extracting information from a site could be used in the future.”
In an Oct. 12 letter prompted by Samford’s memorandum, and Beckel’s letter, Phillip Evans, president of the First Colony Foundation, confers with Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer.
First Colony is one of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission’s partners in the search for Secotan, Thompson has related.
Evans wrote that Nicholas Luccketti, the foundation’s research vice president, is “overseeing the development of a plan for a search for Secotan and other Algonquian sites” in this region, and that Luccketti met with Clay Swindell, “who has over sixteen years experience directing excavations and testing of contact period sites including the important Croatan (Indian) site.”
“We are confident that they and others associated with First Colony Foundation will provide you with the highest quality, thoughtful, deliberate, science-based and responsible approach to these important Native American (Algonquian) archaeological resources,” Evans’ letter reads.
Thompson, who has been the public face of the Secotan revival project so far, expressed cautious optimism after reading PotashCorp’s letter.
“I think Potash has agreed to allow us to assess the potential for that site being Secotan,” he said, adding that researchers already have amassed a body of evidence to bolster their convictions over Beasley Point’s importance.
“Most of what (Samford) raised is considerations they’ve already thought about,” Thompson said, referring to First Colony. “What we have is, I guess, what you might call the blue-ribbon committee of archaeology in America on Algonquian villages.”
Beckel’s letter summarizes Samford’s proposal, pinpointing, among other elements, the need to conduct a feasibility study that would confirm whether a reconstructed Indian village modeled on Secotan “would bring substantial tourism dollars to the county.”
Langley, the commissioners’ chairman, said the cost is his only concern.
“If it is what they think it is, the revenue potential is going to be great, but we’re not in a position now to put county money out on what-ifs,” he remarked.
Langley implied Beasley Point has the power to attract people based on its scenic beauty.
“If there’s nothing there but a monument and it’s dressed out right, people would love to see it — period,” he said.
Thompson said funding the tourism-centered project “would not be an issue,” though he didn’t name potential backers.
“First Colony has a number of funding sources,” Thompson said. “We’ve discussed it and, quite frankly, the amount of money is not that large. I won’t say it’s insignificant.”
Further articulating PotashCorp’s position, Vaught, the spokeswoman, said it’s “premature” to discuss the reconstruction of a replica Indian village on the company’s property.