Potash declines heirs’ request

Published 4:19 am Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Staff Writer

PotashCorp has declined a request to allow colonial-era remains to be reinterred where they were unearthed on company-owned land roughly 25 years ago.
The remains are believed to be those of Edward Salter — a Bath merchant and purportedly a onetime member of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew — who died in January 1735.
The bones of the cooper-turned-assemblyman were disinterred in the 1980s as part of a state-guided archaeological investigation of the Beasley Point area, which then-owners Texasgulf Chemical Co. wanted to bulkhead to prevent further encroachment by Bath Creek.
Salter’s remains stayed in the state’s possession until a group of heirs asked a Superior Court judge to permit the bones to be relieved of state ownership and brought back to Beaufort County.
According to Indiana resident Suzy Dixon Bennett, one of Salter’s known heirs, the deceased’s next of kin want their predecessor reburied on the spot from which his remains were taken in the 1980s.
Bennett said she and her husband personally conveyed the heirs’ wishes to officials from Potash’s Aurora phosphate-mining facility in a meeting last month.
The heirs’ request was denied, Bennett told the Washington Daily News. Instead, the company offered to let the remains be reinterred in an existing cemetery near a corporate-owned house.
If the heirs accepted the Canadian corporation’s offer, they would be required to provide a list of the heirs’ names and give advance notice before visiting the graveside, according to Bennett.
“Personally, I can only speak for myself: I was disappointed to hear that,” Bennett said. “I feel like since they disinterred the remains, that it was important to rebury his remains in the crypt, at the plot that he chose.”
A March 1987 archaeological report on the property, prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by MAAR Associates of Newark, Del., cites archival evidence noting the land was once owned by Salter.
The report also shows a photo of the brick-lined vault from which Salter’s remains were removed before being placed in storage by the state.
The plot of earth in question is currently used for agricultural purposes, Michelle Vaught, Potash-Aurora spokeswoman, told the Daily News in August.
Last week, Vaught confirmed Bennett’s statements regarding the company’s offer for the reburial of Salter’s bones.
Asked why Potash won’t let the remains be reinterred in the original crypt space, Vaught replied by e-mail, writing that Potash believes reinterring the remains “in an existing cemetery that is currently maintained” would be “a more suitable option.”
Kevin Duffus, a Raleigh author and researcher who was integral to bringing Salter’s remains back to Beaufort County, disagrees with the company’s decision.
Duffus, along with a number of local leaders, has said the remains should be reinterred in the burial plot where Salter was placed in 1735, and that the public should be allowed to visit the grave.
“I guess what I have to say is I find it’s not surprising that a foreign-owned corporation might be insensitive to the importance of honoring one of the pioneers of colonial America and the grandfather of Revolutionary War heroes,” Duffus commented.
Duffus wrote a eulogy he read last month at the temporary reinterrment of Salter’s bones at an undisclosed location in Beaufort County, following analysis of the remains at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
“On the eve of his death, Edward Salter had attained the pinnacle of his life’s achievements,” Duffus wrote. “His wife was pregnant with his fifth child, his landholdings and enterprises had grown impressively, and his new, two-masted ocean-going brigantine, The Happy Luke, would soon be launched from the shipwright’s stocks. But perhaps Salter’s proudest and most-lasting accomplishment was the letter to London, dated October 10, 1734, that bore his, and eight other signatures of the leading men of Bath. What they wrote would make history — they had proudly begun construction of North Carolina’s first church sanctuary, St. Thomas Church of Bath, and had hired the church’s first rector, whose successor presides at this service today.”
Pointing to the 1987 archaeological report, on Monday Duffus said it was “perplexing” that Beasley Point was called one of the most significant historic places in the state, “but they (the state) abandoned it. That’s what I find sort of perplexing.”
Beasley Point is shaping up to be a pivot point for conflict between the state, Potash and regional historians, archaeologists and economic developers who say the land is valuable to North Carolina and the world not only for its colonial components but for its “prehistoric” Indian elements.
The archaeological report to which Duffus referred forwards the fact that the land belonged not only to Salter but, earlier, to colonial Gov. Charles Eden, one of Blackbeard’s contemporaries, and that it once hosted an Indian village.
The evaluation covered in the report revealed that the “cultural resources of this site are culturally significant and that the site has the potential to be declared eligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” the report’s summary reads. “The recommendation of significance and nomination potential applies to both the prehistoric and historic components.”
Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer, has helped enlist prominent archaeologists with the nonprofit First Colony Foundation to develop a plan for digging into Beasley Point’s buried history, and Potash has signaled its willingness to cooperate in that effort.
Thompson has proposed seeking the land’s nomination for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage List.
Duffus, Thompson and their allies also say Beasley Point is the most likely candidate for the lost Secotan Indian village painted by English gentleman John White as part of a 1585 expedition to the New World.
In her interview, Bennett said she values history, has done her own genealogical research and wonders why the state hasn’t done more to preserve and promote the significance of Beasley Point.
Bennett asked why approximately 3,000 artifacts removed from the property have been kept in storage by the state rather than being made available for public inspection.
“My problem is they knew, they were aware, that that was a very special piece of land,” she said, adding it’s her conviction North Carolinians, including Bath residents, “were robbed of their cultural history.”