Thompson to state: return bones unearthed in Bath

Published 9:17 am Friday, December 3, 2010

Staff Writer

Beaufort County’s chief economic developer said he plans to meet with Linda Carlisle, secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, later this month in Raleigh to ask her to correct what he sees as an injustice.
Through Tom Thompson, a coalition of community leaders will request the state consider relinquishing custody of the remains of a black woman and her child unearthed in Bath roughly a quarter-century ago.
The woman and infant were laid to rest near the close of the 19th century.
Thompson, head of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, said he’ll also ask Carlisle to set in motion a process that would end with the return of approximately 3,000 colonial-era and “prehistoric” Indian artifacts.
These artifacts were taken from the Beasley Point area on the west side of Bath Creek.
Thompson, along with a collection of area historians, elected or appointed officials and archaeologists, says the remains of the woman and child should be reinterred somewhere in Beaufort County.
The adult and fetal remains are being kept in a cardboard box on a shelf at a storage facility in Raleigh, according to Thompson.
The unknown woman’s bones were removed from Beasley Point along with remains believed to be those of wealthy Bath merchant Edward Salter, who died in 1735.
Salter was purported to have been a member of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew.
Following a court case led by Raleigh researcher Kevin Duffus and some of Salter’s known heirs, the colonial assemblyman’s bones were retrieved from state custody and brought back to Beaufort County in October, following analysis at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The results of the Smithsonian’s analysis haven’t been released to the public, at least not yet, but it’s expected the findings of scientists there could lead to further revelations about the bones.
No one has come forward to claim the remains of the woman and her child, and their identities are a mystery.
“Salter we knew owned that land,” said Thompson. “All we know is this lady was buried there.”
Duffus’ research kick-started the movement to reinter Salter and look into Beasley Point’s past. Duffus also has acted as counselor and spokesman for some of Salter’s heirs.
Duffus frames reburying the woman’s bones as a simple act of respect for human dignity.
“I think that it’s important that in instances where human remains are disinterred for various reasons,” he said, “that, if there is no scientific benefit to be gained by retaining those remains in the collections or archives or various archaeological laboratories, then it’s only morally fitting that these remains would be returned to their place of burial.”
Duffus maintains more research could point to the woman’s potential heirs.
“I wouldn’t doubt that there would be people in Beaufort County today who might be related to that woman — they just don’t know it,” he said.
The bones were disinterred during an archaeological investigation of Beasley Point in the late 1980s.
The investigation was launched as Texasgulf Chemical Co., which owned the land, sought official permission to bulkhead the waterfront tract to prevent further erosion.
Among other conclusions, the investigation found the land had been home to an Indian village that predated the English colonial period.
A number of experts contend this site — now owned by phosphate-mining company PotashCorp and used for agricultural purposes — is the most likely candidate for the lost Secotan Indian village painted by English gentleman John White in connection with a 1585 expedition to the New World.
A number of history buffs, including Thompson, contend the land also is important for its known colonial components.
In a March 1987 report prepared by contractors MAAR Associates of Newark, Del., the authors note acreage around Beasley Point had belonged to Gov. Charles Eden, who had a friendly relationship with Blackbeard, one of Bath’s most infamous residents.
The report also provides some details that could hold clues to the identity of the woman who would be buried at the point long after Eden’s day.
“The deceased was carrying a full-term fetus at the time of death,” the report reads. “Death may have occurred due to child birth complications. The age at death of this individual is estimated at about 20 to 25 years. Skeletal remains were in relatively poor condition … The interment dates to ca. 1894.”
The report states the woman might have been “a member of a tenant family residing on this John R. Beasley property. Research, however, failed to identify the family residing on the property during Beasley’s ownership.”
Investigators found that two Indian-head pennies — one dated 1891, the other 1894 — had been placed over the woman’s eyes, that her coffin was “considered relatively ornate with frills,” and that a cologne bottle with a label reading “Hoy’s” had been positioned at her side.
Thompson would like the bones reburied on church grounds, and he asserts the Beasley Point artifacts should be stored and displayed in the old Bath High School building.
The building is the target of a restoration effort by Bath High School Preservation, which owns the former school.
“Right now, we have a handshake agreement and we are doing due diligence on the building,” Thompson told the Daily News on Thursday afternoon.