Perdue enthused over ‘Secotan’

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, December 18, 2010

Staff Writer

Tucked among the job creation news that broke Tuesday at the Washington Civic Center was a sign that high-level state officials are increasingly aware of the historical significance of a strip of corporate-owned waterfront land in Bath.
That flash of recognition came as Gov. Beverly Perdue, on hand to announce a state grant that would help add hundreds of local jobs over the next five years, accepted a framed print from Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s head economic developer.
The print was of a watercolor painting executed by English gentleman- explorer John White in 1585 — one of the few surviving images of the Secotan Indian village.
The internationally known Secotan, now lost to the ages, “was about 15m minutes” away, at Bath’s Beasley Point, Thompson told the governor as she stood before a crowd assembled for the jobs announcement.
Thompson isn’t alone in this assertion. A number of researchers, historians and
archaeologists say Beasley Point is the most likely candidate for Secotan, and that other candidate sites have been eliminated as contenders through decades of research.
Thompson also referenced appliance panel maker PAS USA, which was the beneficiary of the jobs-tied state grant.
“This village was discovered by a corporation from Europe looking for profits in America,” Thompson said, jokingly comparing PAS to the bold English explorers who, more than four and one quarter centuries ago, made contact with the Algonquian Indians on the shores of what would become North Carolina.
As a coalition of groups interested in archaeology and economic development attempt to develop an archaeological plan for Beasley Point, Thompson is trying to arrange meetings with Perdue and other state officials who could help spur the project along and ultimately determine whether Secotan was sited on Bath Creek or whether it was somewhere else along the Pamlico River.
This coalition is seeking the cooperation of phosphate- mining company PotashCorp, which owns the land and has set forth a series of recommendations on proceeding with the search for Secotan.
To date, the corporation hasn’t agreed to allow further archaeological investigation of the site, but has outlined criteria it contends would need to be satisfied before such a project could get under way.
In an interview with the Daily News, Perdue signaled she could become something of a cooperative partner in the venture.
“I have a real interest in trying to get some collaboration and making the project a reality,” the governor said. “It seems to me to be a potential major tourist attraction for North Carolina, both from the historical and the tourism perspective.”
Thompson, along with members of the locally based Secotan 1585 committee, the First Colony Foundation and others, is lobbying for the construction of a replica of the
Secotan village — based on White’s paintings — in Beaufort County.
First, the organizations aiming for that goal want to map and excavate portions of Beasley Point, which has long been identified as the site of a significant Indian village that has yielded artifacts dating from the “contact period” when natives first encountered Europeans on these shores.
In the interview, Perdue pointed out the fact that she was a history major in college, and was asked what state resources could be tapped to further the search for Secotan.
“I think the value we in this state have of historical preservation and of cultural tourism is really critically important to the success of North Carolina’s tourism industry,” she said. “I can’t speak specifically as to resources that are being discussed now, but I do believe that Mr. Thompson and some others are going to come to Raleigh and meet with us.”
Recently Thompson was pursuing a meeting with Linda Carlisle, secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. One purpose of the sought-for meeting was to ask the state to consider giving up custody of the remains of a black woman and her fetus who were unearthed from Beasley Point roughly a quarter-century ago.
The remains were removed from the point ahead of a bulkheading project initiated by Texasgulf Chemical Co., which owned the land at the time. This excavation left roughly 3,000 artifacts from the site in state custody.
This week, Thompson said the Carlisle meeting hadn’t taken place yet, but indicated the parameters of that meeting could expand to include the governor, a point Perdue confirmed.