Search for Secotan village goes on

Published 3:14 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Staff Writer

An ancient, nearly forgotten facet of Beaufort County’s past made news this year as an effort to find a lost, internationally famous Indian village gained momentum — and critical allies.
The search for this village, known as Secotan, has drawn the interest of leading regional historians, archaeologists and local and state officials who say finding this vanished site could hold a key to Beaufort County’s economic future and a better understanding of American history.
Among the history buffs leading the charge to locate this capital of an Algonquian nation is Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer.
Secotan was made famous in watercolors painted in 1585 by English gentleman John White.
“They’re the only paintings done of American Indians that are at that time period,” Thompson said in August. “And for almost 200 years there was nothing like them.”
Thompson and his colleagues have arrayed a coalition of people interested in unearthing Secotan, which project proponents believe may have been located in Beaufort County.
At last report, the Secotan 1585 committee, an outgrowth of the nonprofit Beaufort County Committee of 100, was partnering with a prominent archaeological group, the First Colony Foundation, to develop a plan for excavation work at Beasley Point, a segment of waterfront property on Bath Creek.
Thompson and other researchers say Beasley Point, which is owned by Canadian phosphate-mining company PotashCorp, is the most viable candidate for Secotan, based on a centuries-old map and artifacts unearthed on the property roughly a quarter-century ago.
“It was the capital of the Secotan nation,” Thompson told the Daily News in August. “The Secotan nation ran from about the Chowan River down to the Neuse River, and Secotan was the capital. … It’s the only Indian village that’s been documented to the extent it has in America.”
By year’s end, the ardor for Secotan had extended to the highest levels of state government, as evinced by the words of Gov. Beverly Perdue, who recently visited Washington for a jobs announcement.
“I have a real interest in trying to get some collaboration and making the project a reality,” Perdue said in a late-December interview. “It seems to me to be a potential major tourist attraction for North Carolina, both from the historical and the tourism perspective.”
The passion for Secotan might have been sparked by the movement to wrest from state custody the bones of a man believed to have been a member of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew.
The remains are thought to be those of Edward Salter, a wealthy Bath merchant who died in January 1735. Upon his death, Salter was laid to rest on a plantation he owned at Beasley Point.
Salter’s remains were disinterred in the late 1980s as Texasgulf Chemical Co., which owned the land, cycled through a permitting process as it sought to bulkhead and prevent further erosion of the waterfront property.
After court proceedings led by Raleigh researcher Kevin Duffus and some of Salter’s heirs, the bones were brought back to Beaufort County and reinterred temporarily.
The heirs are reportedly working with Potash to have Salter’s remains buried back where they were unearthed, though the company has shown no outward sign it will allow such a move.
Thompson and his cohorts have said a replica of Secotan — a would-be tourist attraction — should be built in Beaufort County, preferably along Bath Creek, where they believe the village was sited.
Pat Mansfield is a Secotan enthusiast and a Bath resident who heads the Blackbeard Adventure Alliance, a nonprofit entity planning to build a replica of Blackbeard’s sloop, the Adventure.
Mansfield is one of dozens of people calling for further investigation of the secrets they say Beasley Point harbors.
“It’s time, it’s time,” Mansfield said over the summer. “And I think that the winds are blowing in the correct direction.”
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