Is ‘Secotan’ gate still open?

Published 6:36 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Staff Writer

PotashCorp could keep open the prospect of allowing archaeological work at company-owned land at Bath’s Beasley Point, provided certain steps are taken as prescribed by the corporation, a spokeswoman indicated.
In a statement released to the Washington Daily News, Michelle Vaught, spokeswoman for PotashCorp, points to criteria outlined in a Sept. 30, 2010, letter from Steve Beckel, general manager of the company’s Aurora facility.
That letter was addressed to Jerry Langley, chairman of the Beaufort County commissioners, and other local officials.
The document set forth the company’s requirements for its qualified cooperation in an effort to determine whether Beasley Point was the site of the lost Secotan Indian village.
Secotan, the capital of an Algonquian Indian nation, was painted by English gentleman-explorer John White in connection with a 1585 expedition to the New World.
A number of experts and their supporters say the most viable candidate for Secotan is Beasley Point, located in the Archbell Point vicinity on the west bank of Bath Creek.
In a Jan. 3 letter to Langley and others, Beckel noted the company was withdrawing its participation in the Secotan project based on its assertion the steps it called for in September hadn’t been taken.
Yet, Vaught indicated PotashCorp isn’t permanently closing the door of further investigation of the land, which, she has said, is used for agricultural purposes.
“We are open if the (Secotan searchers are) interested in following the specific steps outlined in our Sept. 30 letter,” she wrote.
Farther down in the statement, Vaught reproduced the criteria specified in Beckel’s September letter.
“We prescribed, in order, the following steps that should be taken,” she wrote. “They have not been taken. And as the landowner, these steps are not open to interpretation.
“1) The very first step is a comprehensive search, using state site records, of known archaeological sites along the Pamlico (River) and its tributaries. This data would allow either the ruling out of other locations as Secotan, or indicate known sites that could potentially be Secotan.
“2) A thorough stripping of the documentary sources needs to be accomplished. Old land records often contain references to earlier Native American place names, and a search of land records could help prove or disprove the village location.
“3) The formation of an advisory committee composed of archaeologists and historians with expertise on contact period Native American (especially Algonquian) site and history is essential. It is also crucial to include representatives from North Carolina and Virginia Native American groups to help in formulating this project, especially if Federal support is anticipated now or in the future. This committee will also be aware of the most current technology and non-invasive data recovery methods that will maximize returns.
“4) A marketing feasibility study should be undertaken to confirm that the reconstruction of Secotan would bring substantial tourism dollars to the county. The county will want to see if costs are going to exceed anticipated revenues.”
Beckel’s September letter showed that the company had engaged Patricia Samford, former director of the Bath state historic site and current director of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory.
Samford volunteered her services and “gathered input from additional experts” to craft a list of recommendations for the site, according to Vaught and the September letter.
It appeared Beckel’s original letter was based largely on Samford’s recommendations, which were forwarded to the Daily News along with the letter last year.
Tom Thompson, Beaufort County’s chief economic developer, recently said groups leading the search for Secotan were working to meet PotashCorp’s standards and already had satisfied some of the company’s requirements.
“We were engaged in that,” Thompson said over the weekend. “It took quite a while to do it, and we hadn’t even finished it.”
He said these groups would continue talking with PotashCorp about this matter.
Paul Spruill, Beaufort County manager, confirmed he’d had one meeting with Beckel to mull over the Secotan proposal.
“The purpose of his interacting with me to was to emphasize to me the importance of the company’s position that their September process be followed,” Spruill said.
In response to a follow-up question, Spruill added, “I have no reason to believe that any interested group whose goal it is to follow the Secotan opportunity would have a problem with sticking to the process outlined in the company’s September letter.”
It has been reported that the state has in storage approximately 3,000 artifacts extracted from the Beasley Point site in the mid- to late 1980s.
These artifacts were referred to in a March 1987 archeological survey prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by MAAR Associates of Newark, Del.
The report was produced during a government clearance process preceding the issuance of permits to bulkhead the property and stop further erosion by Bath Creek.
The MAAR report refers to a “sizable team” that conducted field work and documented artifacts unearthed on the land.
“These efforts have concluded that the material culture resources due to both prehistoric Late Woodland occupation and 18th and early 19th century historic period occupation are valuable sources of information, not to be hastily compromised,” the report’s foreword reads.
In a summary, the report’s authors wrote that their investigation “resulted in the conclusion 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 recommendation of significance and nomination potential applies to both the prehistoric (Indian) and historic components.”
During the early colonial era, the point was home to Gov. Charles Eden, a contemporary of Blackbeard the pirate and, later, belonged to Edward Salter, a wealthy Bath merchant who was thought to have been a member of Blackbeard’s crew.