Site thought to be linked to Lost Colony now part of a state na­ture pre­serve

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Triangle & N.c. - BY RICHARD STRADLING [email protected]­sob­server.com

A swatch of swamp and farm land at the head of Albe­marle Sound that may con­tain ar­chae­o­log­i­cal clues about the fate of the famed Lost Colony is now a state na­ture pre­serve.

The Salmon Creek State Nat­u­ral Area cov­ers 1,000 acres in a re­mote cor­ner of Ber­tie County, where the creek meets the sound near the mouth of the Chowan River. The N.C. Coastal Land Trust bought the land and re­cently gave it to the state parks de­part­ment.

The prop­erty had been ap­proved for de­vel­op­ment of up to 2,800 homes and a 212-slip ma­rina, said Camilla Her­levich, the land trust’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. Though that project was aban­doned with the re­ces­sion 10 years ago, Her­levich said the own­ers put the prop­erty back on the mar­ket in early 2017.

“It was listed for a price for im­me­di­ate sale but at a price above what we had planned to of­fer,” she said. “It be­came pretty clear to us that time is money.”

So the land trust bor­rowed money – some­thing it sel­dom does – to buy the prop­erty, then sought grants from sev­eral sources, in­clud­ing the state Clean Wa­ter Man­age­ment Trust Fund, the state Parks and Recre­ation Trust Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, to pay off the loans.

The new na­ture pre­serve bor­ders about 3.5 miles of the north bank of Salmon Creek and in­cludes about 400 acres of cy­press-gum swamp and ma­ture bot­tom­land for­est. The rest of the prop­erty is farmed for trees and crops.

Near the shore of the sound is an area where ar­chae­ol­o­gists have found ev­i­dence of a Na­tive Amer­i­can vil­lage as well as a Euro­pean set­tle­ment from as early as the late 1500s. Phillip Evans, pres­i­dent of the First Colony Foun­da­tion, the non­profit be­hind the work, said the find­ings in­clude ceram­ics from the pe­riod as well as a lead seal made in Ger­many in the late 1500s, an item that peo­ple wouldn’t likely keep for long.

“It’s like the tag on your clothes; you throw it away,” Evans said. “It shows they are there, they’re ac­tive, and they’re us­ing fab­rics they brought with them.”

Evans calls the tag “a lit­tle piece of the an­swer to the mys­tery of the Lost Colony,” the at­tempt to es­tab­lish an English set­tle­ment on Roanoke Is­land start­ing in 1585. When John White, the leader of the sec­ond of two ex­pe­di­tions to the is­land, re­turned from an ex­tended trip to Eng­land in 1590, the set­tlers were gone.

In 2012, re­searchers at the Bri­tish Mu­seum in Lon­don took a closer look at a map White drew in the 1580s and dis­cov­ered

a patch cov­er­ing a sym­bol near the mouth of Salmon Creek that sug­gests a fort or other set­tle­ment. The First Colony Foun­da­tion has fo­cused its ef­forts on this area, known as “Site X,” which is sur­rounded by a larger Na­tive Amer­i­can set­tle­ment called Met­taquem.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists have known about Met­taquem for decades, but it was only dur­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal work re­quired in ad­vance of the po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment of the Salmon Creek prop­erty that English pot­tery thought to be from the 1600s turned up, said Nicholas Luc­ck­etti of the James River In­sti­tute for Ar­chae­ol­ogy in Wil­liams­burg, Va., who did the sur­veys. Luc­ck­etti, who works with the First Colony Foun­da­tion, said later dis­cov­er­ies at Site X now sug­gest that some mem­bers of the Lost Colony were there.

“It’s not the re­lo­ca­tion site of a large group of colonists,” he said. “Our spec­u­la­tion is that it’s just a few of them.”

Luc­ck­etti said the Salmon Creek prop­erty also likely con­tains ar­ti­facts from the home of Thomas Pol­lock, a colo­nial gov­er­nor in the early 1700s who named his plan­ta­tion Bal­gra af­ter his an­ces­tral home in Scot­land. The de­vel­op­ment planned for this land would have been called Bal Gra Har­bor.

Luc­ck­etti called the preser­va­tion of the site by the land trust “a re­mark­able achieve­ment.”

“It’s an ex­tremely rare oc­cur­rence for sig­nif­i­cant ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites not to be de­stroyed by de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

The ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, as well as the swamp forests along the creek, are the main rea­sons the state is mak­ing it a nat­u­ral area and not a park, which would re­ceive far more vis­i­tors, said Katie Hall, spokes­woman for the N.C. Divi­sion of Parks and Recre­ation. Hall said there will likely be some types of “low-im­pact” pub­lic use of the prop­erty, such as kayak­ing and ca­noe­ing, in the fu­ture.

“We’re just get­ting the prop­erty into our sys­tem,” she said. “We’ll start think­ing about how it will be pro­tected in the longterm and what that will mean for pub­lic ac­cess.”

N.C. Coastal Land Trust

The new Salmon Creek State Nat­u­ral Area bor­ders the creek for 3.5 miles and in­cludes 400 acres of ma­ture cy­press-gum swamp and bot­tom­land hard­wood.

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