Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Discovery excites, intrigues experts


Delaware online
By Molly Murray
December 13, 2004

Courtesy Permanent Collection of the University of Delaware
A painting by Stanley M. Arthurs depicts the landing of the

Swanendael colonists near Lewes in 1631.

The first clue that something really old was washing up on Lewes Beach was a tiny shard of ceramic pottery.
For state archaeologist Craig Lukesic, it was the green glaze that gave it away.

Lukesic called it "borderware" and described it as pottery made on the border of two counties in England. It was manufactured in the 1600s.

Because there are so few artifacts from Delaware's earliest century of European settlement, Lukesic and fellow archaeologist Charles Fithian got excited.

There was the speckled-brown glazed pottery that looked a little like an old sewer pipe - but wasn't. It turns out these pieces may be fragments from earthenware vessels called Bellarmine jars.

There was the delicate stoneware pottery with decorative blue flowers, swirls and checkerboard patterns, the tin-glazed saltware and hundreds of small pieces of green glass from handblown bottles.

To top it all off, there was yellow brick - a find that pointed to a Dutch settlement.

Over the past week, state historians have concluded that the hundreds of artifacts pumped in during a replenishment project at Lewes Beach date from between 1680 and 1720. That would rule out Delaware's earliest settlement, the Swanendael whaling colony, established in 1631.

But whether from a settlement or shipwreck, the find is still an important one for archaeologists and historians.
The discovery came in the weeks following a $3.9 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to improve the Roosevelt Inlet jetty. Workers pumped excess sand from the inlet and replenished the beach with sand pumped in from a site about 2,000 to 3,000 feet offshore. The pumping started in September and finished in October.

The pottery and glass on the beach might not have attracted much attention in an old community like Lewes, except that there was so much of it.

In Lewes, people dig in their yards and find shards of aged pottery. Artifacts routinely are unearthed when the Lewes & Rehoboth Canal, which opened in 1913, is dredged, said Michael DiPaolo, executive director of the Lewes Historical Society.

Sussex County Historic Planner Brian Page said he found pottery shards poking through the mud and marsh grass when he visited Green Hill Light in Lewes' Great Marsh five years ago. He thinks they were from the 18th century.
"Exactly what it was, I have no idea," he said.

But Page said there was enough of a concentration of artifacts to look like a settlement of some type.

In the 1938 book "Delaware: A Guide to the First State," Lewes is described as being to Delaware what "Plymouth is to Massachusetts and Jamestown is to Virginia." It was a seat of colonial government under three flags: the Dutch, then the Swedes, then the Dutch again and finally the English.

All the while, the small community at the entrance to Delaware Bay was an important stopover for merchant ships on a trade route that linked Europe with the West Indies and settled areas along the East Coast.

Plenty of questions
The discussion of how to protect Delaware's undiscovered historic sites is ongoing, as historians eagerly try to nail down just what the Corps dredge contractor scooped up from the bottom of the bay.

Some still think it is from a land settlement from the 1600s, though probably not from Swanendael.

Fithian, the state archaeologist, said what happened to the 28 Swanendael settlers is still a mystery.

The men were part of a commercial whaling venture financed by the Dutch West India Company.

The settlement, like other Dutch trading colonies, was not intended to be permanent, said Christian J. Koot, a fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware. Koot is studying Dutch-English trade in New York and the West Indies.

He got excited by the Lewes discovery when he heard yellow bricks were found on the beach. Yellow bricks are typically a sign of Dutch settlement.

But what remains a mystery to state archaeologists is why there are so many of them on the beach and why they are an unusual size - slightly bigger than what would have typically been used by early Dutch settlers, Fithian said.

Dutch traders set sail from Europe to the West Indies to trade European goods for tobacco and salt. They sailed north along the Atlantic Coast with stops in what are now Delaware, Virginia and New York, then followed currents to Newfoundland. Ultimately, they headed east to the Netherlands.

For the settlers left to set up the Swanendael colony in Lewes, life would have been harsh, and they would have shared the area with the Siconese Indians, according to the Lewes Historical Society. Friction between the groups proved to be the undoing of the colony.

By one account, trouble with the Indians began when one of the Siconese was thought to have stolen a metal coat of arms from the settlement, Fithian said. In the end, all the Dutch settlers were killed.

Capt. David Pietersen DeVries, who brought the settlers to Lewes in 1631, came back the following year and found the remains of the colonists and their animals. The settlement had been burned. DeVries buried the remains and returned to the Netherlands.

In 1638, the Swedes established Delaware's first lasting settlement in what became Wilmington, landing in the Kalmar Nyckel. The Dutch resettled the Lewes area in about 1660, but the British flag flew over it soon thereafter as a result of a peace treaty.

If the artifacts are not from an early Dutch colony, they could be from a shipwreck from a similar time. Koot said it would not be unusual to find a wide variety of artifacts on a sunken ship from other European countries, including Germany and England.

Page, the Sussex County historic planner, said that while there are records of the various settlements in Lewes, the last detailed survey was done in the early 1950s.

"The whole area needs to have a historic survey," he said. "Lewes is the cradle of our state."

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?