Researchers closing in on ex-pirate Salter remains

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Researchers working to trace the origins of remains believed to be those of ex-pirate Edward Salter have arrived at some key preliminary conclusions, sources close to the project said.

blackbeardThese conclusions could be read as further proof that the remains, disinterred a quarter-century ago, were indeed Salter’s, the sources claimed.

Salter was a planter, justice of the peace and assemblyman who died in January 1735.

The remains were unearthed in the 1980s as part of an attempt to preserve bones and artifacts long buried at Beasley Point in Bath.

The state oversaw the on-site archaeological work as then-landowner Texasgulf Chemical Co. sought permission to bulkhead the property and prevent further erosion by Bath Creek.

The remains were kept in state custody by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources until last year, when interested parties, including some of Salter’s heirs, successfully petitioned the court to have the bones returned to Beaufort County.

Before being brought back to the county, the remains were analyzed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

At present, the bones lie in an unmarked, undisclosed space in the county, awaiting final disposition.

Staff at the Smithsonian are narrowing different lines of inquiry, but early findings suggest the remains belonged to a colonial-era cooper, confirmed Douglas Owsley, a curator, division head and physical anthropologist in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Experts can recognize certain activities that were engaged in by a deceased person based on bone-muscle development, and the type of motions performed by a cooper — a barrel-maker — seem to show in the purported Salter remains analyzed at the Smithsonian, Owsley related.

“And the man certainly shows he’s not a laborer — in terms of the way the skeleton expresses itself — engaged in very heavy physical labor,” he said.

This is significant because Salter, a wealthy Bath merchant and landholder thought to have been a member of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew, also had been a cooper at some time.

Raleigh author, researcher and historian Kevin Duffus has forwarded the theory that the Edward Salter who had been buried in Bath was the same man who served on Blackbeard’s crew. Duffus has said it appears Salter later was pardoned after being captured in Bath.

In a letter to the editor published in the Sept. 21, 2010, edition of the Washington Daily News, Duffus wrote the best explanation as to why Salter could have received pardons for piracy was that he and two other crewmen “were no longer pirates and were not present at the Battle of Ocracoke where their former shipmates had fired upon the King’s Navy, an unpardonable act of treason.”

In a recent interview, Duffus said that when he collected the remains from the Smithsonian, before accompanying them back to Beaufort County, Owsley told him some specific features in the structure of the skeleton’s hands and wrists were consistent with other bones he had examined belonging to men who were known to be coopers.

“We’re very confident that this was Edward Salter,” said Duffus. “There was nothing in (Owsley’s), I guess, testing and examination which would have contradicted that theory, which is important.”

Genealogical research continues as Smithsonian staff tries to obtain more answers for Salter’s heirs, Owsley said.

“We are compiling different background genealogical information that is for the family,” he commented. “We have a very experienced genealogist that has spent quite a lot of time and is still tracking down a lot of the loose ends.”

These Salter-related tasks complement the Smithsonian’s ongoing research into Chesapeake-area populations, he said.

“We can tell from the bone evidence, begin to localize it and localize it to a mid-Atlantic area, not too much in the New England area at all, not too far down South,” Owsley stated.

The next step would be to root out existing genetic relationships, and DNA tests to further these aims are not out of the question down the road, he suggested.

Owsley added he hopes to release a final report on the Smithsonian’s Salter findings as soon as possible, though he couldn’t pinpoint an exact date.

The Rev. John Stephen Park is one of Salter’s heirs.

Park said he had spoken with Owsley, and is encouraged by the expert’s words.

“He has ruled out as a point of origin both England and the south, and by the south he doesn’t mean the United States as much as he meant the Caribbean,” Park said.

Park also advanced the idea that Salter could have been impressed into piracy, citing a captain’s report from a ship raided by Blackbeard’s men.

“He was obviously involved in sailing or shipping before that, and it would be of interest to me to know where that all started,” Park said.

Park and other Salter heirs have asked PotashCorp, the present-day owner of Beasley Point, to let their ancestor be reburied where he was disinterred.

So far, the corporation has denied that request, but it has offered to let the remains be placed in an existing cemetery on company land that would be accessible to the heirs by appointment.

The vestry of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Bath said it would allow Salter’s bones to be buried on church grounds, provided they were placed beneath a marker that did not specify the identity of the deceased.

The heirs still await a solution to the problem of where to lay their ancestor to rest on a permanent basis.

“We’ve made no progress with Potash, and I don’t know exactly what the next step is,” said Duffus, who has acted as a spokesman and advocate for the heirs.


Author: Jonathan Clayborne | Source: Washington Daily News [January 26, 2011]


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