Wednesday, April 16, 2003

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) Archaeologists studying a historic site got unexpected help from scores of wild jonquils.
Warming spring weather coaxed the jonquils to sprout along the foundation of a school where American Indian students were once taught.
The Nansemond Indian Public School educated Nansemond children in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Indians were excluded from white schools and not welcomed in black schools.
“This project is unique and exciting for me as an archaeologist because I can actually talk to people whose parents and grandparents went to school here. They bring history alive,” said E. Randolph Turner III, director of the Portsmouth regional office of the Virginia Department of Historical Resources.
The Nansemond Indian Tribal Association and the resources department are excavating artifacts and uncovering data about the school, which burned in 1928. The jonquils outlined the school’s foundation on the grounds of Indiana United Methodist Church.
Nansemond Tribe council member Fred Bright had heard family stories of jonquils growing around the old school. The land once belonged to his great-great-grandparents, Joseph and Elizabeth Bass Bright, who donated the property to the Methodist Church.
In 1850, Indiana United Methodist Church began as a mission church for members of the Nansemond tribe, who still meet there. A school was built on the church grounds in the 1890s to serve Nansemond families that had settled in the Bowers Hill area. After a suspicious fire damaged the original school, a new schoolhouse, later destroyed by fire, was built on the same site and surrounded by jonquils.
A re-creation of the school might be included in Mattanock Town, the $5.3 million cultural center and museum the tribe hopes to build on part of its ancestral grounds in Suffolk. The project would be the only authentic replica of an Indian village on the East Coast.
The original Mattanock Town was one of several Nansemond villages that Capt. John Smith documented when he explored the area in 1608.
So far, volunteers working on the dig have uncovered only bits of brick, lumps of melted glass and an iron fragment, perhaps part of a stove grate.
“It is significant that we are finding only construction debris and no personal artifacts, no marbles, bits of slate, things that you would expect to find in a school,” Mr. Turner said. “We are learning that the Indians were a very poor people, living austere lives.”

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