- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

VIRGINIA BEACH — Army scientists looking at an archaeological study from 1955 and Colonial records have identified a site off the Lynnhaven River as the long-lost Henry Towne, one of the earliest English settlements in America.

In a 1613 letter, Lt. Gov. Samuel Argall described the outpost near Cape Henry as “Henries Towne,” said Randy Amici, who led the team that conducted the work as part of an archaeological study of Fort Story in Virginia Beach.

Other accounts from the time suggest that Henry Towne existed as early as 1610.

“For the first time, we know that there was an early 17th-century English settlement in the city of Virginia Beach that was contemporaneous with Jamestown,” Mr. Amici said.

Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement America, was founded in 1607.

The Lynnhaven River site was discovered during construction of a housing development in 1955, and Norfolk archaeologist Floyd Painter excavated it for the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, now the Chrysler Museum of Art.

The Painter collection includes twisted iron rods and iron tools that might indicate a blacksmith’s forge or a ship’s store and pipe fragments that could signal the presence of a trading post, Mr. Amici said.

Assessments by the Smithsonian Institution and the College of William & Mary dated the artifacts between 1610 and 1660.

But not until Mr. Amici came across the little-known Argall reference a year ago was there a suspected link between the site and the lost settlement of Henry Towne.

“It was the first I’d ever heard of it,” he said. “So we started trying to track down exactly what Argall was talking about.”

Argall wrote of sending a ship to fish off the coast of Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, then transporting the catch “to Henries Towne for the reliefe of such men as were there.”

Other records indicate there were several forts, possibly including Henry Towne, at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay as early as 1610, Mr. Amici said.

However, two other studies raise questions about the date of the settlement.

Archaeologist Nick Luccketti, who is head of the Williamsburg-based James River Institute for Archaeology and part of the team that discovered Jamestown, conducted a limited excavation at the Lynnhaven site in 2005. He and his colleagues found nothing dated earlier than the second quarter of the 17th century, he said.

Other evidence suggests the site is closely connected to the Adam Thoroughgood tobacco plantation, which dates to about 1635.

“This was an extraordinary complex for the time — it’s the Jamestown of Virginia Beach,” Mr. Luccketti said. “But our conclusion was that everything we found dated to about midcentury.”

Similar conclusions emerged from a study of the Painter collection conducted in 1980 by Beverly A. “Bly” Straube, now curator of the Jamestown Rediscovery collection, and prominent Williamsburg-based archaeologist Merry Outlaw.

The assemblage contained numerous Dutch and Portuguese pottery fragments that normally are associated with later contexts, Mrs. Straube said. It also featured tobacco pipe fragments virtually identical to some finds in Maryland that have been reliably dated to about 1650.

Whatever the settlement’s date, its connection to early Colonial Virginia has sparked a recreated English town site, an Indian village and a historical drama scheduled to debut in April at nearby Cape Henry.

Financed by the nonprofit First Landing Foundation, the $700,000 project will include more than a dozen structures, an outdoor stage and seating for about 500 people.

“This is just the first phase of what we hope to do here,” project coordinator Jeanne Evans said.

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