‘It’s fantastic’: Archaeologists find artifacts on Henrico property from multiple time periods

Artifacts include an arrowhead found from prehistoric era to an unmarked early 20th century African-American cemetery
Updated: Feb. 26, 2021 at 9:20 PM EST
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HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - The purchase of a nearly 40-acre piece of land in Henrico’s east end has resulted in the discovery of several pieces of artifacts dating back to prehistoric Native American activity to the early 20th Century including an unmarked African-American cemetery.

In March 2020, the Capital Region Land Conservancy purchased the piece of land off Long Bridge Road in Varina through funding from the National Park Service. It was purchased to help connect and protect the property to an overall 6,000-acre area related to American and Virginia battlefields.

Based on the grant requirements, an archeological team from William & Mary contacted the group requesting to assess the property. The area of Long Bridge Road has history tied to the documented events of the Civil War, according to the group.

“Long Bridge Road was a well-established road by the mid-nineteenth century and was an important thoroughfare for the movement of troops of both armies,” an interim management summary stated. “It is likely that portions of the property were traversed during the Battle of Second Deep Bottom in 1864. Archaeologists have not yet identified archaeological evidence of this engagement on the property. It is anticipated, however, that indications of Civil War activity may be encountered when the metal detecting portion of the fieldwork resumes.”

Assessment of the property concluded on Jan. 21, 2021; fieldwork began Jan. 26 but was delayed due to periods of bad weather.

On Friday, the team from the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR) continued with metal detecting efforts on the property.

Meanwhile, previous efforts to survey the grounds have been successful.

According to WMCAR’s summary, the survey identified four previously unrecorded archaeological sites.

“This group includes two prehistoric camp sites, a multicomponent prehistoric and historic domestic site and an early twentieth-century family cemetery,” the summary stated.

“It’s fantastic,” said project site manager Tom Higgins with the WMCAR.

For several weeks the team from WMCAR have surveyed the wooded terrain finding artifacts from multiple time periods.

“The prehistoric Native American sites we’ve identified are by and large indicated by flakes of stone, nothing that we call diagnostic that we can actually date it,” Higgins said.

However, there is one exception.

“This dates to the Late Archaic period which is about 3,000 B.C.,” Higgins said holding a projectile point.

Archaeologists said they can pinpoint that time frame based on the diagnostics of the arrowhead; specifically, the Brewerton side-notched design (which has been dated to the Late Archaic period at other sites).

Archaeologists discovered this Brewerton side-notch designed arrowhead near Long Bridge Road...
Archaeologists discovered this Brewerton side-notch designed arrowhead near Long Bridge Road dating back to 3000 B.C.(NBC12)

It led them to believe Native Americans once traveled across the property along Long Bridge Road.

“They very briefly occupied [it for] hunting, campground then moved on,” Higgins said.

While the prehistoric artifacts were found in two areas of the property, archaeologists believe the current layering of the land indicates the artifacts were affected by plowing during the historic period.

Meanwhile, the property is also filled with history from the Civil War era.

“Long Bridge Road was in existence during the early to mid-19th century and it was heavily traveled; during the Civil War, troops were back and forth,” Higgins said.

The site itself is located near several battlefields and researchers have found items connected to that time-period.

“We’ve found some bullets, we found some cannister shots which is a large solid iron ball,” Higgins said.

Perhaps the most research dependent part of this property was spent on an unmarked African-American cemetery.

“Though the location of the cemetery is not documented in property records or maps of the area, it is listed a 2019 survey of Henrico County Cemeteries (2019) currently on file at the County of Henrico Planning Department (CHPD),” the summary stated.

The only clues provided at this cemetery included three graves marked by stone and concrete headstone; one with a specific name for a man named Samuel B. Truman.

“We have his death certificate and from that it matched up to census records, and it matched up to the title report that we had,” said Parker Agelasto, Executive Director for the Capital Region Land Conservancy.

According to Samuel’s death certificate, he died at the age of 28 in 1913 from Typhoid Fever. He was a Freemason, as indicated on his gravestone which was inscribed with the letters “I.B.P.O.E.” (Improved, Benevolent, Protective Order of Elks of the World).

Samuel B. Truman died at the age of 28 from Typhoid Fever, according to his death certificate.
Samuel B. Truman died at the age of 28 from Typhoid Fever, according to his death certificate.(Capital Region Land Conservancy)

Further research shows Samuel was employed as a postal driver for the U.S. Government.

“There’s a newspaper article that named him being the mail carrier of a wagon cart that was hit by one of the downtown trollies,” Agelasto said. “Before the trolly hit he jumped off the wagon and the only people injured were the people driving the trolly.”

Samuel’s gravemarker left researchers expanding their search across the family.

“It then became important for us to track down family members and descendants,” Agelasto said.

One of those descendants is Truman’s great niece, Carolyn Bradford Moten, who visited the site Friday afternoon.

Moten was contacted by the Capital Region Land Conservancy after archaeologists discovered Samuel’s grave, and eight other depressions which are likely graves of other family members.

“There’s so much history that I just wasn’t aware of,” she said.

Archaeologists suspect there are at least 11 graves on the site.

Meanwhile, archaeologists have also found a remnant of a structure on the property, likely the home which belonged to the Trumans.

Agelasto said a man named Abraham Truman, Samuel’s grandfather, purchased the property in 1874.

“Through the deed, we saw where he, an African-American, had paid for the land and ended up having to go to court and have a white neighbor defend his payment and purchase of land after the Civil War so he could take title to it,” he added.

According to the 1870 and 1880 federal census, Abraham Truman’s name appeared in those records. However, previous censuses including 1850 and 1860 show no record of the name.

“This leads us to believe he may have been enslaved,” Agelasto said.

Several other artifacts were found on the property as well near where the structure once stood.

“There are about 75 pieces of ceramic and many of them fit back together to fit either jugs or jars,” Higgins said.

“Some of the examples may have been produced by S. B. Sweeney at his Four Mile Creek pottery just west of the project area,” the summary stated.

Labeled on a map nearby is Sweeney’s Creek, likely named after the local potter.

“Background research coupled with the archaeological information suggests that initial occupation may have occurred around the mid-nineteenth century, when the larger property belonged to local potter and businessman Stephen B. Sweeney,” the summary continued.

Meanwhile, documents show the Truman family owned the property from 1874-1979.

“To date, the land didn’t speak, but now it has it’s voice back,” Agelasto said.

The plan moving forward is to conduct ongoing research into the connections to the property in an effort to continue sharing those stories.

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