Buxton Find Opens New Look At Croatan

The Coastland Times, Manteo, NC, July 31, 1994
Written by Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy

Trash Will Tell Very Old Tale Buxton friends Barbara A. Midgette and Fred L. Willard look over some of the "finds" from Willard's discovery of a new section of a Croatan trash pile. After studying the historical and archaeological records, Willard says, "it was clear where I had to walk." Willard took his walk on Sept. 11, 1993 shortly after Hurricane Emily pushed flood waters over Buxton. About finding evidence of island's first people, Willard says, "I've done some exciting things in my life, but this is the most exciting."

    Buxton - In this Hatteras Island village, a new section of midden in an extensive, archaeologically important site has been discovered and helps confirm the location of the capital town of the Croatan.

    The Croatan, a Carolina Algonkian society, inhabited North Carolina's coast at the time of European contact.

    Hurricane Emily's touch last Aug. 31 revealed the new midden, or refuse heap. Buxton resident Fred L. Willard discovered the new section which he describes as a foot thick and 100 yards square.

    Archaeological exploration of this site and others on Hatteras Island can be expected to yield "sufficient information to reconstruct the lifeways and customs of the Croatan in the period from about A.D. 800 to 1700," says Algonkian expert David S. Phelps, associate director of the Institute for Historical and Cultural Research at East Carolina University, Greenville.

    Past archaeological and historical studies have traditionally placed the capital town also called Croatan in the Buxton area. The last archaeolgical study in the site area, known as 31DR1, was conducted in 1984 by Phelps. The core area of this extensive 31DR1 site is generally put at Rocky Rollinson Road and N.C. 12. To protect private property and to preserve archaeological integrity, Willard is hesitant about pointing out the exact location of the new midden section.

    Willard made his discovery on Sept. 11, 1993. At the newly exposed trash pile, mollusk shells, including whelk shells with a characteristic hole, were found together with animal bone fragments and pottery sherds. The ceramic pieces, pulled from the bottom, middle and top of the foot-thick midden, are typical of Colington phase pottery-making of the Croatan.

    Phelps says the Croatan society was limited to present-day Hatteras Island, and possibly Ocracoke as well. The island nature of the society is the unique characteristic.

    Unlike mainland Algonkian societies, "Croatan relied solely on the island environment for agriculture and natural resources required to support a complex, class-stratified society." says Phelps.

Lost Colony Link Unlikely

    When John White returned to Roanoke Island in 1590, he found "CRO" carved in a tree and "CROATOAN" engraved on a post.

    Inevitably, the question will be asked, will the mystery of Raleigh's 1587 "lost colony" be solved by the new midden?

    Discoverer Fred L. Willard and Carl Bornfriend, director/curator of the Frisco Native American Museum, respond "no evidence we have found indicates this is where the Lost Colony came."

    What archaeological work on the entire Buxton site will do is unveil details of the original Algonkian-Croatan island society, which sent forth to the Roanoke colonies consistently friendly and welcoming Native Americans, including story star, Manteo.

Symposium Set Saturday On Archaeological Find

    Following up the new archaeological find on Hatteras Island, a symposium has been scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Frisco Native American Museum.

    Making a presentation at the symposium will be Algonkian expert David S. Phelps, who directed the first and only test excavation in the Buxton area traditionally identified as the capital town of the Croatan, a Carolina Algonkian society. Phelps' test excavation was conducted in 1983.

    Since the identified area of the Croatan town is entirely under private ownership, the symposium will be particularly informative for Buxton property owners and residents.

    Phelps' presentation will include information about Carolina Algonkian societies unearthed from excavations in other areas.

    The Frisco Native American Museum, a private, nonprofit museum is a member of the Association of American Museums. Carl Bornfriend serves as the museum's director and curator and Joyce Bornfriend its secretary and treasurer. The museum displays artifacts from the Bornfriends' extensive private collection as well as collections acquired by the museum.

    Museum representatives sit on the Smithsonian Institution's Southeast Consortium for the American Indian Museum. Assessment work at the museum was financed by a federal grant, and Wake Forest University and the Xerox Corp. have made donations to facilitate the museum's work.

    The museum's exhibits will remain open from 5 to 7 p.m. prior to the symposium. The Outer Banks Community Foundation contributed funds for the Algonkian display which features the artistic interpretative work of Hatteras Islander Jack Hebenstreit.

    Light refreshments, furnished by Kelly's, will be served at the symposium. Organizers expect the formal presentations to conclude at 8:30 p.m.

Croatan History Weaves Tale Of Decline

    From historical writings, drawings and maps, beginning in 1523, descriptions of the Croatan island chiefdom located on present-day Hatteras Island, and possibly Ocracoke, emerge.

     The bounds of the island society are described as running from an inlet called Chacandepeco located at the northern end of Buxton to Old Hatteras Inlet, which is now part of Ocracoke Island.

    Carolina Algonkian society, of which the Croatan were a part, was agrarian based and its settlement pattern reflects the spread-out nature of such a society with a capital town, smaller settlements at some distance, then more dispersed farm areas.

    The broader, maritime forest areas of Hatteras Island offered on the soundside soils were sufficient to support small populations.

    The society was class-stratified. At the time of early English colonization attempts, the Croatan were ruled by a queen, Manteo's mother.

    After permanent European colonization began in North Carolina, it took less that 100 years for the Carolina Algonkian society, ravaged by European-introduced disease and starvation, to disappear.

    The Croatan, called Hatteras Indians by the 1700s, were reported with 16 fighting men in a population survey conducted by John Lawson, made in 1701 and published in 1709.

    In 1715, the Hatteras Indians were described as "being very poor, and in great poverty." The N.C. Council granted the tribe 16 bushels of corn.

    A map by Edward Moseley, published in 1733 with data collected in 1729, contains the note "Indians, none inhabiting the See Coast, but about 6. or 8., at Hatteras, who dwell among the English."

    The new section of midden located in Buxton will give archaeologists clues to the society that disappeared. Beyond the midden, excavations may yield the house patterns and plan of the capital town, which was the central place in a network of some dozen sites on Hatteras Island and was the political and social center of the society.

Site's Drawn Limited Look

    Archaeological investigation of Hatteras Island's capital town Croatan is in its infancy. The specific 31DR1 site in Buxton has had a professional look-over twice and a small test in 1983.

    In 1937, University of North Carolina archaeologist Joffre Coe identified the location with a surface survey in the area of Rocky Rollinson Road.

    Twenty years later, in 1958, William G. Haag published the results of his 1954 surface survey of the Buxton site as well as six others on Hatteras Island.

    Only in 1983 was the first test excavation accomplished in the capital town Croatan. Working under the sponsorship of America's Four Hundreth Anniversary Committee, East Carolina University archaeologist David S. Phelps directed a test excavation at a midden in the northeastern end. Buxton resident Zander Brody identified the location for the skilled diggers.

    Like looking for Croatan, the Buxton site number 31DR1 requires some explanation. The number is one of the Smithsonian Insitution's nationwide numbering system to locating archaeological sites. The number "31" represents North Carolina's alphabetical standing on the list of states; DR stands for Dare County; and "1" indicates that the Buxton site was the first listed in the county.

Return to Articles