Tribe seeking delay of project
Some members of the Patawomeck Indian tribe want construction of six homes on Indian Point along the Potomac River in Stafford County temporarily postponed because they fear artifacts and human remains may be destroyed.
“For us to be able to know our history and to be able to tell our history to the next generation, we need the archaeological studies,” said the tribe’s assistant chief, Gordon Silver.
He hopes that Atlantic Builders will agree to have a small-scale archaeological survey done, led by the state’s Department of Historic Resources and conducted by volunteers.
Tuesday evening, the Stafford Board of Supervisors may ask the developer to agree to a study. The board can’t require it because of Virginia’s property rights laws.
But some argue that it isn’t necessary and may already be too late.
A state archaeologist with the DHR did not know until he was interviewed by a reporter Wednesday afternoon that construction had already begun on the 6-acre site at Marlborough Point, the larger peninsula where Indian Point is found.
“In good circumstances, we would like to get in a year or two before any project is being implemented,” DHR’s Mike Barber said before learning about the ongoing construction.
Digging foundations, installing basements and all the other work required for new houses, “changes the game,” he said.
“We’re ready to do what we can, that’s all we can do,” Barber said.
The Patawomecks, also known as the Potomacs, settled sometime in the mid-1300s and thrived along the Potomac River and Indian Point peninsula, areas now known as Stafford and King George counties.
“There’s never been any doubt that a large group of Indians lived there,” Silver said.
In the 1600s, histories say that the Patawomecks had a friendly relationship with the settlers at Jamestown, and helped them when food supplies dwindled.
Pocahontas is believed to have been a member of the tribe, and her abduction by an English captain is thought to have taken place in the vicinity, perhaps on the other side of Potomac Creek at Passapatanzy in King George.
Specific locations and details are difficult to pin down hundreds of years later.
But parts of the Patawomeck culture survived a brutal massacre and many descendants now live in the White Oak area of Stafford. The tribe was officially recognized by the state in 2010; the majority of its 1,300 members live in the Fredericksburg area, according to Silver.
Over the years, various professional archaeological studies have been conducted across the picturesque peninsula, which is divided by Brooke Road.
In the 1930s and ’40s, the Smithsonian Institution identified several group burial sites used by the Patawomecks.
And in 1996, the state funded a survey done by the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research. An extensive report was published three years later, showing that a substantial village existed from the 1300s to 1550, before Europeans arrived in the area.
Thousands of artifacts were found, including trash-filled pits, posts, possible hearths and remnants from the fortifications surrounding houses—known as palisade villages.
A summary of the William & Mary report available online states that the area is “ripe for study, and the Potomac Creek case is probably one of the better candidates to investigate.”
LAND RIGHTS LIMIT STUDY
The county and state can’t force property owners to do archaeological studies unless federal permits are required. In this case, they are not.
“We encourage people to provide them if it’s an area of high probability, but we can’t require it,” said Jeff Harvey, director of Stafford County’s department of planning and zoning.
Local historian D.P. Newton says the county should not step in. He worries Stafford will use this case to set historical overlay districts on larger areas.
“I believe they’re coercing this man to do these archaeological surveys, and I believe it’ll set a precedence and it could be extended to other people’s property,” said Newton, who created and operates the White Oak Civil War Museum.
Requiring such studies at other sites could lead to higher costs for taxpayers and homeowners, he said.
“I don’t believe artifacts of the dead should take precedence over the welfare of the living,” Newton said, adding that he worries about the spread of misinformation.
Developer Adam Fried, chief executive officer of Spotsylvania County-based Atlantic Builders, said all rules have been followed for the Indian Point project. The company bought the land in December and has been working on two houses.
One is near complete, and the first walls are going up on the other. The homes will be priced in the $300,000s.
“This went through approvals and there were no issues,” Fried said.
Fried had no additional comment.
Supervisor Paul Milde requested last month that the Board of Supervisors consider asking Atlantic Builders to study the land, which he described as “one of the most important parts” of Stafford.
“The houses are coming, the landscaping is changing quickly,” Milde said. “If we ever want to look at the land, we must do it now.”
Other supervisors expressed concern about setting a precedent. Discussion will continue Tuesday afternoon, and a draft letter to Atlantic Builders is included in the online documents with the meeting agenda.
If the builder agrees to the study, the Department of Historic Resources would find a group of volunteer archaeologists to examine the site at no cost, using whatever amount of time was allowed, Barber said.
Barber said the specified area could have overlap from Indian tribes and early Colonial settlements.
“It could be a very significant area. It’s never been looked at and we don’t know what’s there. That’s the quandary,” Barber said.
Volunteers would use a grade-all to remove about 1 foot of topsoil. In the lighter subsoil underneath they may find darker stains caused by human activity, such as trash holes.
If anything was uncovered, the landowner would decide what happens next.
If human remains are found at any point during development or through studies, work must cease to take care of them. The county dedicated a reburial site in the mid-1990s at Aquia Point.
“If nothing is found, we can apologize to the developer for wasting their time, then they can build anything they want,” said Silver, the assistant chief. “We’re not asking for land or the artifacts, we just don’t want the history destroyed on the site. We just need the story.”
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975