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ECU archaeology team to dig for Gov. Caswell grave

KINSTON, NC   (Oct. 25, 2000)   —   The words on a partially dismantled grave marker in a historic residential section of Kinston say the deceased "is not dead but sleepeth." And a few feet away, people grind and chop in a bamboo thicket sprouting from what may be the gravesite of North Carolina's first elected governor.
The workers are archaeology students from East Carolina University. Spurred on by local tales, legends and very few written accounts, they hope their work will uncover the remains of Gov. Richard Caswell and end the years of mystery surrounding his final resting-place.
Known as the Caswell Cemetery at Vernon Hall and located on property that belongs, in part, to a medical clinic and to a historical hill-top home site, the old graveyard is within a half mile of the city's downtown district. Members of the Caswell family including Gov. Caswell's mother, father and brother, and perhaps the governor himself may be buried in graves that are no longer marked.
A monument for the family of John Washington, a Kinston notable, and a crumbling brick wall were grown over with bamboo and ivy before the archaeology team arrived on Wednesday.
Dr. Charles R. Ewen, a professor of anthropology and the ECU archaeologist in charge of the search, said the plan is to clear a portion of the site and scan the area with ground-penetrating radar that would show such things as burials, crypts and tunnels.


A Kinston woman who remembers playing near the site as a child remembers a tunnel that once existed at the graveyard site. Her story, published in the local newspaper, tells of her memories of when 1954's Hurricane Hazel uprooted a large oak at the old graveyard to reveal an entryway to a brick-lined tunnel. The tunnel was reported to have extended back into the hillside for at least 100 feet and contained a skeleton.
"She may have discovered a burial crypt that was not as large as she thought," said Ewen. But he said the tunnel is a possibility and may have extended from the main house located higher up the hill.
"With most historical properties, there are tales of tunnels," he said. The popular belief is that the tunnel was an escape route or a secret entryway to the house during the Civil War.
Caswell, a Kinston native and Revolutionary War hero, was the first governor of the independent state of North Carolina. He was chosen by the state's general assembly in 1777 and was re-elected to terms in 1778 and 1779. He was again elected to three successive terms from 1785 to 1788.
He suffered a fatal stroke while presiding over a meeting of the state senate in Fayetteville and died there on Nov. 10, 1789. Written records about Caswell's burial are lost, but most historians agree that the site is in Kinston at one of a couple of suspected places.
Several Kinston residents have encouraged efforts to locate Caswell's grave. Ted Sampley, an amateur historian and local business owner, is one of those interested in finding the gravesite.
"I would like to see us find the grave and establish a memorial to Caswell as a Revolutionary War hero and the state's first governor," Sampley said.
He said Caswell w