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Archeology students search for evidence that explorer lived in Bath house

(June 24, 2003)   —   BATH — Professor Charles Ewen and a class of archeology students from East Carolina University have spent the last five weeks trying to establish for certain that the ruins of a house near Bath Creek here once belonged to famed 18th-century explorer John Lawson.

Like most archeological projects, this one has been tedious, with narrow layers of dirt carefully sifted to yield bits of evidence — ceramic shards, glassware and trinkets.

The project is going on around the remains of two chimneys near the Bonner House at a state historic site. And as the summer field school came to a close on June 24, the evidence was encouraging but not completely convincing. "It would be easier to prove it wasn't Lawson's house than it was," Ewen said. "So far we haven't been able to do that." Lawson, a successful adventurer and writer, is credited with founding the town of Bath in 1705 and the town of New Bern five years later.

He bought land at what is now called Bonner's Point in Bath, and built a house there, but didn't live in it long. He was killed in 1711.

In 1820, a man named Joseph Bonner bought what had once been the Lawson land and built a house on it. When the state acquired the Bonner House and restored in 1961, a kitchen addition was removed, and workers discovered the remains of one chimney that the ECU team is now working on.

A second chimney, 40 feet away, was unearthed last week.

Artifacts found so far include the base of a large, black wine bottle and pieces of pottery that were common at Lawson's time. "We haven't found anything at the base of the foundation to predate Lawson," Ewen said.

"We have 300 years of history in a foot of soil, so we are digging in 3-inch levels to try to keep vertical control," he said. Ewen said that he would like to unearth "something that we could definitely tie to Lawson — a letter stamp or personal cutlery that has his initials."

Ewen's class includes 13 students and two graduate assistants. The summer project is an "excellent partnership between ECU and the North Carolina historic sties," said Patricia Samford, site manager for Historic Bath.

"It's a win-win situation," Samford said. "The students get experience and academic credit and we get historical knowledge."


Contact: ECU News Bureau | 252-328-6481