Video Explores Genetic Background of Eight White and Three Black People Who Lived in 1600s Delaware

(DOVER, Del. — Sept. 28, 2020) — On Sept. 28, 2020, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs released “Results of the Avery’s Rest Bioarchaeological Investigations,” a video presentation by Raquel Fleskes, a doctoral candidate in biological anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Fleskes is lead author of the research paper “Ancient DNA and bioarchaeological perspectives on European and African diversity and relationships on the colonial Delaware frontier” which was published in the October 2019 edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Go to the following link to watch the video.

Screenshot from Raquel Fleskes’ presentation “Results of the Avery’s Rest Bioarchaeological Investigations”
Screenshot from Raquel Fleskes’ presentation “Results of the Avery’s Rest Bioarchaeological Investigations”

The Avery’s Rest archaeological site is located near the shore of Rehoboth Bay in Sussex County, Del. Beginning in 2006, the site was investigated by a team led by Dan Griffith of the Archaeological Society of Delaware in collaboration with the division. Archival research revealed that the first documented occupation of the site was by John and Sarah Avery and their children in A.D. 1674.

Photo of archaeologists and volunteers working at the Avery’s Rest site.
Archaeologists and volunteers working at the Avery’s Rest archaeological site.

Photo of scissors recovered from the Avery’s Rest archaeological site.
Scissors recovered from the Avery’s Rest archaeological site.

In 2012, evidence of human burials at the site led to the discovery of 11 well-preserved sets of human remains which were later determined to have been interred between the late 1600s and early 1700s. Under the provisions of the State’s Unmarked Human Remains Law, three known descendants of John Avery were identified. With their consent, the State engaged Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution to conduct osteological and mitochondrial DNA analyses of the remains.

Subsequently, Owsley asked Fleskes to conduct DNA sequencing on samples from each of the 11 sets of remains. Fleskes conducted the sequencing at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Molecular Anthropology Laboratories under the supervision of Dr. Graciela Cabana. The results of both the osteological and DNA research revealed that eight of the individuals were of European descent while three were of African descent — the earliest known discovery of remains of enslaved people in Delaware.

DNA sequencing further suggested a number of intriguing insights, most notably that several of the European‐descended individuals were maternally related while the individuals of African descent, genetically linked to present‐day western, central and eastern regions of Africa, were not.

Committed to learning as much as it can about the lives of the people who lived at Avery’s Rest and sharing that knowledge with the community, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs contracted with Richard Grubb and Associates to conduct further historical research as well as commissioning Fleskes’ video presentation.

In her introduction to the video, Fleskes noted that the goal of the Avery’s Rest research was to illuminate the ancestry and relationships of early settlers living on the Delaware frontier in the 17th century. This research is important in understanding the early colonial history of European and African persons in Delaware.

A native of Gaithersburg, Md., Raquel Fleskes holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Maryland and will complete her doctoral studies in biological anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021. Her research explores how DNA can be used to understand human migration and settlement patterns through time. She is particularly interested in population movements during the historic period (1500s–1800s), and how genetics can be used in tandem with historical and cultural information to create a more nuanced perspective of the past.

The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is an agency of the State of Delaware. The division enhances Delaware’s quality of life by preserving the state’s unique historical heritage, fostering community stability and economic vitality and providing educational programs and assistance to the general public on Delaware history. The division’s diverse array of services includes operation of five museums which are accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, administration of the State Historic Preservation Office, conservation of the state’s archaeological and historic-objects collections, operation of a conference center and management of historic properties across the state. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.
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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-739-7787
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware.gov


Delaware Valley Archaeology and History Symposium at the Arsenal in New Castle, Del. on Dec. 7, 2019

Archaeologists and volunteers working at the Avery’s Rest site.

(DOVER, Del.—Nov. 21, 2019)—On Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the Archaeological Society of Delaware and the New Castle Historical Society, will present the “Delaware Valley Archaeology and History Symposium.” The event will include scholarly presentations on the history and archaeology of the lower Delaware Valley including new research and recent updates on the Avery’s Rest archaeological site in Sussex County Del., and the search for Fort Casimir in New Castle, Del.

Illustration depicting Fort Casimir
Image of Fort Casimir after it had been captured by the Swedes, improved and renamed Fort Trefalddighet.

The symposium will take place at the Arsenal building, headquarters of the New Castle Historical Society, located at 30 Market St. in New Castle, Del. Admission is free and open to the public. For additional information about the symposium, contact coordinator John Martin at John.W.Martin@delaware.gov or call 302-736-7406. For information on the Arsenal building, call 302-322-2794.

The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is an agency of the State of Delaware. The division enhances Delaware’s quality of life by preserving the state’s unique historical heritage, fostering community stability and economic vitality and providing educational programs and assistance to the general public on Delaware history. The division’s diverse array of services includes operation of five museums which are accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, administration of the State Historic Preservation Office, conservation of the state’s archaeological and historic-objects collections, operation of a conference center and management of historic properties across the state. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.

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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-739-7787
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware


“Queenstown and the Early Colonial Delmarva: An Archaeological and Historical Symposium” at Delaware’s New Castle Court House Museum on Oct. 13, 2018

(DOVER, Del.—Oct. 3, 2018)—On Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the Archaeological Society of Delaware, will present “Queenstown and the Early Colonial Delmarva: An Archaeological and Historical Symposium.” The event will include scholarly presentations on My Lord’s Gift, a 17th century archaeological site in Queenstown, Md.; and the Coleman Farm, Reedy Island and Fort Casimir sites in Delaware. A schedule of symposium activities is included below.

The My Lord’s Gift site in Queenstown, Md. will be among the topics explored at the Oct. 13, 2018 archaeological symposium.
The My Lord’s Gift site in Queenstown, Md. will be among the topics explored at the Oct. 13, 2018 archaeological symposium.

The symposium will take place at the New Castle Court House Museum located at 211 Delaware St. in New Castle, Del. Admission is free and open to the public. For additional information, contact Craig Lukezic at craig.lukezic@delaware.gov or call 302-736-7407.

Schedule of events

8:45 a.m.
Introduction

Remarks by Craig Lukezic, symposium coordinator and archaeologist, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs; and Jay Custer, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Archaeological Research, University of Delaware

9:15 a.m.
Current Research at My Lord’s Gift, the 17th and 18th-Century Home of Henry Coursey and His Family

Jay Custer, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Archaeological Research, University of Delaware

9:45 a.m.
Deciphering the Architecture of Henry Coursey’s My Lord’s Gift Plantation

Henry Miller, adjunct professor of anthropology, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

10:15 a.m.
BREAK

10:30 a.m.
Analysis of the Ceramic Assemblage at My Lord’s Gift Site

Andrea Anderson, lab coordinator, Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware

11:10 a.m.
Recorded and Recovered: Preliminary Interpretations of Henry Coursey’s Probate Inventory

Barb Silber, archaeologist

11:35 a.m.
An Unusual Earthenware Object from the My Lord’s Gift’ Site

Patricia Samford, director of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

Lunch

1:30 p.m.
Reedy Island: The Gravesend of the Delaware

Bruce A. Bendler, adjunct professor of history, University of Delaware

2:15 p.m.
Future Research at the Coleman Farm Site

Lu Ann De Cunzo, professor and chair, Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware

3:00 p.m.
Future Research of the Fort Casimir Battlefield Project

Craig Lukezic, symposium coordinator and archaeologist, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs

The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is an agency of the State of Delaware. The division enhances Delaware’s quality of life by preserving the state’s unique historical heritage, fostering community stability and economic vitality and providing educational programs and assistance to the general public on Delaware history. The division’s diverse array of services includes operation of five museums which are accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, administration of the State Historic Preservation Office, conservation of the state’s archaeological and historic-objects collections, operation of a conference center and management of historic properties across the state. Primary funding for division programs and services is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Park Service, Department of the Interior, a federal agency. However, the contents and opinions expressed in the division’s programs and services do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Department of the Interior.

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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-739-7787
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware.gov


Archaeological Discovery Writes New Chapter in Delaware’s Early Colonial History

REHOBOTH – An archaeological study years in the making has revealed a wealth of new information about some of Delaware’s earliest colonial settlers and shed new light on what life would have been like in the region three centuries ago.

The discovery of numerous artifacts as well as 11 well-preserved burial sites dating to the late 1600s fills in gaps in Delaware’s early history, telling the story of the colonists’ physical health, diet, family life, and how they made their living. Three of the burials, one a young child, were determined to be of African descent, constituting the earliest known discovery of remains of enslaved people in Delaware.

In cooperation with Delaware’s historical community, the state will now collaborate on a major research project to attempt to identify each of the individuals buried at the site. Future plans will be developed to exhibit the findings, possibly to include facial reconstructions based on the skeletal remains.

“Delaware’s history is rich, fascinating and deeply personal to many of us who call this state home,” said Secretary of State Jeff Bullock. “Discoveries like this help us add new sharpness to our picture of the past, and I’m deeply grateful to the passionate community of historians, scientists and archeologists who have helped bring these new revelations to light.”

The site of the discoveries is Avery’s Rest, a 17th century plantation located in what is now West Rehoboth. The original owner was John Avery, who once served as a judge in nearby Lewes in the period just after the colony transitioned from Dutch to English rule.

“This is a story of the life and death of some of the earliest Europeans and Africans to occupy what is now the state of Delaware,” said Daniel Griffith of the Archeological Society of Delaware. “Their interactions with neighbors, colonial governments and global connections with Europe, Africa, and the British colonies, is revealed to us through archaeology and archival research. The story is even more significant as its telling would not have been possible without the volunteer efforts of many members of the Archaeological Society of Delaware.”

Designated a historically significant site in the 1970s, Avery’s Rest was slated for development in 2005, which spurred the first round of excavations and surveys at the property by the Archeological Society of Delaware in collaboration with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. Over the next few years, archeologists continued to work the site and branch out into neighboring parcels, uncovering artifacts and evidence of structures from the original plantation.

The first burials were discovered in 2012. This triggered a legal process under the state’s Unmarked Human Remains Act, which identified three known descendants of John Avery.

With their consent, the state engaged Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution for his expertise in the field of physical anthropology and his well-known work with early colonial settlements at Jamestown, Va. and St. Mary’s City, Md. The remains were excavated and transferred to the Smithsonian for advanced DNA testing under Dr. Owsley’s supervision.

“Avery’s Rest provides a rare opportunity to learn about life in the 17th century, not only through the study of buried objects and structures, but also through analyses of well-preserved human skeletal remains,” said Dr. Owsley, who leads the Division of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. “The bone and burial evidence provides an intriguing, personal look into the life stories of men, women and children on the Delaware frontier, and adds to a growing body of biological data on the varied experiences of colonist and enslaved populations in the Chesapeake region.”

Bone and DNA analysis confirmed that three of the burials were people of African descent and eight were of European descent. Coupled with research from the historical record, Dr. Owsley further determined that the European burials may be the extended family of John Avery and his wife Sarah, including their daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. However, genetic markers alone are not sufficient to determine the exact identities of the remains.

“This archeological discovery is truly exciting, and reminds us that the ancestors will always make themselves known to us if we listen. The stories of their sacrifices in life and remembrances in death are truly ‘written in bone’ for us to interpret, understand and honor,” said Dr. Angela Winand, head of the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage and Diversity Programs at the Delaware Historical Society. “Long ago, these individuals formed a community at Avery’s Rest upon which our present and our future as a culturally diverse state rests. I look forward to learning more about this discovery from our partners at ASD and the Smithsonian, and sharing these stories with all of Delaware’s citizens, through the work of the Mitchell Center.”

The remains will stay in the custody of the Smithsonian, where they will assist ongoing work to trace the genetic and anthropological history of the early colonial settlers of the Chesapeake region. Delaware law strictly forbids the public display of human remains.

In Delaware, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs will continue to work with the Delaware Historical Society, the Archeological Society of Delaware and others to craft a plan to exhibit the Avery’s Rest findings for the public.

Avery’s Rest – key dates

• 1976 – Site identified by Delaware state archeologists
• 1978 – Site listed in the National Register of Historic Places
• 2005 – Proposed development plan in the area raises concerns from the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
• 2006 – The state obtains landowner permission to survey the site
• 2006-08 – The Archaeological Society of Delaware, with assistance from the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, carries out surveys and excavations of the part of the site to be affected by the development
• 2009 – The Archaeological Society of Delaware continues its investigation on adjacent properties
• 2010 – An exhibit on findings is presented at the Rehoboth Historical Society
• 2010-12 – The Archaeological Society of Delaware continues its investigation on adjacent properties
• Sept. 2012 – First burials identified
• Nov. 2012 – In accordance with Delaware law, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs publishes a notice of the discovery seeking next-of-kin; three descendants of John Avery come forward
• 2013 – Next-of-kin and property owner consent to excavation and analysis of burials; Archaeological Society of Delaware continues investigation and identifies a total of 11 burials
• Sept. 2014 – Memorandum of Agreement signed by Historical and Cultural Affairs, Smithsonian, Archaeological Society of Delaware, and next-of-kin for Smithsonian excavation of the burials, with Historical and Cultural Affairs oversight; remains are transferred to the Smithsonian.
• March 2017 – Smithsonian confirms the age, gender, and ethnicity of the burials
• Aug. 2017 – Final report completed by the Smithsonian


Symposium on the Early Colonial Archaeology of the Delaware Valley Region to be held at Delaware’s New Castle Court House Museum on May 9, 2015

(DOVER, Del.—May 4, 2015)—On Saturday, May 9, 2015, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the Archaeological Society of Delaware, will present “The Early Colonial Delaware Valley—An Archaeological Symposium.” Now in its eighth year, the symposium is dedicated to building a regional-level dialog that can identify the uniqueness of the cultures that existed in the Delaware Valley during the early period of European colonization. A schedule of symposium activities is included below. Go to the following for complete program descriptions.

New Castle Court House Museum
New Castle Court House Museum

The symposium will take place at the New Castle Court House Museum located at 211 Delaware St. in New Castle, Del. Admission is free and open to the public. For additional information, contact Craig Lukezic at craig.lukezic@delaware.gov or call 302-736-7407.

Schedule of events

8:45 a.m.          Introduction
Craig Lukezic, symposium coordinator and archaeologist, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs

9 a.m.               New Archaeological Research for the Lost Corbit Tannery
John Bansch, volunteer coordinator of archaeology projects, Historic Odessa Foundation

9:45 a.m.          Thomas Noxon: Building Appoquinimink Hundred
Bruce A. Bendler, adjunct professor of history, University of Delaware

10:30 a.m.        Testing Taste in a Community of Faith: Some Implications of Colonial Quaker Aesthetics and Consumer Patterns
John P. McCarthy, cultural preservation specialist, Delaware State Parks

11 a.m.–1 p.m. Lunch

1 p.m.              Discovery and Recovery of Eleven Colonial Burials from Avery’s Rest, Sussex County, Delaware
Daniel R. Griffith, Archaeological Society of Delaware

1:45 p.m.          Carter’s Alley: A Case Study in the Evolution of Colonial Philadelphia
Meagan Ratini and Kevin C. Bradley, John Milner Associates, a Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group, Inc. company.

2:15 p.m.          Service Learning Archaeology at Old Swedes Church
Presentations by students of the Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware

2:45 p.m.          Digging at the Surface: Historic Graffiti, Inscription, and the Liminality of Text at Holy Trinity Church (Old Swedes) in Wilmington, Delaware, 1698-1870
Michael J. Emmons, Jr., research assistant, Center for Historic Architecture and Design, University of Delaware

3:30 p.m.          The Origins of Indian Trade Silver: Lenape Brooches from Southeastern Pennsylvania
Marshall Joseph Becker, professor of anthropology emeritus, West Chester University

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Contact:
Jim Yurasek
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Phone: 302-736-7413
E-mail: Jim.Yurasek@delaware.gov
Web: http://history.delaware.gov