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Coan Hall exhibit opens

HEATHSVILLE—A new exhibit focusing on Coan Hall recently opened at the Northumberland County Historical Society (NCHS), 86 Back Street, Heathsville.

Coan Hall, the home of the first leader of the English settlement of the Northern Neck, was the center of the colonial community of Chicocoan, reported Susan Anthony-Tolbert. John Mottrom and his son, John Mottrom Jr., and grandson, Spencer Mottrom, lived at Coan Hall from the 1640s until the early 1700s when the home disappeared from the landscape of Northumberland County. Not only has the Mottrom homesite long been a center of historical interest but beginning in 2011 it became a focus of archaeological research.

The current exhibit contains the recent work of Professor Barbara Heath and her associates from the University of Tennessee, said Anthony-Tolbert. The site has yielded nearly 4,000 fragments of English and Dutch tobacco pipes and more than 300 fragments of pipes made in Virginia by Native Americans—a few of which can be seen at the exhibit along with explanations.

Visitors to the museum will become acquainted with such terms as “ground penetrating radar,” “gradiometer” and “total station,” she continued. Before actual digging begins, archaeologists use ground penetrating radar and gradiometers to create an image of what lies below the surface. Using survey equipment, a “total station,” they lay a grid over the area.

At Coan Hall, Dr. Heath used 5-foot by 5-foot squares to observe variations in sediment color and texture. The earth is carefully sifted through screens of various sizes. Artifacts, animal bones, shells and evidence of human activity are collected on site. They are washed, sorted and carefully labeled for laboratory analysis. In the lab, artifacts are catalogued along with field records, maps and photos.

The artifacts skillfully put on display by Dr. Heath and associates, and assisted by NCHS vice president Scott McGuire, allow the public to view examples of such items as fish spears, a pot lid, spoon handles and bowls, a milk pan, jugs and jars dating from circa 1650-1725. Along with the artifacts, the picture of the layout of the Manor House and the description of its rooms and outbuildings offers a glimpse of architecture of the period.

The exhibit discusses Africans and their descendants who lived and worked at Coan Hall, including Elizabeth Key, who sued for her freedom in court and won. The notion of “exchange” between the English settlers and the native Chicocoans is presented: Tribes gave corn in exchange for copper, beads and other goods. Of course, no exhibit of this time period would be complete without a discussion of smoking and tobacco, said Anthony-Tolbert.

The exhibit is open to the public from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and will continue through late spring 2020.

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