State tries to unearth legend of pirate John Avery
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    Jun 2006
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    State tries to unearth legend of 'pirate' John Avery

    Historic site yields evidence of a well-to-do life in 17th-century Delaware
    By MOLLY MURRAY, The News Journal
    He was one of Delaware's early settlers, a sea captain, a possible raider of the Dutch settlement at Lewes and eventually a justice of the peace and judge.

    But most of all, John Avery was a landowner. By the time he died, he owned more than 900 acres around Rehoboth Bay.

    And now state and volunteer archaeologists are working together to examine Avery's Rest -- land he received by patent in 1675.

    The site, just west of Rehoboth Beach and near the upper end of Rehoboth Bay is significant because it is an early settlement and because the current property owner has given archaeologists access to the property and time to investigate and dig there, said Craig Lukezic, a state archaeologist.

    The site is slated for a residential housing development.

    The project is significant because the state's small group of archaeologists have combined forces with volunteer diggers with the Archaeological Society of Delaware.

    Local legend has it that Avery was a pirate -- the legendary Plymouth, England-born model for Daniel Defoe's hero in "Life, Adventures and Pyracies of the Famous Captain Singleton."

    That John Avery pillaged and plundered in the Caribbean, along the coasts of Spain, Africa and Madagascar.

    But it turns out, Lukezic said, that the dates for Rehoboth's John Avery don't match those of the buccaneer -- whose life of piracy is believed to have begun in 1691.

    Rehoboth's John Avery was likely a successful and profitable landowner by more legal methods.

    State officials have known about Avery's Rest since 1977. In 1978, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Former state director of historical and cultural affairs Daniel R. Griffith discovered the site in 1977 as state officials were doing survey work around Delaware's Inland Bays.

    Griffith said at the time, state archaeologists -- concerned development would destroy any record of historic sites -- wanted an inventory of what was there.

    Avery's Rest, Griffith said, was in a tilled farm field. Soil stains at the site helped Griffith identify it as an early settlement.

    But only in the last year were state officials allowed to dig there.

    Lukezic said along with the trained volunteers with the Sussex County Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Delaware, researchers should finish field work by the end of the month. They've been focusing on the site work and have had little time to carefully study what they have found.

    They have discovered two wells on the site -- both littered with household debris.

    There are also signs that Avery was successful because the archaeologists have found fragments of plaster -- something that wouldn't have been commonly used on walls at that time.

    They've also found part of a horse bridle, a buckle, a pistol ball, flint -- possibly from a pistol or a firestarter -- and a knife, a fork and bits of pottery. They've also found bottles and many pieces of bones and fragments.

    They believe, Lukezic said, that Avery was heavily into cattle.

    What they haven't found so far is a foundation to a house. It's possible that Avery's Rest could have been constructed without a foundation.

    But they plan to continue to look.

    State officials are keeping the site's location secret to avoid a problem with artifact hunters. The names of the landowners were not disclosed.

    The site seems to be linked to one, brief period in Delaware's history of early European settlement -- 1680 to 1720.

    With that 40-year time frame, historians know European settlers shifted from a relatively material-free life to an explosion in commerce sometime around 1700.

    Then, "around 1720, this place was abandoned for whatever reason," Lukezic said.

    Avery was born in 1632 in England, came to Massachusetts Bay Colony with his parents and then returned to England when he was 10. He was a ship master, who eventually returned to Massachusetts, where he married Sarah Browne in 1663.

    The couple moved to the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland and in 1666, were granted 300 acres called Avery's Policy.

    In 1673, he may have participated in British raids against the Dutch settlement in Lewes.

    That same year, Avery moved to Delaware on a land grant for 300 acres called Avery's Choice.

    His patent to Avery's Rest came in 1675.

    By 1682, he was granted another 325 acres on the west side of Rehoboth Bay called Horse Island. He died there in the same year.

    Griffith, now the field director for the Archaeological Society of Delaware, said all the documents on Avery and his land holdings are just part of the story.

    The dig work, he said, is the "material history. ... Together, they tell the story."



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