Archaeologists probing the site of the future Old Point Bank headquarters in downtown Hampton have unearthed a 1700s foundation that may be linked to one of the 400-year-old city's most famous families.
Discovered about 3 feet below the surface after a week of work, the brick footing appears to correspond to a structure recorded on a 1781 map by a French engineer.
Its size and architectural character also seem consistent with a 1752 advertisement describing a large rambling dwelling of nearly a dozen rooms — and which was later owned by Hampton sailor
, who won renown during the Revolution for his bold attacks on the
"This is a substantial building," said project archaeologist Hank D. Lutton, sizing up a footing capable of supporting the heavy brick gable ends described in the advertisement.
"We also have uncovered a series of postholes that may represent one of its additions."
Funded by Old Point Bank, the $100,000 dig conducted by the James River Institute for Archaeology will explore a parcel of land that dates to the first survey of the town's streets in the early 1690s.
Located just a block down from the previously developed crossroads at King and Queen streets — and fronting what was then a deep inlet from the Hampton River — the property ranked as prime real estate for the pilots, ship captains and merchants who made early 1700s Hampton one of British America's busiest ports.
With a few decades, it was bought and improved substantially by several different prominent residents, including ship's carpenter and town constable John Henry Rombough, before Barron acquired it in 1766.
By then the dwelling that stood along Queen Street near the corner with Wine rivaled some of the biggest houses in the nearby capital of Williamsburg.
"It was quite big, with 7 rooms on the ground floor, four rooms above, a cellar, a kitchen and various outbuildings," said project historian Matt Laird.
"Even though it was in the center of town, it really was an urban plantation — with a big garden and trees."
The youngest son of Samuel Barron — who commanded a fort at Old Point Comfort — James Barron gained fame alongside his brother Richard for the bravery with which their outgunned sloops harassed British ships during the Revolution.
Over time, the brothers spawned a naval dynasty made up of four commodores and 8 sea captains. But since the family also owned an outlying property known as Little England, its exact use of the Queen Street dwelling is uncertain, Laird says.
Given the parcel's advantageous location near the water, however, the dig could not only answer some of the questions about the structure's function but also turn up evidence of earlier occupation dating into the 1600s.
"It's going to be a long process," says Lutton, who supervised an excavation off nearby Settlers Landing Road in 2004-05.
"And it's going to change everyday depending on the evidence we find."
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Old Point Bank dig
Queen and Wine streets, Hampton
9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays and during the