If only we could look back and actually see antiquity

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2006

You must be careful when you walk anywhere in Virginia, you might be standing on an artifact … many pieces of history have been restored, especially in the downtown Suffolk area, and others scattered around the 430 square miles. When you see one of those big white signs along a highway, or even on a dirt road, something of importance happened nearby. Unfortunately, in our modern days, you can’t stop your car long enough to read it.

There’s no white sign on our street to indicate that there was once a community here called Milners Town. A good part of it was in our subdivision now called Russell Point. The street named Milners begins at the new Veterans Cemetery on Lake Prince and ends a mile or so farther east, where it meets with Cherokee Drive. When you enter Russell Point, you are where Milners Town used to be, now buried out of sight.

Milners Town was on a saltwater finger of the Nansemond River that served as a floodplain. Norfolk eventually bought that property and placed a dam near Highway 10 and it is a reservoir for that city, named Lake Western Branch.


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Milners Town existed long before 1765. That’s about the time that a 34 year-old man dug a ditch through the Dismal Swamp named after him – George Washington. Milners Town was partially destroyed by the British in the Revolutionary War, and again by the Yankees during the Civil War … an easy target from the water.

The artifacts I have found around a building foundation on our property could not be considered old when compared to my wife’s church in Bremen, Germany, constructed in 700. But 1765 was 11 years before we became a country … Thomas Jefferson was but 22 years old and hadn’t gotten around to tinkering or politics.

I have hundreds of handmade-on-site bricks around our flowerbeds. No one but us cares that a home foundation, or it might have been a warehouse, exists. State historical officials came and took pictures of the brick walls, made several measurements, and left with no further comment. I would have been satisfied to leave it intact for future historians, but the 241-year-old bricks, discovered by a daughter, look better where they are now. The mortar was made with crushed oyster shells, that over time loosened and the bricks can easily be removed.

One brick in particular fascinates me. That brick mason, 241 years ago, must have stood sweating in the southern hot sun, carving &uot;TM 1765&uot; in a still soft brick. Bricks were made with clay, and I suspect mixed with straw, pushed into wooden brick-sized forms and set out to dry. Later, they may have been fired in an oven of sorts. I wish I could see it happening. That one brick could have been placed, so I am told, in the chimney, so all would know who constructed that building. But who was &uot;TM?&uot; We checked every known record book, but it seems a fire had destroyed many Nansemond files.

When flying low over the property, we could see evidence of a pier extending into the water a hundred feet or more, apparently so goods could be on or off-loaded. It is easy to visualize Milners Town as a busy salt-water port for materials coming from or headed for England … tea coming in … tobacco going out. But could it have been a slave market?

That’s the sad part about history; we don’t have all the details. Who made the many kinds of pottery found on the site; Indians? We came across shards of beautiful dinner plates, handmade nails, and stone tools that appear to be for cleaning hides. And we were told the cemetery on our property contains the remains of a married couple and an Indian. My hands no longer fit a shovel handle, so we just live with &uot;TMs&uot; ghost … he’s out there.