For almost three hundred years, the remains of our ancestors have rested in the mud of the Western Branch of the Lynnhaven River at Virginia Beach, Virginia. This occurred, when the channel of the river changed course and finally engulfred not only the cemetery but also the remains of the first Church which it served. Bishop Meade, in his book on the Old Churches of Virginia gives a delightful account of how this happened. The only thing saved from the First Church was the baptismal basin which was found years later in the possession of a fisherman who was using it as a boat anchor. A lady now living in Richmond, a descendant of this couple, had the pleasure of being christened from this basin, which is now located in the Old Donation Church (Episcopal) in Virginia Beach.
Several years ago the Suffolk Chapter, Colonial Dames XVII, purchased and had installed, a marker on the shore on Lynnhaven, near the spot where the Church stood. This marker indicates that the founder of Lower Norfolk County and Virginia Beach is buried under the waters off shore. They also instigated a search for this exact site, in the hope of recovering the tombstones of Adam and Sarah.
I have been digging up my roots for many years and when I learned of the Ladies efforts, I contacted them and was invited to join them in their task. I had written an essay on Capt. Adam and I was able to get Mr. Bill Geroux of the Richmond Times Dispatch, to request permission of his editors to write a piece on the subject. He did a great job. Through the efforts of Ladies of the Colonial Dames, Mr. John Broadwater an underwater archaeologist and Mr. Mike Phaneuf of Marine Sonic Services of Gloucester Point, Va., volunteered to do a sonic survey in an attempt to locate the cemetery. I was there when the survey was done and was on hand when they returned to tell us they had located the cemetery and nearer to the shore a large structure under water that could be the remains of the old church. What a day.
Unfortunately, with winter upon us, no dive was scheduled. This was
in November 1997. In May 1998, Mr. Phaneuf accepted a new job in Houston,
Texas and when we tried to contact him about the tape with the sonar scan
on it, he was gone. When he learned that I was trying to reach him, he
called me. He told me, he had no idea where the tape could be, that the
machine he used was faulty and he thought his company had traded it in
on a new one. I contacted, through a friend in Gloucester, the manager
of Marine Sonic, they searched together for the tape but could not locate
it. We are now back to square one, except that I know about where the cemetery
is and it wouldn't take a half hour to make a new scan. Mr. Broadwater
is the manager of the "Monitor Project" trying to recover some remains
of the Monitor off the North Carolina coast, for the time being he is lost
to us. We're trying to replace both of them.
The main focus of the Ladies of the Colonial Dames, has been and still is to locate the tombstones of Capt. Adam and Sarah and to remove them, possibly to the site of the Thoroughgood House. This may be all that we can hope for, however there are plans, now active, for the Corp of Engineers to dredge this channel. There is a good possibility that the cemetery site could be destroyed forever.
The Ladies, asked for and received, a delay in this dredging. Due to our problems, the hold on dredging has been extended until January 31, 2000. I asked for and received a map prepared for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, by the Corp, indicating where the dredging was to take place. The letter that accompanied it stated that the dredging would not come closer than 800 feet to the cemetery. Since I am one of the very few people who know where the site is, I don't know how they reached that conclusion. It appears to me that the channel will go through the middle of the cemetery. The former Thoroughgood land in the area of the marker is now the site of number of beautiful homes in the 3/4 million to 2 million dollar price range. The homes along the Western Branch, all have docks. It is only a matter of time till these folks demand that the dredging begin. There is no doubt in my mind that they have a right to this.
Besides this being a cemetery site, it and the church are also of great archaeological significance. I am therefore proposing that an attempt be made to find someone to make a project of this effort. All of those buried in the River should be removed and reburied somewhere in the area. Preferably in Old Donation Church Cemetery, where some of their descendants are already buried. The Church officials would have to approve this.
The purpose of this letter is to learn the attitude of those descendants that care enough to express their opinion. Your comments and ideas are solicited and will have a strong bearing on any future actions taken in this matter. I am familiar with the need for permits, approval, etc. These will all be handled one step at a time and his letter is the first step.
W. Paul Treanor