No Skullduggery Here

City crew chances upon long-forgotten burial under downtown Fredericksburg street

Free Lance-Star
Date published: 8/3/2009


City workers installing a water line beneath Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg on Friday came across the unexpected: bones. Human bones.

They halted their work on the line and someone summoned Ben Hicks, parish administrator at nearby St. George’s Episcopal Church. The line will provide water for the fire-suppression system for the recently renovated sanctuary.

“When Mr. Henry Bones suddenly appeared, I think everyone was kind of surprised,” Hicks later recounted.

John Pearce, a Fredericksburg historian and member of St. George’s, was called, and he urged alerting the police. Two officers came, followed by a detective, and they carefully whisked the human remains off to a safe place. The work site was back to normal this weekend.

“I’m guessing these bones go back to the 1700s,” Hicks said. “1752 is the earliest church burial that I know of. We’re hoping to determine the age of this person, and to allow their reburial in our graveyard.”

The remains–which include leg bones and part of a skull–were found about a foot from the curb in front of St. George’s left front door, he said.

Hicks speculated that the grave dated from a time when the church’s burial ground was considerably larger than is apparent today from the tidy, vest-pocket cemetery to the left of the church building.

In the Colonial era, St. George’s original cemetery spilled over into Market Square–a fact confirmed in 2001 when University of Mary Washington archaeologists uncovered six 18th-century human skeletons there.

Other burials were moved to the current cemetery as recently as 1959, to make room for the church’s McGuire Hall, Hicks noted. Graves have also been found beneath its Faulkner Hall, a small brick building that faces Princess Anne.

The two earlier church buildings on the site were smaller (today’s brick edifice dates from 1849), Hicks said. And well into the 20th century, Princess Anne Street was quite a bit narrower than the road we see today, as were its sidewalks.

“It all leads me to believe that the church property extended to that area where these bones were found,” he said. “We don’t think of putting graves around in front of a church, but maybe Colonial people did.”

Such chance discoveries aren’t that unusual in Fredericksburg, he noted, recalling the Market Square skeletons and how workers found human remains in 2007 while converting the former Maury School into condominiums.

The land on which the Maury buildings stand was once part of a potter’s field–where the city buried the unknown or indigent–before it was developed for a school in 1919. And Hurkamp Park, one block down George Street, was a burial ground in the early 1800s.

“I think we could find similar things at other sites and under other streets in Fredericksburg. This discovery brings us back to an era we don’t know much about,” Hicks said.

“These old churches have their own mysteries. They’re cranky creatures, and have many secrets that they beckon you to solve.”

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

Date published: 8/3/2009

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