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News Release

For immediate use

July 26, 2004 -- No. 353

UNC archaeologists locate S.C. home of war hero,
N.C. governor and UNC founder William R. Davie

UNC News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- As Revolutionary War hero, North Carolina delegate to the Constitutional Convention, N.C. governor, envoy to France and "father" of the University of North Carolina, Gen. William Richardson Davie left an indelible mark on the stateís history and the nationís.

Not so indelible, however, was his beloved Chester County, S.C., home "Tivoli," which, according to local lore, Union raiders pillaged and burned during the waning months of the Civil War, 45 years after his death. Visible traces of the former modest mansion have been all but nonexistent for close to a century and its exact location lost to history.

Now, using old records and more recent ones too, careful underground sampling techniques and limited test excavations, UNC-Chapel Hill archaeologists believe they have discovered the site the house stood on until 1865.

Drs. R.P Stephen Davis and Brett H. Riggs, staff archaeologists in the College of Arts and Sciencesí Research Laboratories of Archaeology, began working on possible locations for the house, which lay on a plateau just west of the Catawba River, last September. By March, they felt confident that they had located it.

"It's always good to find an interesting archaeological site, but it's even better when that site is linked to an important historical figure like Davie, who was one of the most prominent men North Carolina ever produced," said Dr. Vincas P. Steponaitis, professor of anthropology. "This site is really special."

Two summers from now, the Research Laboratories of Archaeology, which Steponaitis directs, will excavate the site as part of its annual archaeology field school designed to teach students how to uncover and study sites properly, he said. June 22, 2006 will mark the 250th anniversary of Davie's birth. Carolina alumni, faculty members and others are studying the feasibility of organizing activities across North and South Carolina to commemorate the date and pay tribute to Davie.

"As an alumnus and employee of UNC-Chapel Hill, I am indebted to a long list of individuals who established and nurtured this fine institution over the past two centuries," Davis said. "Our archaeological research at Tivoli will help repay that debt by illuminating the life of the University's founding father."

As a member of the N.C. House of Commons, Davie wrote the bill to create the University of North Carolina in 1789, selected the site for the campus at Chapel Hill, chose its first instructors and selected its curriculum, Davis said. University trustees later awarded him a Doctor of Laws degree and conferred on him the title "Father of the University."

One of the most helpful records they had was of an earlier investigation to locate Tivoli in 2000 on land adjacent to the Landsford Canal State Park by Deborah Joy of Legacy Research Associates, Inc. During five days in 2000, she and colleagues found five promising sites but did not have time to investigate them all thoroughly enough to draw conclusions.

"We would especially like to thank Lindsay Pettus, president of the Katawba Valley Land Trust, who invited us to undertake this project and whose enthusiasm for finding Tivoli has been infectious," Riggs said. "Lindsay has been a great source of information and documents relating to William R. Davie, as well as a staunch supporter of our other research program in the area -- the Catawba Project."

Riggs said that while Davis and he have not proven conclusively that the site they found was Tivoli, they are almost 100 percent convinced of it.

"First, we have Davieís own description in a letter about where his house was located, and thatís consistent with a depiction of it drawn on a map in 1873 by D.G. Stinson," Riggs said. "We also have a 1955 aerial photograph showing a prominent geometric anomaly on the spot."

Second, he said, the test excavations and probing indicate a building at least 36 feet by 44 feet and possibly much larger. Among artifacts recovered already were broken window glass and burned nails, which are consistent with the local story that Union troops burned the substantial house as the war drew to a close.

Last year, using centuries-old records, trowels, spoons and other tools, the UNC archaeologists and their students discovered what they said were two of the most important Indian settlements in the early history of the United States, Davis said.

"Our team unearthed remnants of cabins that Catawba Indians collectively called Old Town and New Town on hills sloping up from the Catawba River in rural Lancaster County, S.C., just south of Charlotte," Davis said. "During the painstaking work, we found thousands of artifacts discarded at the sites, ranging from shards of English, American and Catawba pottery and snaffle bits for horsesí bridles to coins and other discarded items that help us form a picture of what life was like for these people back then."

Overall, UNCís Catawba Project seeks to examine the emergence and endurance of the modern Catawba Indian Nation, which has maintained the longest continuous pottery tradition in the eastern United States, he said. The Catawba were among the most ardent supporters of the American Revolution and contributed strongly to its success in the Carolinas.

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Note: Davis and Riggs can be reached at (919) 962-3845 and (919) 962-3843, respectively. Steponaitisí number is (919) 962-6574.

Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596