Archaeologists Wrap Up First Dig of Estate Bellevue Property


About 70 small flag markers were installed at the Bellevue site to create a grid of the site to record archaeological findings.

BELLEVUE — With conducive weather and mostly expected results, anthropology graduate student Alan Armstrong wrapped up the first phase of discovery at the historic Bellevue Estate property on Gift Hill Road near Bellevue Village.

The land is owned by St. John Community Foundation and under a long-term lease to St. John Historical Society, which plans to construct a cultural and historic center with climate-controlled archive and exhibit areas and meeting spaces at the site.

Before SJHS can get moving past the planning phase of the project, however, Northwestern University Ph.D. candidate Armstrong has been hired to take a closer look at what’s on, and in, the ground at the site.

Armstrong arrived on St. John July 14 to begin the first dig at the Bellevue Estate property, the former site of a Dutch cotton plantation dating to around 1720.

While the site had already been surveyed, Armstrong began his work by mapping out the main ruins and clearing the property before creating a grid of the site. He installed about 70 small flag markers each spaced five meters apart.

Armstrong then dug a small area near each flag marker, called a shovel test, to see what and how many artifacts were found on different parts of the property. Last week, he wrapped up that first phase of the project, which is expected to take about four years to complete.

“The first phase is done now,” said Armstrong. “We found lots of artifacts all dating to the time period we had thought. There were lots of ceramic shards dating to the 18th century, which is what we were expecting.”

Some of the prize findings so far are colorful shards of Delft pottery, Armstrong added.

“We found some nice old pieces of Delft with red and yellow,” he said.

Also as expected, most of the artifacts were found near the main house on the property, Armstrong explained.

“You expect to find more human items closer to the main living area on the land and less as you move farther away,” said the Ph.D. candidate. “That is what we found here. The proposed area for the Historical Society building had only a few artifacts so I think that would be the best site for it.”

Armstrong, who worked on the dig with Syracuse University graduate student Christian Williamson, also found what he believes to be a slave village on the Estate Bellevue property.

“We think we have terraces in the back woods area and some artifacts associated, so we think that is the site of the slave village,” said anthropology student.

Armstrong’s next step is to map the site in more detail using GPS and GIS technology. He also plans to continue researching the history of the plantation in order get a clear picture of what life was like at the Bellevue Estate plantation.

Additional excavations are planned for the property and Armstrong plans to apply for additional grant funding in order to be able to conduct that research, he added.

With meandering pathways through the site and interpretative signs, the Bellevue Estate property could one day become an outdoor museum with the SJHS cultural center as its focal point.

At SJHS’s 40th anniversary ceremony in March, the group announced it had received an anonymous $100,000 gift which will allow for the cultural center project to progress.

“This incredibly generous anonymous contribution is the impetus that this organization needs to move us forward into phase two of our plans for the St. John Cultural and Historical Resource Center,” SJHS President Lonnie Willis said at the March event. “Phase one was ‘imagining,’ and phase two will be ‘creating.’ We are so thankful for this contribution, and I hope it will spur others to make similar commitments to our society and to our island.”

SJHS is accepting additional contributions to the Cultural Center Capital Campaign. Anyone who would like to contribute should email SJHS President Lonnie Willis at or check out the group’s website at