A mysterious skull is respectfully laid to rest

Hampton — A burial often marks the end of a life, but for members of the William Tucker 1624 Society, it's only the beginning.

About 25 people gathered Friday for a ceremony at the Tucker Family Cemetery in Aberdeen Gardens to bury a skull found on the modest two-acre property.


The skull, discovered last July, is believed to have belonged to an African-American woman in her 60s, according to state archaeological experts.

Though her identity isn't known, the society wanted to honor the person with a fitting reverence and proper burial.


They also saw the discovery as an opportunity to learn more about the property and its connections to their past ancestor, William Tucker, believed to be the first African-American born in North America.

"Our history and family is long and deep," said Vincent Tucker, a local businessman who leads the society. "We want to get a better understanding of what we are talking about and hoping for further economic and archaeological studies."

The burial — a brief ceremony and eulogy delivered by the Rev. James Wright, of Perfecting Saints Church — drew family, members of the Tucker 1624 Society, city officials and leadership from the 1619 Commemorative Commission.

"This is a significant find. This is a proud moment," said Claude Vann III, a close friend of the Tucker family who co-chairs the commission. "We are anxious to see how far we can go back. This is the beginning of African-American history, right here in Hampton," Vann said.

The skull was placed in a small white casket. Tucker lowered the casket into the ground, kneeling down, holding the casket in his hand to lay it gently in its resting place.

After a brief moment of silence, some of the participants each shoveled a little dirt to fill and bury the remains.

In 2016, the cemetery was dedicated as the Tucker Family Cemetery as a sacred ground for an African-American bloodline dating back centuries.

Since then, the property has been cleaned up by volunteers, mainly family and descendants.


And it was on a summer July afternoon when a family member discovered the remains during a regular cleaning and grounds upkeep.

Tucker said the discovery prompted a radar review of all the property, particularly some sunken graves.

The family hired Cardo, a professional infrastructure and environmental services company based in Australia, with offices in Newport News, for the radar.

"We saw the (sunken) impressions of some, we knew there was a few and we had talked about the radar penetrating," Tucker said. "Once we saw the skull we knew we needed to move forward."

With the help of the radar, the family discovered roughly 100-105 sunken graves, which are now marked with small pink flags.

The family also contacted the Virginia Department of Historical Resources for assistance to make sure the skull they found was human.


"We called them to explain where the remains were and if they wouldn't mind helping us to identify," Tucker said.

Joanna Wilson Green, an archaeologist with the DHS who is trained in the analysis of human remains, met Tucker last August.

Green said she gets requests from people seeking to learn more about what they found as many as two to three times a year.

"It's just one of the unusual services we provide to people of Virginia," she said. "For 18,000 years people have been living in Virginia — you are bound to find something."

The mystery skull appeared have been exposed to the elements and showed multiple cuts and an uneven edge. The teeth were missing. Green couldn't determine how it may have been moved to the surface.

She said she can tell a cranium is from a middle-aged person by the way the bones have grown and fused together.


Also, there are certain markers consistent with African ancestry or European or American Indian ancestry, she said, adding it's all in the face, in the characteristic of the eye holes and the openings of the nose.

"Though the determination isn't 100 percent, I can say with great confidence that these remains are that of an African-American woman," Green said.

The skull was kept in an acid-free box in the DHS curation site until the family was ready to pick it up and give it a final resting place.

Green said it was a great privilege to be a part of the family's discovery and said it's important to honor these milestones.

"I think the act of holding the remains of another human in your hands is one of the most powerful experiences you can have," Green said. "She is back in the hands of people who will treat her with care and respect."

Going forward, Tucker and his family say they have plans for the property, want to seek grants and other private and public resources, so they can get studies done and educate the community and the state.


"I think it's important that people can see — we are ordinary people, but we are descendants of the first African-Americans here and we are doing OK," he said.

Vernon Sparks can be reached by phone at 757-247-4832.