Randolph Macon students uncover Colonial artifacts at Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- “Do not touch.” It’s the warning at many museums. But at Scotchtown in Hanover County, certain visitors are encouraged get down and dirty.

Caitlyn Cooper and her fellow archaeology students from Randolph Macon are shedding light on the historic homestead. Specifically, its most famous owner Patrick Henry who lived there from 1771-1778.

“Who gets to say they did that? It never happens,” said Cooper. “Patrick Henry was a really big figure in our Colonial Times.”

Cooper from nearby Caroline County remembers driving by Scotchtown while visiting relatives.

Caitlyn Cooper

“I think being local… it is very sentimental,” said Cooper.

For the rising junior, digging trenches is revealing.

“He lived here. He walked down these steps. He dropped artifacts that we may have found,” she said.

Filthy fingernails? Check. Testing of patience? Check.

“Yes. Archeology is very tedious but worth it,” said junior Zoe Kolotos. “So, we thought this was going to be the original road.”

The ten-week project is proving successful. In one trench students unearth an ancient wine bottle.

“We don’t want to damage any artifacts that may be there, so we are working right now with the trowels,” said Kolotos.

Lots of scraping, sifting and sorting in this classroom.

“Pulling out horseshoes and musket balls and pottery is something I never thought I would be doing,” said student Sara Olmstead.

Dr. Elizabeth Fisher leads the team of amateur archeologists.

“This is what I love. I love uncovering history,” said Dr. Fisher.

The professional digger, who has explored Italy, Greece and Africa says each find helps us better understand the fabric of America.

“It connects us with the people that came before us. It makes you have a connection to the people who used to be here and aren’t here anymore,” said Dr. Fisher.

Artifacts pulled from the ground will help unlock mysteries surrounding the “Give Me Liberty or Give me Death” patriot.

Scotchtown interpreter Caitlyn Delmas eagerly awaits each find.

“Patrick Henry didn’t keep records so that makes it difficult for research,” said Delmas. “We are putting pieces of the puzzle together and that is what archaeology does.”

The payoff priceless. Indiana Jones this is not, but unlike those Hollywood digs. This history is real dirty.

“I think the reason is that because its history. It is a part of us,” said Caitlyn Cooper. “I’m digging the American History of Scotchtown.”

Students like Cooper take their learning to new depths.

“For me it’s like jumping out of an airplane. To find something that was made 200 years ago. Like, my stomach goes up.”

The ten-week program at Scotchtown has wrapped up for the semester. Students say they have a newfound respect for digging history. A few of the same Randolph-Macon College students will be taking their trowels and curiosity to Athens, Greece where they'll spend their summer hunting for history that is thousands of years old.

Watch "I Have A Story" Fridays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. If you know of someone with an interesting story we should tell, email gmcquade@wtvr.com