By Stewart Bishop, Globe staff
As Truro celebrates its 300th birthday in July, one local man has found an artifact that predates the town itself.
An intriguing find
Peter Burgess, a retired psychologist, who found a strange-looking coin on his property last spring, recently discovered it was over three hundred years old.
"At first, I wasn't sure what it was," said Burgess. "It didn't look so much like a coin, but like a brown wafer."
Upon further study, Burgess noticed small markings on the coin: a crown, three lions and some numerals. The coin turned out to be an approximately 313-year-old English silver sixpence, which was issued only during the reign of King William III, who ruled over England from 1689 to 1702, according to researchers.
"It's a pretty significant find," said Dan Sanders, a Truro Historical Society historian and retired physicist, who is also a friend of Burgess. "It's one of the earliest coins I've ever seen on Cape Cod, and it's right where the town was founded."
Sanders said it's unusual to find an English coin from this period on Cape Cod. "It's rare that an English coin of this kind would be in the Colonies," he said. "Mostly at that time they used Colonial coinage, if any. Most people of that time and place were self-sufficient. It was very much more a bartering society."
Though not worth much money to collectors, the coin holds historical value to Truro and the rest of the Cape, Sanders said.
Burgess spent several months researching the coin online, before he contacted Louis Jordan, director of Special Collections department at the University of Notre Dame, who definitively identified the coin.
Burgess was putting in a garden on his property in May 2008 when he discovered the coin, buried in the dirt.
He said his property is located on the site of the old meeting house in Truro, known during Colonial times as "The Meeting-House on the Hill of Storms." It's also a stone's throw from the Old North Cemetery, whose occupants were buried during the 18th century.
Sanders and Burgess speculated the coin might have belonged to John Avery, a Harvard-educated physician, minister, and blacksmith, whose status made him one of the only residents of Truro who would have access to such coins at that time. Sanders said its 18th-century value would have represented two days' salary for Avery.
For his part, Burgess would like to share the coin with the public in some way. "I want to make it available so that people can see what it was like in that era," Burgess said. "I think it's useful to have something like this you can use to provide context."
Burgess also said the coin holds a special meaning for him. "From where I'm standing, it's so much more personal," he said. "What's important to me is that it's connected to me and my land. For me, it's a vehicle that takes me back to that time."
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