Monday, December 31, 2007
And now, for a few bits about someone who has as much in common with April as Mother Teresa has with Lucretia Borgia: our old friend George Andrew Atzerodt. I have been reading Michael Kauffman's American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (Random House, 2004).
Kauffman characterizes Atzerodt as an ill-kempt weasel, devoted to the pursuit of wealth, but never successful, a drunkard, and the sort of person much of middle class and upper class Washington society would have avoided. I suspect Port Tobacco society didn't welcome his company either. Scott caught some of the flavor of this miscreant in an earlier posting. Kauffman reports many of Atzerodt's movements in the months leading up to, and the days following, the assassination of President Lincoln, including Atzerodt's locking up the carriage shop in Port Tobacco. He sprinkles names of Charles countians throughout his narrative, including Reverend Lemuel Wilmer, Samuel Cox, and others familiar to area genealogists and historians. Kauffman also describes Atzerodt's aborted plan to assasinate Vice President Andrew Johnson.
American Brutus is a good read, provides as definitive an account of the conspiracy as we are likely to see, and recreates some of the atmosphere of Southern Maryland and Washington, DC, during the Civil War. While the project team does not anticipate making significant contributions to the conspiracy story, we do hope to provide more details about life in the region generally, and Port Tobacco specifically.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
The Price of Nationhood is an excellent book and we are in the enviable position of reconstructing the appearance of the town in which so many of the events Dr. Lee describes occurred. The archaeological team is a little like a team of set designers, researching and describing the stage and props that provide the background to the play.
One part of the 'stage' that I wrote about yesterday was the site of the Centennial Hotel. The distributions of 18th-century ceramics and early 19th-century pearlware leave no doubt that buildings were on the site from sometime in the 18th century onward. Additional analysis will allow us to determine just how early in the 18th century. Now, a skeptic might say: hey, those are ceramics! You've shown where people threw out trash and not necessarily where they lived. Well, we have considered that issue. Take a look at this drawing.
Distribution of handwrought nails in the area of the Centennial Hotel.
The circles indicate shovel tests that yielded large quantities of masonry rubble (brick and mortar). The contours represent a simulation of handwrought nail density across the area. Handwrought (literally, made by hand) nails were used throughout the Colonial Period and into the 19th century. They were largely supplanted by machine-cut (mass-produced) nails between the 1830s and 1850s (dates vary depending on the part of the country in which the site is located).
The concentrations of handwrought nails correspond with concentrations of masonry rubble. Together they suggest four separate buildings pre-dating the middle of the 19th century. The distributions of 18th and early 19th-century ceramics clearly correspond to the distributions of architectural materials; therefore, we have found part of the stage on which Jean Lee's actors performed. Additional investigation will draw our vision of that stage into better focus.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
"The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project also maintains a great blog that tracks their progress on an 18th century site in Maryland. "
Dr. Jeb Card's archaeology blog, In Small Things Found, has a permanent link to us, that is how much Jeb loves us.
This attention is partly the result of our listing in Volume 27 of the Four Stone Hearth blog carnival that I mentioned in a previous post.
If you know of any other blogs that mention our blog, let us know.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
"The Port Tobacco Courthouse, Charles County, Maryland (MD), is verifiably associated with the Underground Railroad, because there Mark Caesar (presumably free from Charles County) and Bill Wheeler (from Charles County, master Benjamin Contee) were tried in 1845. Mark Caesar was considered an "accomplice of slave flight." While some contemporary white accounts refer to an "insurrection" led by the two, it is possible that the African Americans involved considered it a break for freedom and were equipped with weapons for self-defense. Mark Caesar and Bill Wheeler left Charles County (Co.) and were accompanied by more and more armed freedom seekers. The group reached the area of Rockville, MD where 31 were captured and others continued to flee, some as far as Carroll Co. MD (which borders with Pennsylvania). Although court records of the trial are missing, Maryland State Archives (MSA) researchers found documentation of Mark Caesar in the Maryland Penitentiary Prisoners Record (1850), found a special law passed to ensure life imprisonment for Wheeler if he were not executed, and found numerous newspaper accounts of the 1845 escape, which frightened local whites by its daring. Previously, Mark Caesar did not enter official documentation -- not in the censuses for Anne Arundel Co., Baltimore Co., Charles Co. (1830-50) nor among landowners listed for the 3 counties."
Scott is on the case and will bring us more details about the individuals involved in the near future.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Leonard Neale was born at Port Tobacco on October 15, 1746 and was one of four brothers who entered the Society of Jesus. Educated at St. Omer's in France, Neale returned to the US and stayed at St. Thomas Manor amongst his religious relatives. He was the founder and first president of Georgetown University in Washington DC and eventually went on to become, in 1800, the first Roman Catholic bishop ordained in the US and the second Archbishop of Baltimore.
Father Neale is also the priest who gave George Washington his Last Rites. Although known as an Episcopalian, Washington professed a wish to convert to Catholicism. Leonard Neale was summoned from St. Thomas on December 14, 1799 to Mount Vernon where the dying former President was baptised and given Last Rites.
George Washington on his deathbed
I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and I know we all look forward to more information of the finds at Port Tobacco. Happy New Year too!
Friday, December 21, 2007
First, on behalf of April, Scott, Pete, and myself, we wish all of our readers a wonderful holiday and a healthy and rewarding new year.
Second, for anyone who has had a problem with the main website (http://www.gibbarchaeology.org/), Dionisios (Dio) Kavadias has effected repairs. Dio created the website prior to leaving the company for graduate work at the University of Chicago. He happened to be in town when Scott informed me of some problems with the site. Hopefully it will function satisfactorily.
Third: the draft report for our first phase of work at Port Tobacco is finished. It has to wend its way through some channels, but I expect to send copies to property owners and partners in the next week or so.
Finally, since we now have some preliminary analysis completed, I offer the following observations on some of our findings. Many of our upcoming postings will draw from the draft report. To start, let's take a second look at the prehistoric finds. Now that we have corrected the catalogue, our analyses will be more accurate. In the image above you see contour lines that represent the simulated distributions of aboriginal stone tools and the waste flakes created as a byproduct of stone tool making. You will recall from a previous posting that we use a computer program to project, or simulate, distributions based on the finds in our shovel tests.
Overall, the distributions haven't changed too much...they are just clearer. There are several clusters of material that indicate the presence of Native American sites. They form an arc that extends eastward from the river, possibly suggesting that the river bank similarly curved to the east during the Woodland periods, 500 to 2000 years ago. Each concentration of material warrants additional study, preferably with series of excavation units, perhaps 5 ft by 5 ft squares. Perhaps over the winter we will conduct a more exhaustive study of the materials we have already collected from the shovel tests in each of these clusters.
So what do Indian sites occupied centuries before European colonization have to do with our study of a Colonial town? Well, first off, Native American cultures are no less important than those of Europeans: they deserve the same attention, and the same respect. Secondly, we are very interested in learning how the landform now occupied by Port Tobacco has been changing, both before and with the onset of European settlement. The distributions of aboriginal materials relative to the river, existing topography, and various types of sediments could prove very useful in reconstructing the recent geology of this portion of the floodplain.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Jim and Peter are busy working on the last details of the technical report that describes this year's work at Port Tobacco. They will present us with some of the results of their analyses tomorrow. Then, we shall all take a few days off for the long weekend.
After Friday, December 21st, the next Port Tobacco blog will be Wednesday, December 26th. Hopefully Scott will be back for another profile of a Port Tobaccoan of the past. If not, I will provide a commentary on the research results and future directions of the project.
Safe travels to all this holiday weekend.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I am not a fan of "Underground Railroad Archaeology" because it seems like nobody really knows what constitutes evidence of the Underground Railroad. Houses with "secret doorways" and "underground tunnels" are common "Underground Railroad Sites" but these features could have served any smuggling purpose or could just be architectural anomalies.
Recently, I was called out to a home near Binghamton because someone found an archaeological site and some bones while digging under their patio. There, under the patio, was the first floor of a historic structure, complete with a doorway. They had no idea that it existed until then. But, I digress.
In my research I have found that the St. Ignatius Church, right down Chapel Point Road from Port Tobacco, has such an underground tunnel that may or may not be part of the Underground Railroad. And, even more surprising to me, the Port Tobacco Courthouse is listed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
With all the Confederate activity that went on in Port Tobacco, I find this to be an unlikely place for escaped slaves to have been ferried through. Can anyone tell me what the story is behind the courthouse listing?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
So, take a look at Sandi's submission and see if you have any ideas of your own. As I said last Monday, we will entertain suggestions until Feb 1st.
Thanks to Sandi and Dancing Willow for their participation!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Monument erected on the village green in memory of the St. Columba Lodge No. 10, Port Tobacco.
Port Tobacco was more than a collection of homes and businesses. It had a variety of institutions on which the people built a community, including churches and schools, most of which were racially segregated. One of those institutions was the Masonic Lodge about which we have been able to get some information from Edward Schultz’s 1884 history of the Craft in Maryland.
In 1792, a number of members of the George Town Lodge No. 9 (in present day Washington, DC) petitioned to create a branch lodge in Port Tobacco, to which they had moved. They received a charter from the Grand Lodge of Maryland and sustained St. Columba Lodge No. 10 at least until 1798.
Schultz noted that the proceedings of the Lodge were full and well-kept, and that they included the names, occupations, and residences of initiates. He published the names, which appear below.
A number of St. Columba members, because of the distance of the Lodge from their respective homes, similarly petitioned to create Hiram Lodge No. 27 in Leonard Town, St. Mary’s County, in 1798, which was chartered that year. St. Columba may have disbanded shortly thereafter, as did Hiram.
Ironically, a Lodge existed in Leonard Town between 1759 and 1764. The surviving proceedings for the Lodge include the following entry dated November 4, 1761: “Ordered also that Brother [Ebenezer] Fisher write to Mr. James Mills for the Jewells belonging to the Portobacco Lodge which are now in the possession of the said Mills.” In short, one of the earliest Lodges in Maryland, and in the colonies, had formed in Port Tobacco by 1760, disbanded with members going to George Town and Leonard Town, then revived in 1792 only to disband again with at least some members reviving the Leonard Town Lodge.
Apart from celebrating the feast days of St. John the Baptist (June 24) and St. John the Evangelist (December 27), often with a church service followed by a dinner and ball, it isn’t clear what these Lodges did. Likely they were very different in some respects from Masonic Lodges of the present. Certainly they helped cement good relations among competing merchants, and also between the native born, largely English planters, and the newly arrived Scots merchants.
The project team will be studying institutions at Port Tobacco, including those of post-emancipation African Americans and Colonial and Antebellum European Americans.
List of members of St. Columba Lodge No. 10 of the Society of Free and Accepted York Masons, 1792-1798
Alexander Greer (or Grier), Worshipful Master
Robert Fergusson (or Furgusson), Senior Warden
Judson M. Clagett, Junior Warden
Robert E. Scott
Gustavus Richard Brown
Samuel B. Turner
Samuel T. Dyson
Michael Jenifer Stone
Thomas Andreis Dyson
Philip Barton Key
John Rousby Plater
William Dent Briscoe
Dr. H. William Graham
Dr. John F. Hawkins
Stephen Cawood IV
Reverend John Weems
Robert Fergusson, Jr.
Charles Sommervell Smith
Charles Calvert Egerton
Major Philip Stewart
John Edward Ford
John Monceur Daniel
Dr. John Dyson
George Ph. Greenfield
Jonathan Lewis Briscoe
George W. Campbell
Source: Schultz, Edward T., 32°. History of Freemasonry in Maryland, of All the Rites introduced into Maryland, from the Earliest Time to the Present. Volume I. (J. H. Medairy, Baltimore, 1884).
I opened my Port Tobacco album in iPhoto today and the historic photos were sorted slightly different than usual. The side-by-side alignment of two photos led me to notice something that I had not noticed before. The Wade House and the Chimney House are nearly identical in architecture.
That is the Wade House in the top photo and the Chimney House on the left side of the bottom photo.
One reason that I find this particularly interesting is that (as some of you may have noticed) I have a strong interest (or mild obsession) with the cellars of Port Tobacco. This is not about the artifacts that a buried cellar may hold. Instead I am interested in the reasons the cellars were constructed and the reasons some became filled in while others did not. I think the cellars of Port Tobacco will tell us a lot about the early workings of the town and its eventual demise.
I think an area of the town has just been bumped up in priority for spring fieldwork.
Friday, December 14, 2007
For those readers who haven't been with us from the beginning, I'd like to reprise one of our first blogs...
What You Can Do To Help
In response to comments on yesterday's posts, there are numerous ways to help support the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project.
1. Join the Archeological Society of Maryland (ASM) http://www.marylandarcheology.org/memb.php
We will be having special events for members including a three-day volunteer weekend in mid-October. This event will provide opportunities to assist us with fieldwork and labwork. There will also be presentations on our research each day during the lunch break.
2. Join the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco (SRPT)
This society is active in efforts to preserve and protect the land and buildings that constitute the town. Membership options are as low as $10 for an individual and $15 for a couple.
Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco
PO Box 302
Port Tobacco, MD 20677-0302
3. Make a tax-deductible contribution
Both the ASM and SRPT accept tax-deductible donations. Make a note on your contribution that you would like the funds to be used on the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project. Every little bit helps keep the project alive.
We accept volunteer assistance with all aspects of the project and can provide training for most jobs. If you are in Maryland you can contact us about working in the field, the lab, or in the local archives. If you are outside of the state you can assist with archival research at your local library or on the internet. If you have marketing, publicity, or fundraising skills we would love to hear from you too.
For further information about how you can help, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put Port Tobacco in the subject line to make sure it gets to me.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Excavation photograph, probably 1968.
The first archaeological excavation at Port Tobacco for which we have any detailed information was that of the 1815/1818 courthouse, which had largely burned in 1892, the surviving wings subsequently appropriated for other uses. The work was initiated in anticipation of state-funded reconstruction of the courthouse and a brief, incomplete report of the work was prepared by Sarah L. Mathay (May 31, 1968).
The Research Committee of the Port Tobacco Court House Restoration Committee decided in November and December of 1966 to undertake an archaeological investigation of the courthouse. Captain John Mathay, US Army, submitted a plan for the work, but significantly accelerated the work in advance of his transfer from Indian Head Naval Ordnance Center to Fort Bellemore in New York in early February 1967. He managed to prepare a topographic survey (2 ft contour intervals) of the village square area and, between January 27 and February 9, fielded a crew of Boy Scouts, high school students, and a variety of other volunteers. All were trained on the spot for the ten day dig. Sarah Mathay, John's wife, lamented the fact that a full day of training was necessary for many who could only work for three or four days: “It ordinarily takes a full week to master archaeological digging, which is more different from hole digging than is generally supposed” (Mathay 1968:3). We are in awe of the immense capacity for learning of previous generations.
As of May 31, 1968, the team had excavated 17 units, size unspecified. Given John Mathay’s imposition of a ten-foot grid, 22 whole and 11 partial units covering the courthouse and wings, we suspect the units were 10 ft by 10 ft. An overall site map and a partial map of the courthouse excavation accompany the report in the files of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. No other documentation of this, or any other excavation, has yet surfaced in their collections.
Because of Captain Mathay’s re-billeting, inclement weather, and tension between the sponsoring organizations (the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco and the Historical Society of Charles County), the project remained dormant until November 4, 1967, at which time work resumed under Sarah Mathay and John Wearmouth, then chair of the Research Committee. Local volunteers again supplied the labor and fieldwork continued until December 18, by which point: “The foundations of the North wing and the west and north walls and half the south wall of the main or center section were located and cleaned out. Artifact washing and cataloguing continued on rainy days, but a considerable backlog remained” (Mathay 1968:3).
The team returned to the field on April 20, 1968, under the sole auspices of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. By the end of May, 1968, the team had exposed and recorded the entirety of the foundation, backfilled and cleaned the site, and inventoried the artifact collection. The information they collected on the building footprint and hardware contributed to the design and reconstruction of the building that now occupies the site.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
We've already blogged about the move of Port Tobacco's Christ Church to La Plata. The stone building was dismantled and re-erected 3 miles from its original location. But these two sites, the one in Port Tobacco and the one in La Plata, are not only the ones related to this church.
A history of the Christ Church is available on its website. Here, the first incarnation of the church is described as a log building at the head of Port Tobacco Creek, constructed in 1683. This building was replaced in 1709, although no information is provided to determine if the location had changed. This building, likely the one described elsewhere, was destroyed by a tornado in 1808. A brick church was consecrated in 1818; no mention is made as to where the congregation met for the 10 years in between. The 1818 building was demolished after it fell into disrepair and a new stone church was constructed in the 1870s and "reconfigured" in 1884. This 1884 building is the one that was relocated to La Plata, but the church that stands there now is still not the same church. A fire destroyed much of that church in 1905. Since then, additions have been constructed and repairs after the 2002 tornado were extensive.
In sum, there is the potential for five Port Tobacco Christ Church footprints to exist within the town! Each demolition event should have left a significant archaeological deposit. The question is, where were these churches located. Some may have been built on existing foundations but as the building size, shape, and construction materials changed, so would the footprint. Also, if a new church was planned, it is likely that construction on it began before the existing building was demolished.
To complicate matters, the Christ Church of Port Tobacco was not established until 1692. So the 1683 church predates this institution. To complicate matters further, the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco believes that the locations of the church and the courthouse were swapped after both were destroyed by a tornado, presumably the 1808 tornado. Which suggests that the foundation that was encountered under the courthouse may have been that of the 1709 church!
So, given this history of the Christ Church I am still a bit confused by this sign that stands at Port Tobacco today. It says "Old Christ Church 1692" and is in front of the "ruin" of the removed 1884 church, but points away from it. What is it pointing to? The site of the original log church? If so, it is not very specific as to where that church was located.
Isn't archaeology fun?
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Are you creative and artistic? Want to donate these services to help us out?
The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project needs a logo.
We are looking for a simple black and white line drawing that can adorn our webpages, business cards, and such. Ideally it would convey the goals of the project and/or the importance of the town.
In return we offer you our gratitude and a blog post all about you and your logo design.
We will entertain logo suggestions until February 1st. If we receive multiple submissions we will post them on the blog and let our readers help us select the best one.
Ready? Set? Draw!
Sunday, December 9, 2007
You probably noticed the new slideshow in the left column. I've started uploading project photos to our new Flickr.com account. You can click n an image in the slideshow to pause it and go backwards or forwards too. Alternatively you can go straight to our Flickr page (http://flickr.com/photos/porttobaccoarchaeology ) to see all the photos and comment on them. We will be adding descriptions soon.
Speaking of photographs, I want to thank everyone who voted in the photo poll. Since the 1st and 2nd place photos were separated by only a few votes, I decided to submit both of them to the contest. The voting for the official contest will happen at the Society for Historical Archaeology conference in early January. I'll let everyone know how our photos place.
There is a new poll question.
Port Tobacco was part of another Maryland Independent article. You can read it here. Our own Jim Gibb is quoted throughout. Here is a snippet:
Amateur archeologists contribute to the preservation of Southern Maryland’s history. More than two dozen volunteers joined archeologists during the past few months to help do the initial survey at Port Tobacco. The volunteers helped archeologists clean, analyze and record information for a report intended to convince the state, Charles County government and local residents to pitch in financially and physically to keep the project in motion.‘‘It’s really important to build up steam on this,” he said. ‘‘We need consistent commitment of local funding to really make this thing happen. This is a long-term project.”
So far, the excavation has uncovered 15 boxes filled with a variety of artifacts, Gibb said.
"Given the fact that we’re just doing a shovel test, it’s extraordinary,” he said. "There wasn’t a single test unit that didn’t produce at least one artifact. Some units produced a couple of gallon-sized bags full. That’s a lot to come out of a little hole.”
Saturday, December 8, 2007
We haven't done a 'Wacky Find of the Week' before, and we probably will not make a habit of it, but here we go.
Volunteers Carol, Elsie and Phil tolerated some very cold, windy, and snowy weather this past week, along with April, Pete, Scott, and me. In partial reward, we found the spoon pictured above. Very likely it belonged to one of the Barbour children...we found it in a shovel test pit (#418) in front of Stagg Hall.
The photograph does not do it justice, but it is a Snow White Spoon, the sleepy princess appearing at the top of the obverse side and the seven dwarf's on both sides of the handle. Bashful, Sneezy, and Doc are on the obverse side, Grumpy, Happy, Dopey and Sleepy on the reverse. The spoon is marked "1847 Rogers Bros" and bears the copyright mark of WD (Walt Disney).
This is a highly significant find. As soon as we figure out why, we will let you know. Anyone care to research it and find out when it was made (not 1847, obviously)?
Friday, December 7, 2007
Tuesday the team was shovel testing in front of the Chimney House and Stagg Hall. While screening the soil from STP 409, they recovered a Lincoln cent, then a Late Archaic projectile point, and then another Lincoln cent. Sometime during the process they also recovered a sherd of British Brown stoneware.
The pennies are dated 1942 and 1948. The point is several thousand years old, and the ceramic sherd is an 18th-century import (probably from before the American Revolution). Together this group of objects illustrates one of the principal limitations of digging shovel test pits that are less than 1½-ft in diameter: we can't control for stratigraphy. That is, we aren't sure whether these four artifacts came from one layer of soil or several, nor do we know if the point came from the lowest portion of the soil profile, the sherd from the middle, and the two pennies from the upper. We can be sure that they represent aboriginal, 18th-century Euro-American, and 1940s occupation of the immediate vicinity.
We do not know whether the layers of soil representing those occupations retain their integrity; that is, whether or not they have been disturbed by utility installation, cultivation, or driveway construction. That is why we need to dig larger units (3 ft by 3 ft, or 5 ft by 5 ft) in which we can carefully remove one layer, or stratum, at a time and collect the artifacts separately for each. Hopefully, we will begin digging such larger units in the Spring.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
First the good news: There was no wind out at Port Tobacco today. The last two days saw gusts up to 40mph and we were exhausted from trying to stay upright.
Now the bad news: There was a constant wet snow today which turned us into muddy frozen popsicles. I could not feel my toes for most of the day. I was happy to get home and discover they were still attached.
We completed the shovel test pit survey of the front yard of Stagg Hall. We recovered more fire cracked rock and other evidence of a prehistoric occupation of this area. We also encountered a large number of tobacco pipe stems and stoneware near the village square, possibly suggestive of the location of an 18th century tavern.
We then moved into the rear yard of the Chimney House in an attempt to identify the location of Atzerodt's carriage shop. The artifact density was relatively low in the rear yard but what we did find was mainly architectural debris. The findings are inconclusive at this point but once the artifacts are washed and analyzed we may have a better idea of what was located there.
We have decided to cancel fieldwork for tomorrow. The site is a muddy mess and it will take a few days for the soils to dry out. We will still be working, just in the comforts of the Gibb Archaeological Consulting headquaters. The last three days have produced an artifact assemblage that needs to be processed and Jim and I have more grant applications to work on.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
We are looking forward to two more days in the field and can hopefully finish the yards of Stagg Hall and Chimney House. I just found out today that Atzerodt's carriage shop was located directly behind the Chimney House. I'll let you know if we find any supporting evidence.
It was another cold day at Port Tobacco. We continued our shovel test pit survey at Chimney House and Stagg Hall. We recovered artifacts from a wide range of time periods. One STP contained a quartz projectile point along with two pennies from the 1940s. Another had a fragment of incised prehistoric pottery. The Native American occupation of the site may have been much more significant than we had thought.
Monday, December 3, 2007
This is our first official foray into the north part of Port Tobacco so we are a bit short on interpretation until we have a chance to do more research. For now we will just say that the artifacts recovered today are likely the remnants of the row of businesses that fronted on the north side of the village square.
The team will be back at the site tomorrow, regardless of what Mother Nature throws our way. Wednesday may be a different matter. With snow/sleet/rain forcasted, we may need to spend that day in the lab.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Saturday, December 1, 2007
The drawing is an 1888 survey of Port Tobacco completed by a man named Page. We have re-drafted his plat and scaled it to our project map. You can see the extent of our shovel testing to date, relative to the town as it appeared in 1888. (You may want to click on the drawing to make it larger, opening it in your image software.)
This week, from Monday December 3rd to Thursday the 4th, we begin work in the northern part of town. We will shovel test the Volman's property. Their residence, Chimneys House, is one of the three surviving Colonial buildings in Port Tobacco. April will post blogs from the field on our progress. This work represents a new phase of our study and the results will appear in a separate report. We are working on the report for the southern part of town now.
Volunteers, as always, are welcome. Just check the blog for any last minute cancellations due to inclement weather.
Friday, November 30, 2007
April is still hobnobbing with her fellow wizards in Washington, DC...the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association. We expect her to return to us all the smarter for having gone. While awaiting her return, I offer this little bit more on the excavation of TP3 in front of the courthouse where, as you will recall from yesterday, we are trying to determine the age of the town square. Had it been there as long as the courthouse, or was it a later development modeled on New England town squares in the wake of the centennial (1876) celebration?
The photograph above shows the mortared brick foundation along the east edge of the unit. The drawing illustrates the profiles of the West and North walls. The excavators were very conservative in removing the soil, resulting in eight identified strata, including the brick foundation. The Munsell soil color values (e.g., 10YR3/3 is dark brown) and soil textures suggest that A & B and F & G could be combined into two layers. The dates included with the soil descriptions are based on my review of the artifact catalogue.
Strata F and G contain prehistoric and Colonial materials. The layers above formed during the 19th and 20th centuries. The little bit of masonry rubble (common red soft mud brick and lime mortar) in those lower layers suggest that the brick foundation may date to the Colonial period, while the large quantity of masonry rubble in Strata B and C suggests that the structure was demolished late in the historic period.
Based on this small unit, we cannot stay definitively whether this is an 18th-century building or a 20th-century building constructed of cannibalized brick; but the artifacts strongly suggest that this part of the site was occupied in the 18th century.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
During the "Great Volunteer Weekend" in late October (the stuff of legends), Pete excavated TP3 with a number of volunteers. They removed seven levels of soil around the remnant of a brick foundation. Long-time residents have identified this location as one of two houses built by a local character out of bricks "cannibalized" out of the demolished courthouse and jail. But the our local character clearly wasn't the first one to have lived barely 50 ft in front of the courthouse.
The excavators recovered relatively few artifacts from the 3 ft by 3 ft unit, but among those pieces were 13 sherds of creamware and one of British Brown stoneware, all classic 18th-century artifacts. Twelve of the creamware sherds came from the lowest level of the excavation.
The surviving maps of Port Tobacco all date to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and all of them may have been based on the 1888 Page survey, which clearly shows the courthouse and a number of buildings around the periphery of a village square. We do not question the accuracy of Page's survey, but we have wondered whether there had always been a village square; hence the reason behind excavating TP3. We are not sold on the evidence, but there is reason to continue testing the area in front of the courthouse to determine whether the square dates back to 1727/8, or if it is a much later construction, possibly created to further the town's assertion that it should remain the county seat. We'll have more on the results of the testing in front of the courthouse after our next round of fieldwork next week.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
We've been cleaning up the catalogue and just beginning the various analyses in preparation for report writing. (Jim's adage: If it isn't properly reported, it isn't archaeology.) I've started off with a spatial analysis of Native American pottery and flaked stone. That means I've been looking at where Indian pottery and the slivers of stone resulting from stone tool-making occur. As you can see from the map, we have a concentration of stone flakes (the contour lines) with a smattering of Indian pottery (the blue dots). I used a computer program to simulate the distribution of flakes across the site based on the number of pieces found in each of the shovel test pits. Shovel test 265 produced the largest number of flakes in this particular area, a total of 13.
There being too few pottery sherds to conduct a similar analysis, I simply color-coded those shovel tests that produced at least one sherd. They likely are related to the flake distribution and, together, the flakes and sherds suggest that we found a Late Woodland (post AD 900) Indian site 50 ft away from the Episcopal Church foundation.
Better yet, this is only one of three prehistoric Indian sites identified as a result of our shovel testing. There is a smaller one to the southwest and a much larger and richer Indian site closer to the river bank.
The analysis of the Indian component of the site does not end here: we will be looking more carefully at the kinds of objects recovered from each of the three sites, including dates of occupation from the pottery and projectile point (arrowhead) styles, distinguishing between tool manufacture and repair, and searching for evidence of food processing and preparation. Keep in mind that each of the three Indian sites lies within, or overlaps, a Colonial or 19th-century site. Busy place, this Port Tobacco.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Henson was a slave near Port Tobacco and is alleged to be the person that Harriet Beecher Stowe based her character Uncle Tom on in her work Uncle Tom's Cabin. Born at Port Tobacco in 1789, Henson provided one of the first known narratives by a slave about his captivity. In his autobiography he mentions names of owners near Port Tobacco. "I was born, June 15, 1789, in Charles County, Maryland, on a farm belonging to Mr. Francis N., about a mile from Port Tobacco. My mother was the property of Dr. Josiah McP., but was hired by Mr. N., to whom my father belonged."
Research has revealed that Mr. N refers to Francis Newman and Dr. McP is Dr. Josiah McPherson. He also references a blacksmith named Hewes who was responsible for a severe whipping administered to his father.
It is also noted that Matthew Henson, the explorer who reached the North Pole in 1909 with Robert Peary, is the great grand nephew of Josiah.
I know I speak for the whole team when I say we are looking forward to another few days in the field the first week of December. Archaeology folks like us live for this!
Monday, November 26, 2007
While today's nails are rounded and are called "wire" nails, they have changed throughout history. Nails can be traced back thousands of years and have been in use around the world.
Before the modern wire nail, we had the machine cut nail. Which was just that, a nail that was cut from a piece of flat iron to shape a nail. There were different kinds of machine cut nails too. Some had no head to them, some with machine heads and others with hand tooled heads. These nails came into use in the America's around the mid-18th Century and up until the early 20th Century.
The predecessor of the machine cut nail was the hand wrought nail which was forged from iron and were not very uniform.
While nails are always a nice find on a site because it tells us that there were buildings there, the dating of nails can be difficult at best. Since the production of different kinds of nails overlap each other in terms of time, the best we can do is use them to date by century which doesn't give us the more exact dates we always strive to find.
On another note, I hope everyone enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday!
Sunday, November 25, 2007
On January 1, 1873, the Popes Creek Branch of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad opened for regular service between Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County to Popes Creek, Maryland. Take a look at the 1864 map of the region, drafted by the United States Army. The railroad, of course, isn't there, but Port Tobacco is. Now look at the 1897 map: not only does it depict the railroad, but it shows the railroad passing through the relatively new town of La Plata and bypassing Port Tobacco. La Plata does not appear on the 1864 map.
This is not an unusual story. Hollywood westerns often portray parties feuding over the location of prospective railroads, each side recognizing the economic benefits of being a station and the potential economic catastrophe of being bypassed in favor of a neighboring settlement. Such stories are true, and they are no less true for Eastern localities than those on the plains and deserts of the West. Port Tobacco was not on the line and La Plata was: the outcome seemed certain, but it is a testament to the resolve of Port Tobaccoans and the home field advantage of hosting the county seat that it took more than 20 years for La Plata to prevail.
By the way: April and I have been busy editing some works for publication, one that I am revising with some other colleagues on the responses of New York State farmers to the rapid growth of the cheese factory system, the other an edited volume that April has spearheaded on the archaeology of institutions (schools, asylums, prisons). Sorry: neither is likely to appear on the shelves of your local bookseller.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
The Swann House is simply described by Barbour as:
"An attractive old dwelling situated on the extreme Southwest corner of the village on the Port Tobacco-Warehouse Road".
Two photographs of the Swann House, in a less attractive time, are below.
The above photograph bears little resemblance to the sketch of the Swann House made by Barbour.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Thanks to John, Walt and Maxine: with your help Pete finished the cleaning, repackaging, and cataloguing last week. We recovered nearly 25,000 artifacts from 359 shovel tests and two 3 ft by 3 ft excavation units. At least 25% of those artifacts are ceramics dating to the founding of our nation.
Thanks to the Board of the Archeological Society of Maryland for taking a chance on this project and to the membership for providing support in the field and lab.
Thank you Maryland Historical Trust, and especially staffers Maureen Kavanagh, Charlie Hall and Bruce Thompson for logistical support and use of the laboratory. The initial Non-Capital grant made by the Trust to the project, by way of the Archeological Society of Maryland, was critical to the launching of the project.
Cathy Hardy and her staff at Charles County: your encouragement and support added to the joy of this project and increased our efficiency...the latter no small matter when so few resources are available for so large an undertaking.
Thank you Preservation Maryland and the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium for grants and good wishes.
And thank you property owners and residents of Port Tobacco for allowing us to work in your charming community and for sharing your knowledge of its history.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
George A. Atzerodt
Most of you know how things turned out: Lincoln was assassinated, Booth was killed and Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Paine, and George Atzerodt were hung from the gallows at Old Capitol Prison in Washington DC.
Four Lincoln assassination conspirators preparing for execution at Old Capitol Prison. Atzerodt's face is circled as Mary Surratt has a hood placed over her head.
It is also notable that Atzerodt was referred to by name as "Port Tobacco" and was also a "notable coward". In 1977, his written confession was discovered and it implicated many of the alleged participants and exhonorated others. In his confession, Atzerodt makes a reference to some proprietors of Port Tobacco at the time. "Surratt bought a boat from Dick Smoot & James Brawner living about Port Tobacco, for which they paid $300.00 and was to give one hundred Dolls. extra for taking care of it till wanted." His last words were "May we all meet in the other world. God take me now."
Monday, November 19, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
If you would like to join us, please contact me or April.
This will be the end of fieldwork for the calendar year, and possibly for the winter. Over the winter we will begin assembling our archival database, mostly collecting data from the censuses and local newspapers. Several folks have expressed interest in this part of the project and we certainly will avail ourselves of your generosity.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
This appears to be the removal of courthouse rubble.
Exposed foundations within the courthouse.
Apparently artifacts of Native American origin were found.
Excavation within the cellar of the St. Charles Hotel. The cellar door of the Chimney House is visible in the background.
Friday, November 16, 2007
"Opened in 1876. George Hunt, its proprietor, names it in honor of the Centennial Exposition taking place at the same time. It was a comfortable place and a haven for the weary traveler. On "co't" days it accommodated throngs. All of the young bachelors of the village who had no homes dwelt here."
"The St. Charles hotel belonged to the Burch family in its last years. It was torn down in the 90's. It had 25 large bedrooms on the upper floor. The lower floor had a dining room that seated 200 people, a breakfast room, card room, bar room, double parlor, and kitchens. There was also a living room and bedroom for the proprietor. There was another bar room in the basement for the rough customers along with the servants quarters. The trees were very old aspens. This hotel contained the finest ballroom in Southern Maryland and all of the County balls were held here."
These differences in function and clientele should be quite apparent from the archaeological record of each property. The relatively young age of the Centennial (likely open for less than 20 years) and the fact that it was used as a boarding house too may complicate our analyses. While the extravagant artifacts of the St Charles should be easily differentiated from the domestic artifacts of neighboring properties, the more commonplace artifacts I'd expect to find at the Centennial may look a lot like those from the neighboring houses and whatever occupied the property before it.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
To date 80% of the artifacts have been catalogued. While lab work is just that, work, it is also an opportunity to learn. Cataloguing requires the ability to differentiate between the different types of artifacts. Nails aren't just nails, there are different types...wire (modern), machine cut, and handwrought as well as others. What's the difference between whiteware, pearlware and creamware? These are some of the things we learn while working with the artifacts.
And of course there is always the artifacts that come up that we aren't sure what they are or how to classify them. The more people working on the catalog, the faster it goes and the better we can be at identifying the artifacts properly.
My plan is to get the catlog finished before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and with the help of our volunteers I am confident that we can get it done.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
So I say again, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JIM!!!
Today is the birthday of the illustrious Dr. James G. Gibb, founder of the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project and winner of the 2006 William B. Marye Award, which honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Maryland archeology. Jim has made an outstanding contribution (or two) to all of us who have the pleasure of being involved in the Port Tobacco project. Personally, Jim gave me my first real archaeology job almost exactly 9 years ago. Since then Jim has been a mentor, a friend, and a general pain in my butt. We've worked together on many a project and I fear this trend may continue. I'm doomed. Doomed!
Happy Birthday Jim!
Monday, November 12, 2007
(Grigsby, 1993, p.47)
Originally I was going to blog about the piece of North Italian (also known as Pisan) Slipware. However, I need to do some research on it and show the pieces to some colleagues to get some other opinions on the piece. So instead of the Pisan, we are going to learn about Staffordshire Slipware.
The Staffordshire district in England has been making pottery for centuries. In fact there is a written reference to a potter there in 1348 (Grigsby, 1993). Slipware production started to build in the mid-seventeenth century up through the end of the eighteenth century with it starting to disappear in the colonies after the 1770's.
The slipwares from Staffordshire came in different styles which have shown up on American sites of the eighteenth Century. These styles are known as relief-decorated, trailed, combed, and marbled slipware.
The pottery coming out of Staffordshire was usually made with local materials and at first were sold locally until the mid-eighteenth century. They vary in style but the colors are the same throughout. A yellow or brown paste with differing shades of brown slips and glazes.
The decoration varied from potter to potter. The relief decorated styles had press molded designs of roulettes, royal figures, flora and fauna. Many had the date and either the name of the potter or the owner of the piece.
Trailed slipware from the area had patterns of elaborate geometric and floral patterns and were usually unsigned or dated. The process of trailing on slipware is an interesting one. At first glance it looks sloppy until you see the pattern of allowing the slip to trail off from where it was applied to form "peaks and valleys" of the different patterns.
These are just two of the examples of the different types of Staffordshire slipwares that have surfaced on excavations and in museums. I will talk more about the other kinds on another day.
The pictures above show pieces of a staffordshire slipware from Port Tobacco and a dish of the Staffordshire Trailed Slipware from the seventeenth century.
Sunday, November 11, 2007