Saturday, October 6, 2007

From Pirates and Wolves to Politicians and Operas

According to Kim Kihl, the early public records of Port Tobacco are filled with talk about two issues: piracy on the Potomac and an overabundance of wolves. Piracy was a problem all along the Chesapeake Bay and wolves were an issue in many Colonial towns.

Somehow Port Tobacco overcame their problems with pirates and wolves to become a destination for theatrical companies and politicians. In 1752, the Murray-Kean Company arrived from Williamsburg to present The Beggar's Opera, Richard III, The Spanish Friar, and Sir Harry William. The Murray-Kean Company had previously played in other important urban centers such as Philadelphia and New York.

By the time the American Revolution came about, Port Tobacco was home to General Smallwood, John Hanson, James Craik, Daniel Jenifer, Thomas Stone, and Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown. Common visitors included George Washington and John Randolph.


Friday, October 5, 2007


The history of Charlestown is brief.

In 1669, three Naval Ports of Entry were located on the western shore of Maryland: St. Mary's City , Chaptico, and Port Tobacco. In 1674, Thomas Hussey donated an acre of land in Chandlerstown, upon which to build a courthouse, prison, and stocks. These were constructed by John Allen.

The location of this first courthouse is not the same as that of the reconstructed Port Tobacco couthouse. In 1727, The Maryland Assembly authorized the construction of a new courthouse "on a site more convenient to river transportation" (Kihl 1982:22). This Assembly also officially renamed Chandlerstown to Charlestown; a name fitting to the Charles County Seat.

In 1729, Charlestown consisted of 60 acres. The town quickly grew around the courthouse but the offical name of Charlestown did not stick. Probable reasons for this include both the town's success as a tobacco port and its location at the head of Port Tobacco Creek.


Source: Kim Kihl (1982) Port Tobacco: A Transformed Community. Maclay & Associates. Baltimore.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


The beginnings of Port Tobacco can be traced back to the mid-1600s. Job Chandler and his brother Simon Oversee were granted rights to a tract of land on the east bank of the Port Tobacco River. Job constructed a two-room cabin on a hill overlooking the river, a property now known as Chandler's Hope. Soon afterwards, the settlement of Chandlerstown began on the bank of the river.

Upon his death, Job Chandler was buried a short distance from the cabin. The land of Chandler's Hope was patented in 1674 by William Chandler, who held the property until 1725. At this time the property passed to his nephew, William Neale. W. Neale and his wife raised five sons at Chandler's Hope. The Neale boys all became priests. Father Leonard Neale was the second Archbishop of Baltimore and president of Georgetown University. Father Francis Neale late took Leonard's post at the University. Father Charles Neale helped found the first women's convent in the United States, the Discalced Carmelite Monastery.

The property of Chandler's Hope remained in the hands of the Neale family until 1836. A sequence of events lead to the division of the property from 760 acres in 1782 to 450 acres in 1867. Those who came into posession of sections of Chandler's Hope are familiar to anyone who has studied the Barbour map of Port Tobacco; the Brawners, Matthews, and Boswells.

Before Chandlerstown became Port Tobacco it was known as Charlestown. But that is a story for another day.


P.S. For a recent news article about the Carmelite Nuns, click here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Robert Guy Barbour Describes the Port Tobacco Times

In past blog entries we have made reference to "the Barbour map" of Port Tobacco. Robert Guy Barbour (1885-1958) was a resident of Port Tobacco. Robert took the time to document the Port Tobacco he remembered as a child. These recollections were compiled into a booklet by James L. Barbour, Sr.

The booklet, "Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland, Prior to 1895: A Collection of Sketches of Early Structures and the Town Plan" has provided the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project with important insight into the town's layout circa 1894. In addition to the overall town map, Barbour sketched many of the buildings that are no longer standing. Each sketch is accompanied by a caption that provides some background on the structure.

One of the structures sketched by Barbour is the home of the Port Tobacco Times, a local newspaper. Barbour describes it as follows:

"The printing press was in the basement and was turned by hand. John Hawkins got $1.00 to turn the press for each edition. It took about six hours every Thursday night. Type was set on upper floor, then was lowered to the basement through a hole in the floor. The basement was of brick, the upper story was frame with wood shingles."

Descriptions such as this are invaluable to archaeologists as they excavate building remains. Thanks to Robert and his son Jim for sharing their knowledge with us.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sediment Fills the Port Tobacco River

The most common reasons given for the decline of Port Tobacco include:
1. Sediment filled the river, pushing the port southward
2. The burning of the courthouse which facilitated removal of the county seat to La Plata

Today we will look at the first reason, using data from the following reference:
Defries, Ruth (1986) Effects of Land-Use History on Sedimentation in the Potomac Estuary, Maryland: A Water Quality Study of the Tidal Potomac River and Estuary. United States Geological Society. This paper is available on-line from the USGS.

Port Tobacco is in the middle of the Potomac Estuary. An estuary is a river valley that has been drowned by rising sea levels. Estuaries are not geologically permanent and are prone to filling in with sediment. The rate of sedimentation was studied by Defries using pollen cores taken from various points in the Port Tobacco River.

The sedimentation rate of the river near the town of Port Tobacco was estimated at greater than 1.14 centimeters per year between 1840 and 1978. The 1.14 centimeters over 138 years adds up to 157.32 centimeters of soil development! That is 5.16 feet of soil. Such rapid sedimentation is often linked to the clearing of land for agriculture and other development that loosens the soil, removes plant roots, and increases runoff.

Defries believes the rate of sedimentation near Port Tobacco was highest between the years of 1840 and 1860. Archaeological and archival studies of Port Tobacco should tell us why this might be. Was Port Tobacco expanding in the mid-1800s? Or did some catastrophic event, such as a hurricane, hit the town?


P.S. For more information on the Port Tobacco River, visit the Port Tobacco River Conservancy, Inc.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Westerwald Stoneware

(Source: German Stoneware, 1997, David Gaimster)

(Left: test pit 1 behind the Burch House. Right: STP 111 in the Compton Field)

Most of the ceramics found in Port Tobacco can have their origins traced back to Britain. That is where the majority of the pieces came from through the 19th Century. During the 18th Century a few popular pieces found their way from Germany into Britain and then on to the states. This is true of the pieces you will see here today. These are Westerwald ceramics which come from the Rhineland area of Europe. They were most commonly used as utilitarian wares such as chamber pots and mugs. These wares are a heavy stoneware with a gray coloring and blue decorations. In the early 17th Century these decorations included continuous engraving, stamped and applied ornamentation picturing biblical and mythological figures as well as rulers and formal portraits.

By the 18th Century when they arrived in the colonies from Britain they were more uniformed with floral decorations. The cylindrical mugs and chamberpots of Westerwald design dominated the North American ceramics of utilitarian ware as it's blue-painted decorations were proving to be more sought out than the local utilitarian wares and the plain brown stoneware coming out of England.

In the two pictures above we have examples of pieces of Westerwald stonewares found in Port Tobacco and along with a whole tankard of the 18th Century. I'll be back next week with another ceramic update from Port Tobacco.

- Peter

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Project Takes Week Long Break...Sort Of.

Our blog today is late: the crew is exhausted and April is on her way back to Binghamton. Ten straight days of Port Tobacco work have paid off in the discovery of several Colonial and 19th-century sites, including sites that probably should have appeared on late 19th-century maps but do not.

We will return to the field next Saturday, October 6, weather permitting. The following Saturday, the 13th, is the annual meeting of the Archeological Society of Maryland. (See this link for information on a day-long series of presentations and discussion, open to all members and non-members for a modest fee.) We will then return on Thursday the 18th and work through the middle of the following week. In the meantime, we have lots of data entry to do and lots of artifact washing and cataloging.

I want to take this opportunity to thank, on behalf of April, the team, and myself, the contributions to the project of Cathy Hardy and her staff at Charles County's planning department. We greatly appreciate their hard work and timely responses to our requests.

Monday Pete will post something on pottery...stay tuned.