Saturday, November 3, 2007

Grants and Lab Happenings

Yes, we were slackers yesterday. None of us posted a blog, so let me catch you up on what has been happening.

Through two of our sponsoring organizations, we have received two grants:
Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium: $1,000
Preservation Maryland: $3,000
We greatly appreciate their help.

These two grants help us maintain momentum until we can arrange more long-term funding. April and I have prepared, and are in the process of preparing, additional grant applications. Because of the difficulties that grants--"soft money"--present for long-term planning, we are trying to fine a more reliable source to underwrite efforts at Port Tobacco.

Lest you think we spend all of our time panhandling, I'd like to report that our next lab day at the Maryland Historical Trust (Wednesday,November 7, 9AM to 3PM) should complete the task of washing all of the artifacts from our late October volunteer weekend. Many thanks to Stephen, John, and Walt for their help. Of course, we still need to catalogue and re-bag all of that material...and there is a we will continue lab days on Wednesdays, and perhaps some Thursdays and Fridays, through November. Let us know if you can help.

Special note for candidates in the Archeological Society of Maryland's Certified Archeological Technician program: I am amenable to organizing workshops over the next few months. Let me know where and when.


Friday, November 2, 2007

Lab work at the Maryland Historical Trust

What a start to the lab process this week! After all of our hard work during the volunteer weekend there was a lot of washing to be done and almost all of it is done! Now that is only the start of the artifact analysis that we must do. With the help of several volunteers over the past two days over three quarters of the artifacts have been washed.

Not only does having multiple people wash the artifacts make things go smoother and faster we also have some fun and get to see up close all of the great things pulled out of the ground. There were several pieces of Rhenish ware, creamware, and plenty of architectural debris that came up along with Native American pottery (Potomac Creek Corded to be exact) and projectile points. One thing in particular caught my eye, a pipe stem that had been imbedded into a wall as part of the plaster! It's always the little things that catch my eye.

Next week we will be back in the lab on Wednesday finishing the washing and starting to rebag and catalog the collection to date. So come on out and join us at the Maryland Historical Trust this coming Wednesday. Again our thanks go out to all of our volunteers and the Trust for allowing us to use their lab.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Port Tobacco and the Civil War, Part 2

While Port Tobacco was located in Union territory, it saw quite a bit of Confederate activity.
The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine By Roy J. Friedman Mark Twain Collection (Library of Congress): "The road over which it was proposed to conduct the distinguished captive [Abraham Lincoln] was known in the secret service of the Confederacy as the underground route that is a route not generally known between Richmond and Washington and used by spies and contrabandists in the employ of the South. It ran a roundabout course through southern Maryland across the Potomac in the vicinity of Port Tobacco Creek or Pope's Creek and thence to Richmond crossing the Rappahannock at Port Conway and Port Royal. It was overland route in fact that could be taken to Richmond as all communication north from that city was cut off in Virginia and even it was guarded with more or less care by the Federal authorities so that travel thereby was attended with no little danger. Over this course too the Confederate mail passed daily on its way to Richmond or Montreal and such was the secrecy with which the underground mail service was maintained that a man might be engaged in it during the entire war without the knowledge of his family."

This route was used for much more than just communications, as this account of Confederate Secret Service operations shows.

Source is: Confederate Covert Action in the American Civil War By William A. Tidwell, Published 1995 Kent State University Press

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Port Tobacco and the Civil War

Above is a Civil War map showing Port Tobacco and its proximity to the Union/Confederate border.

The November 23, 1861 Harper's Weekly contained the following text and a sketch concerning reinforcements being sent to to bolster General Sickle's Brigade at Port Tobacco. The source of this content is here.

OUR special artist with the army of the Potomac happened the other day to be present at one of the mysterious movements which are taking place daily in General McClellan's army ; viz., the departure of reinforcements for General Sickles's Brigade at Port Tobacco on Sunday morning, November 3. He sketched the scene, and we reproduce it on this page. The troops represented are the New Hampshire Fifth, the Rhode Island Fourth, and the Pennsylvania Forty-fifth. They had previously been encamped at Camp Union, near Bladensburg. They are a fine body of men, and will doubtless do good service on the Lower Potomac when the right time comes.

We are assuming the offensive on the Lower Potomac,and have heavy batteries erected in positions which command the rebel batteries. These troops are sent down to support the gunners, and perhaps when the right time comes they may pay Aquia Creek a visit one of these days. The river is now thoroughly commanded by our batteries.

General Daniel Sickles later lost a leg at Gettysburg and then became a Congressman. In Congress he sponsored the bill that established Gettysburg as a National Park.


P.S. We have only just begun to compile the Civil War history of Port Tobacco. I am sure there are a few readers out there who can provide more details. Please feel free to comment to this post or send us e-mail. Our e-mail addresses can be found at our staff pages (see left hand column).

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chinese Porcelain

(Tindall, The Magazine Antiques, 1975)

Time for our weekly ceramics update!

Chinese porcelain started showing up on early colonial sites in America during the 17th Century but no exact date can be determined on when it started to appear (Noel Hume, 1969). During the 17th and early 18th Century, Chinese porcelain was not a common ware to be found in the homes of anyone except the affluent. After the 18th Century it becomes very commonplace in almost all colonial sites in America as much of it was being made specifically for export and the craftmanship had become less important than the quantity.

Chinese porcelain can be distinguished from other ceramics by its high gloss finish and very thin body which at times can be almost translucent when held up to light. It is almost always painted blue underthe glaze. Late in the 18th Century a red enamel on top of the glaze was used as well.

During our excavations of STP's at Port Tobacco we have uncovered many fragments of Chinese porcelain. Unfortunately none of the pieces recovered have any decoration and are very small which makes it very difficult to date the particular pieces. Many European and later American companies tried to imitate the Chinese porcelain with very little success.

Here is an example of a set of 18th-century Chinese porcelain tea set. Enjoy and I'll be back Wednesday with an update on our lab work at the Maryland Historical Trust.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Port Tobacco Research Moves Indoors

Sorry, no artifacts today: Pete is taking a well-deserved day off. Which isn't to say he isn't working: he just isn't working here. Pete is at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, recounting his adventures on an excavation in Spain this summer.

As we await a new infusion of grant money, the project team has moved operations indoors and seeks volunteers to lend a hand. The Maryland Historical Trust has lent us its laboratory facilities in Crownsville for a few weeks so that we might get some help washing and cataloging. The facility is only open during the week, but we hope some folks can join us on Wednesdays between 9AM and 3PM. Please contact me if you would like to pitch in: 443.482.9593 or

Crownsville is a long hike for those in Southern Maryland, but we could use some help in Charles County as well. Pete and I are just finishing a simple database for the US censuses (1790-1930) and we need assistance collecting data from the microfilms at the Southern Maryland Research Room, College of Southern Maryland in La Plata. We will also collect information from area newspapers (1844-1896), but we have not yet devised a form for data collection. If interested, again: please contact me. We can split up the censuses so that several people can work on them simultaneously.

And there is lots more to do, but lets focus on a couple of things at a time.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Before and After, Part 3

Yesterday's photographs highlighted two of Port Tobacco's three remaining 18th century buildings. Today's will highlight the third, the Burch House. For comparison I give you three pictures. The first is labeled as a 1945 photo and shows the Burch House in good condition. The second photo is the Burch House in the 1970s, in need of some work. The third photo is the Burch House this year before the most recent restoration efforts.

Some things to notice:
* The rear of the house is an addition (including the back two windows). This is easiest to notice in the middle photo.
* There is little vegetation around the house in the first photo.
* The condition of the house in the second photo shows how close Port Tobacco was to losing this structure.