Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Archaeology of Courthouses

For those who are interested in what other courthouses have been the subject of archaeological investigation, I offer the following project-specific websites:

The New Castle Courthouse, New Castle, Delaware

The Orange Courthouse, New South Wales

The Cahokia Courthouse, Cahokia, Illinois

The Ballston Courthouse, Ballston, New York

The Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina

If you know of any others, please send us the link!


The Excavation of a Virginia Courthouse

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Brian Bates of Longwood College at an archaeology conference. Brain was presenting a poster on his excavation of "Thomas Jefferson's Lost Courthouse" in Buckingham, Virginia, and later sent me a copy of his report.

The "lost courthouse" was designed by Thomas Jefferson, but, like our original courthouse in Port Tobacco, no drawings or images of the courthouse are known to exist today. Brian and his team conducted archival and archaeological analyses in an attempt to discover what Jefferson's courthouse would have looked like, inside and out.

Below is their best guess of the courthouse exterior. While it does differ from the reconstructed Port Tobacco courthouse in overall style, it is similar in its two wings, each with its own front-facing door and window, and its main building, peaked at the center at a third floor attic.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Major field effort at Port Tobacco

Newsflash! The Archeological Society of Maryland announced today that it will hold its Annual Field Session at the Clagett's Retreat site in Frederick County, May 23 through June 2. It will hold an unprecedented second session at Port Tobacco June 13 through 23.

This will be an enormous undertaking, but it will provide the opportunity to further explore the various prehistoric and historic sites that we identified as a result of last year's work, and to be an important part of Charles County's 350th anniversary celebration. We hope all of our readers will take the opportunity to join us during the field session and, we hope, during the two or three weeks leading up to the field session. Oh yeah, and try to visit the other guys at Clagett's Retreat. All of the pertinent information on that project will appear on the Society and the Maryland Historical Trust websites: and, respectively. Port Tobacco information will appear on those sites and, of course, right here.

We will provide more details as they become available. See you in an excavation unit real soon.


PS. I think we need a campaign flag, don't you?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The County Courthouse Before Port Tobacco

One of our volunteers provided this link to a Washington Post article on the search for Charles County's first courthouse.

Thanks Elsie.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crime And Punishment

So we have talked about the courthouse, the jail and all the surrounding buildings. We have looked at plats and maps and historic pictures. We know about some of the admired and notorious people that have been a part of the history of Port Tobacco. We have delved into what life was like in Port Tobacco for people in the many centuries it has been around. We know about the first courthouse, the village green, the reconstructed courthouse, Stagg Hall, etc. I could go on about those but I won't.

Yesterday Jim had his meeting with the county commissioners and the first meeting of the Charles County Archaeological Society. Out of that county meeting I started to look back at plat records and deeds. I looked again at the 1697 plat (shown above) and was reminded of the pillory that was enacted to be put up with the courthouse and jail. This was a mandate for all the counties in the provence in the 17th Century. Knowing very little about 17th Century punishments I started to do some research. Let me just say, they found some strange (and a bit funny) ways of punishing folks back then.

The pillory is basically just a stock, wherein a person's legs, arms and head are locked up in wooden pole and board. If you've ever been to Williamsburg I'm sure you had your picture taken in one as a child, just like I did. (If I can find it, I'll post mine on here for all to have a good laugh!)

The idea for most of the lesser crimes was public embarassment so to pursuade the offender to sraighten up so to speak. My favorite has to be the "ducking stool" though. An ingenious device I must say.

This is a seat set at the end of two beams twelve or fifteen feet long that could be swung out from the bank of a pond or river. This engine of punishment was especially assigned to scolds—usually women but sometimes men—and sometimes to quarrelsome married couples tied back to back. Other candidates were slanderers, "makebayts," brawlers, "chyderers," railers, and "women of light carriage," as well as brewers of bad beer, bakers of bad bread, and unruly paupers (James A. Cox, Colonial Williamsburg website). After being swung out over the water, the offender would be dunked over and over for an undetermined (undetermined by my research that is) period of time.

We have not found any archaeological evidence of either devices in Port Tobacco but we do know they were used. In the plat above you can see in the drawing the pillory, right beneath the courthouse.

- Peter

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Miss Olivia Floyd

As we have learned previously, Port Tobacco was a hotbed of activity during the Civil War. One can only imagine how certain people must have been constantly watching over their shoulders as they plotted and schemed to further their cause. We have discussed George Atzerodt and Rose Greenhow. These two found themselves under suspicion and out right accused of conspiracy and espionage.

Miss Olivia Floyd was another unlikely Confederate spy. She was an heir to the mansion of Rose Hill and was living there during the War. Her brother was a Confederate soldier who was killed in 1863. Additionally, one account states that she had broken her back as a child and was crippled for the rest of her life.

She was already a smuggler of messages headed south and would conceal them in a wooden boat model made by her brother. In the winter of 1864, a group of Confederate soldiers raided St. Alban’s, Vermont and escaped to Canada with their horses, money, and lives. They were then arrested by Canadian authorities and Union officials sought their extradition for trial on charges of being spies. Their lives depended on proving that they were commissioned officers of the Confederate Army acting on official orders. A message started south requesting the commissions of the men. It passed from Southern sympathizers, from Canada to Maryland, and eventually to Miss Floyd.

Miss Floyd had successfully concealed the important note in a pair of brass andirons in her parlor which were missed by Union soldiers. One had even propped his foot up on the very same andiron by the fire. After they had left, she put the note in her hair and carried it to the signal station at Popes Creek where it had been sent to Richmond. The result was the soldiers on trial in Canada received copies of their commissions in time to save them.
Another interesting note about Olivia Floyd is that she claims to have seen the spirit of The Blue Dog (remember last week’s blog?). She died December 8, 1905 and is buried at St. Ignatius Church at Chapel Point.

In loving remembrance



Daughter of the Late


July 2, 1826

Dec 8, 1905

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lab Update

So as you have already read, our day out at Port Tobacco last week didn't produce the results we were hoping for, but that doesn't mean it was devoid of information. I have just finished updating our catalog and map for the area with the information from last week. The area we were focusing on was around the Chimney House, front and back. In the front of the house we found what we would expect, 18th-century artifacts.

In the back, where we were looking for the infamous carriage shop, we were looking for mid 19th-century artifacts. And, in fact, we did find some of those artifacts, including ceramics and machine cut nails. Now, by no means does this tell us anything about the carriage shop but it does tell us that there was occupation there in the time-frame we were looking for.

Some architectural debris did come out as well: brick, nails, and mortar. While it doesn't help us date anything, it is still interesting to find them several hundred feet from the Chimney House itself.

It was nice to be out in the field at Port Tobacco last week even though it was for just a day. By now you all know the history of the town and as we have all said many times, you never know what you're going to find when you put a shovel in the ground out there. Every shovel load tells us more and more about the history of the town and its occupants.

That's all for now!

- Peter

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A New Web Frontier for PTAP

As we begin our 7th month of daily blogging on Port Tobacco, it is time to start considering the next step in our web presence and the organization of the vast amounts of data we are collecting. So, I would like to begin a Port Tobacco Wiki.

I have set up a wiki account on ScribbleWiki to serve as our wiki's home while we play around with this format. Only trouble is finding the time to mine the blog for the content to add to the wiki.

If there are any blog readers who would like to help with this cause, just let us know. The beauty of a wiki is that it is a community effort.