Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where was the African American School?

At this point we have no drawings or photographs of the school house built for African American children on the lot that the trustees acquired from William and Ann Matthews. In fact, we do not even know where the school was located. All we have to go on is the description in the original 1868 deed, to wit (I've modernized some spelling and punctuation):

This Deed Made the Eleventh day of December in the year Eighteen hundred and Sixty Eight by Maj. William B. Matthews and Mrs. Ann T. Matthews, witnesseth that in Consideration of the Sum of five dollars the Said William B. Matthews and Ann T. Matthews do grant unto Washington Willis, Washington Burch, Dennis Bond, Horace Wallace, and Henry Hawkins, all Colored, in trust for the purpose of Erecting or allowing to be Erected thereon a School house for the use, benefit and Education of the Colored people of Charles County, forever, all that Lot or parcel of ground Lying in Charles County which is described as follows: Beginning for the Same at a Stake at or near the Top of Mount Hill ("driven in the ground" struck in the original) at the left Side of the road leading from Port Tobacco to Salem, then running forty yards with the Said road in the direction of Salem to another Stake driven in the ground, then northerly fifty yards to another Stake driven in the ground, then westerly to another Stake driven in the ground and in a line parallel with the aforesaid road, then Southerly to the place of beginning, Making in all fifty yards Square, to have and to hold, they and their Successors in office for the purpose and use aforesaid, the understanding being that it Shall revert to the Said Wm B. Matthews and Ann T. Matthews or their heirs when ever it Shall Permanently cease to be used as a School.

The reversion clause is typical for parcels donated for school sites. The description suggests that the school lot was situated on the high ground east of Port Tobacco and measured 140 ft along the north side of the road and 150 ft deep. It was clearly located outside of the town.

Because the trustees conveyed the lot to the county's Board of School Commissioners in 1886 and the Commissioners probably divested themselves of the lot sometime afterward, it is possible that a deed exists for that subsequent conveyance and that it properly locates the parcel on the landscape today. I'll let you know.


Friday, July 18, 2008

More on Washington Burch

Yesterday I wrote about Washington Burch, a long-time resident of Port Tobacco, county jailer, and one of a group of trustees who acquired land for an African American school.

While examining the land records, specifically the deed for the school lot, I was struck by the early date: December 11, 1868. It is an early date because the modern school system in Maryland began in 1865 with enabling legislation enacted after adoption of the new state constitution. A state superintendent position was created and annual state board of education reports published. But the system was created for the state's white children, not for those of color (African Americans, Native Americans).

With the exception of the City of Baltimore, whose African American population made great strides in creating and operating schools for its children, statewide education for this very large portion of the state's citizens did not begin until well into the 1870s. The trustees group that secured the land from William and Ann Matthews warrants special recognition for their efforts:

Washington Welles
Washington Burch
Dennis Bond
Horace Wallace
Henry Hawkins

On February 16, 1886, the surviving trustees (Horace Wallace was not among them) conveyed their interest in the land to the Board of School Commissioners for Charles County, "it being considered necessary for fully carrying out and performing the purposes for which said lot or parcel of land was granted" (Land Records BGS 8/538).

I do not know why this conveyance was deemed necessary, or by whom, and I do not know what benefits, if any, accrued. It is certainly a subject that deserves further study.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Washington Burch

I've been working with Carol and Paula on reconstructing Port Tobacco's town plan from deed descriptions. It is a difficult job because most of the constituent lots were consolidated in the 20th century and many of the lots from the 1720s onwards were not described in detail. We have had to take an unorthodox approach. Usually a title searcher starts with the current owner and works back using references in each deed to preceding deeds. We've had to pursue the names of individuals we know lived in Port Tobacco, searching through the land records for those town lots that were associated with those individuals.

Combining the title and census data together will allow us to write biographies of many Port Tobaccoans. One of those of immediate interest is Washington Burch who is reputed to have owned the Burch House, or Catslide House as it is often called (see picture below). Some of our readers might know it better as the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project field headquarters.

We know that Wesley and Alice V. Bowie sold Washington Burch part of one lot that they had acquired from John J. and Victoria R. Hughes. Burch paid $100 on August 5, 1879 (Land Records BGS 4/31). The drawing below is based on the description of the lot as recorded in the deed.

Washington Burch died sometime around 1900 without a will and the disposition of the property is uncertain. It may have gone to Elizabeth Brooks, apparently his daughter, aged 26 and caring for her sons Washington and William C. Brooks in 1880.

There are a few things about Washington Burch of which we are certain. He was part of a group of African American men who acquired a small parcel in town from William B. and Ann T. Matthews on December 11, 1868, for the expressed purpose of erecting and running a school for African American children who were excluded from white schools (Land Records GAH 2/50).

We know that Washington Burch served as the county jailer as early as 1884 until at least 1896, at which time the new jail opened in La Plata. Burch was described in an 1897 court action against the County sheriff as "an old and infirm negro."

Washington Burch likely was well known among all segments of Port Tobacco society from the 1860s through ca. 1900. If he did indeed live at the Burch House, then we have already conducted some archaeological research on him and his family and we expect to do more in the near future. Still, we have to push on with the title search and make sure that Washington Burch did live in the extant 'Burch House.' If he did, then the project team will permanently dispense with the handle "Catslide House" (inaccurate, in any case; this is not a catslide roof) and commemorate one of Port Tobacco's prominent citizens by using his name in denominating our headquarters.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pointing the Way with Points

Tom, responding to yesterday's posting, asked about the sources that I use in identifying projectile points. I'm happy to answer that question, but first I want to reiterate that classifying projectile points in Maryland is very difficult because many of the point types have been identified elsewhere in the Eastern United States. Brewerton points, for example, were first described by the late William Ritchie in upstate New York and archaeologists and collectors have identified them from Maine to as far south as Georgia and at least as far west as Illinois. Is it really possible that scores of groups over the course of a millennium made the same kind of point at the same time? Suffice it to say that this reporter is skeptical.

To develop locally valid, testable typologies we need more excavations of single-component sites (sites where artifacts may be few, but they likely come from a single occupation or series of successive occupations by the same people). Surface collections should be point-provenienced; which is to say, every object found should be carefully mapped to more accurately delineate sites. And, of course, all finds need to be documented in a detailed report.

Okay, putting aside the soap box, here are some of the resources that I use. Carol Ebright--Maryland's whiz kid of point typing--undoubtedly has many other, and perhaps more reliable sources.

1. My head contains a vast amount of trivial information, including a mish-mash of projectile points that I have seen over the years. I draw on this resource, feeble though it is, frequently.

2. William Jack Hranicky's (1994) Middle Atlantic Point Typology and Nomenclature, published by the Archeological Society of Virginia, has its flaws, but it provides lots of illustrations and details. Type descriptions that include such telling attributes as "Base is straight, but could be convex or concave" are maddening, but they do illustrate the point that attributes may be important to archaeologists because they are observable and even measurable, but may have had no meaning to the people who fashioned the objects.

3. Robert L. Stephenson and Alice L. L. Ferguson's (1963) The Accokeek Creek Site: A Middle Atlantic Seaboard Culture Sequence (published by the University of Michigan) and Henry T. Wright's (1973) An Archeological Sequence in the Middle Chesapeake Region, Maryland. Maryland Geological Survey, Archeological Studies Number 1, are useful in terms of both illustrations and in providing baselines for the development of the state's typologies.

4. Carol A. Ebright's (1992) Early Native American Prehistory of the Maryland Western Shore: Archeological Investigations at the Higgins Site. Maryland State Highway Administration, Archeological Report Number 1. (3 vols.) is well illustrated and well-reasoned, Carol drawing on 25 to 30 years of experience. (Sorry Carol if I'm making you seem old.)

5. Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum, I think with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has developed a wonderful online resource for guiding the identification of aboriginal and Colonial pottery. They haven't taken on projectile point typologies, possibly in recognition of the difficulties in developing typologies from objects that were often resharpened (hence reshaped) and where the limited plasticity of the material (rock) and required aerodynamics of the tool limit the range of possible forms.

6. Site reports...lots and lots of site reports that I can turn to for comparable examples. Actually, I do not make much use of them for cataloging survey collections. I drag them out when looking at excavated specimens from intact deposits.

There are many other sources, particularly from New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and North Carolina, but I've become increasingly uncomfortable with their use. How about we stick to the Chesapeake region in developing typologies and classifying artifacts, then compare our findings with those from farther afield?


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Prehistoric Finds in the South field

Here's a photograph illustrating most of the projectile points recovered from the South Field, just above Warehouse Point, along with a list of identifiers. Remember that the important thing here is that we know precisely where these objects come from--within a few inches--and, therefore can use them to date concentrations of prehistoric artifacts that are not otherwise datable. Most of the artifacts pictured date to the Late Archaic/Transitional period, a time when aboriginal peoples in the region tended to settle along streams, perhaps focusing on fishing and the collection of aquatic plants for food and raw materials.

Key Type Material Part of Field
a Bare Island Quartzite South
b Susquehanna Broadspear (small) Quartz South
c Bare Island/Savannah River Quartzite South
d Calvert/Bare Island Quartz South
e Biface (pressure flaked) Quartz Central & Northwest
f Savannah River Quartzite Central & Northwest
g Indeterminate stemmed Quartz Central & Northwest
h Potomac Creek Quartz Central & Northwest
i Indeterminate stemmed Quartzite Central & Northwest
j Savannah River Quartzite South
k Marcey Creek Pottery South
l Bare Island/Poplar Island Quartzite South
m Susquehanna Broadspear Quartzite South
n Clagett Quartz South
o Bare Island/Poplar Island Quartzite South
p Bare Island/Poplar Island Quartz South
q Vernon? Quartz South
r Clagett Quartz South
s Susquehanna Broadspear Quartz South
t Savannah River? Quartz South
u Susquehanna Broadspear Rhyolite South
v Bare Island Quartzite South
w Calvert Quartzite South
x Susquehanna Broadspear Quartz South

Monday, July 14, 2008

Analysis Continues...

Besides our two days a week at the Maryland Historical Trust, we have set up new workspace back at the home office to work with the artifacts from Port Tobacco. Intern Kevin and I have been working on cataloging the artifacts that have been washed so far from the field session. There is still much more to do but we are making great strides in getting all of the information into the catalog quickly so that analysis and report writing can be done soon. Now, when I say quickly, that is a relative term since cataloging is a time consuming process. Here's an example in simple terms of separating glass from one unit.

First, separate by color, then by thickness, then by form (vessel, window, etc), then the forms get separated by style and then they are counted and each category gets put into the catalog as a separate entry.

Here's a picture of Kevin separating pipe stems in the newly setup lab space.

More to come later this week with an update on some of the interesting artifacts found during the field session.

- Peter