Saturday, August 2, 2008

James A. Swann, African American Tavern Keeper

Did you know there were more than three taverns in Port Tobacco in the 1800s? The 1850 Census listed four tavern keepers in Port Tobacco. You have probably heard about three of them--David Middleton (Union Hotel), Peregrine Davis (Indian King Hotel), and Lyne Shackelford (Farmers and Planter Hotel). The fourth tavern keeper was a free African American named James Swann.

Looking at historical records (censuses, deeds, and The Port Tobacco Times) I found out a little about James Swann and Port Tobacco. At the time of the 1840 Census James, a “free colored male” aged 24-36, was residing in Port Tobacco with his wife (aged <25) and two daughters (aged under 10). By 1846 James had purchased land in Port Tobacco (Land Records JB 25/276 and WM 2/29). The JB 25/276 land record indicates the heirs of Joseph Sheirburn owed James $300. In consideration of that debt and for an additional $100 they sold James the half lot on which he already lived.

It is in the 1850 Census that James, a “mulatto” aged 41, was listed as a tavern keeper. His wife Susan (aged 40) and his daughter Mary (aged 15) were also listed. No other people were listed as residing with them. Twice James advertised in The Port Tobacco Times that he sold fish--once February 27, 1850 and again March 2, 1854.

There is no mention of James or his family in the Maryland 1860 Census. Yet deeds in April 1852 (Land Record RHM 1/386) and February 1868 (Land Record GAH 1/393) for a certain unimproved lot mention James Swann’s lot as being east of this unimproved lot. So it can be assumed that James retained the lot in Port Tobacco.

J A Swann (aged 62) shows up again in the 1870 Census in the town of Port Tobacco. His occupation was listed as ‘keeping restaurant’, and the census taker had written “restaurant” next to his name as if the census information was taken at the restaurant. According to The Port Tobacco Times (November 19, 1875) James had operated an oyster house and restaurant for a long time.

Evidently James had remarried since his wife S M Swann was listed as being 36 rather than 60. There were four children under ten as well as M A Swann who would have been his daughter by his first marriage. In addition to his family there were four other people residing with James. One was a twelve-year old domestic servant that evidently worked for the Swanns. The other three must have been boarders. Their occupations were baker, hostler, and fisherman.

James Swann died sometime before March 3, 1871 when The Port Tobacco Times reported him deceased and that William Boswell would be his estate’s administrator (Orphan’s Court).

On May 29, 1871 to pay a debt to William Boswell, Sally M Swann mortgaged the real estate of her deceased husband James A Swann (Land Record GAH 3/202). The real estate included the following:
a lot and house occupied by Sally in the village of Port Tobacco,
a tract of land in Charles County known as part of “Mayday” containing 30+/- acres and occupied by Dennis Bond
The mortgage also listed her personal estate which included the following: all her household and kitchen furniture of every description, one roan horse, one bay horse, one red and white cow and two calves, one hog, one wagon with box and wood bodies, one covered wagon, one carriage harness, one wagon harness, as well as one plow and gear

An Administrator’s sale of James’ personal property was listed in The Port Tobacco Times on April 14, 1871. It listed James personal property as his household and kitchen furniture, two good work horses, one colt, one cow, one heifer, one farm wagon and harness, one spring wagon, one covered spring wagon, one buggy (no top) and harness, one double shot gun, and a lot of oyster shells.

In the 1880 Census Sally M Swann is listed as the head of the family along with four children (John, Amanda, George W, and Jeanette) and her stepdaughter Martha (aged 35). Martha was a schoolteacher. [see Blog Saturday, July 19, 2008: Where was the African American School?] This time there were two additional households (comprised of 6 people) residing with the Swanns. The occupations of the head of these households were servant and laborer.

The 1871 mortgage was released December 22, 1885 when Sally deeded (Land Record BGS 8/412) the land known as part of “Mayday” to the widow and daughters of William Boswell. This covered Sally’s debt to William Boswell of $163 incurred May 27, 1871, plus all the interest from that date.

So far the mortgage in 1885 is the last reference for the family that I have found in the deed and census records. Other historical documents may reveal more about James A. Swann--like why Joseph Sheirburn owed him $300, or when did James acquire part of “Mayday”. And some day archaeological artifacts may reveal more about how he and his family lived.

Carol Cowherd

Friday, August 1, 2008

Learning While Doing...

As I sit here pouring over bag upon bag of artifacts, I have to step back from time to time and adjust my process of cataloging them. After a while certain types of ceramics start to look the same even though they are not. This is when I look at the various resources at hand to identify what it is that I am looking at. Since I am still fairly new to the world of archaeology, my resource collection is limited. Luckily I have all the materials Jim and April have provided me.

For example, when I come across projectile points in a bag, I would, in the past, have immediately taken it to Jim and find out what type of point it is. Now I use a couple resources on hand to try and identify what type of point it is and then take it to Jim for confirmation. The main resource I use for point identification is: Middle Atlantic Projectile Point Typology and Nomenclature by William Jack Hranicky, Archeological Society of Virginia, Special Publication No. 23. This publication not only shows pictures of what the points look like but also materials to look for and size and shape.

I have come to learn that having resources at hand goes a long way in learning while doing! The craft of artifact identification is ongoing and always changing. While Tin Glaze is still Tin Glaze, learning where these were manufactured (all over Europe) cannot only help us date artifacts but a look into the "buying habits" of the people who used them.

My education is ongoing, as it is for most archaeologists, as I learn from work and school. In fact, I am taking a GRE prep class starting next week so I can start the process of applying to graduate schools this fall.

- Peter

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Laboratory Developments

As planned, our volunteers in the lab--John, Walt, Maxine, Sharon, Robin, and Calvin--completed the washing of the thousands of artifacts recovered from the June field session this month. That's quite an achievement.

Labeling of artifacts began today, with very small printed labels on acid-free paper attached to many of the artifacts with matte finish acrylic. (This is a safer alternative to the use of noxious acryloids and it produces more readable labels.) Pete is continuing with cataloguing the collection and I've been writing grant applications and preparing images and texts for site interpretation. Readers will hear more about that in the next few weeks.

April is still unpacking her bags in Ohio where she takes up teaching duties this fall at Heidelberg College.

We have not yet received our contract from Preserve America, but as soon as that happens we will be back in the field at Port Tobacco. We are also hopeful that the Maryland Historical Trust will award us a grant to continue work in town.

Stay tuned.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008


From time to time, we will offer corrections to errors that appear in publications, unpublished technical reports, and on the web. Some of those errors will be ours. We do not intend to be snarky about these corrections...anyone who takes on the task of collecting, sorting, analyzing, and interpreting historical data deserves kudos.

This evening I thought I would deal with a misconception concerning the well-known, but as yet silt covered cemetery at the north end of Port Tobacco (not to be confused with the early cemetery we discovered on the south side of town in June). In their book, Times of Port Tobacco, John and Roberta Wearmouth included an appendix that discusses a purported addition to the town cemetery made by the Reverend Lemuel Wilmer, long time rector for Port Tobacco Parish (1822-1869). They offer an extended quotation from an unreferenced document that they date to around 1848 (p. 229). I'll reproduce a portion of it here:

"I give to the Vestry of Port Tobacco Parish and their successors forever all the land which may belong to me, included within certain ditches...making three acres and a half....The most if not all the 3½ acres is called Pleasant Fields, purchased of Sam Adams--if any part of another tract it is called Widow's Pleasure (tract names bold in the book)."

Even by itself, this would be a very large cemetery for a small town like Port Tobacco.

The tract names, however, clearly place this land donation in Piney Branch, near St. Charles, just west of Rev. Wilmer's house site and about a dozen miles to the northeast of Port Tobacco. Indeed, we could find no evidence that Rev. Wilmer ever owned land in Port Tobacco. He preached there and at Piney Branch, but lived at the latter location.

The tract reconstruction below, undertaken for Chaney Enterprises back in 2003, indicates the location of the Episcopal Church at Piney Branch with a large X. The report is available on request.
Of course, we still need to define and delineate both cemeteries; but gleaning as much accurate archival information as possible is critical to our success in the field, not to mention conserving scarce resources, specifically time and money.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Late Prehistoric Component

One of our goals during the June field session was to test the prehistoric locus identified the previous October. Pete oversaw the excavation of several units in this locus. The units yielded a number of prehistoric pottery sherds, most of which are Late Woodland Potomac Creek wares, generally radiocarbon dated to AD 1300-1700.

Stratum 3 in Unit 7 produced 25 aboriginal sherds (see below).

Profile drawing of east wall of Unit 7.

Stratum 3 was buried by a thick layer of gravelly sandy silt, the material that our other analyses suggest was washed into the area from the heights to the east of town and then plowed in the 1930s and later, after abandonment of much of the town. The textures of Strata 2 and 3 are distinctly different, those of the upper redeposited material being much coarser and more gravelly than what appears to be the native soil, Stratum 3.

The sherds (see below), along with a Potomac Creek projectile point and quartzite flakes, clearly indicate that we have a Late Woodland, possibly even a Contact period, locus in this part of the Compton field. Unfortunately, it is not an undisturbed component. Also from Stratum 3 we recovered historic artifacts. According to the field notes, they are all 18th-century (white salt-glazed stoneware), but the material hasn't been catalogued yet. We also found a historic posthole and mold cutting through Stratum 3 and into Stratum 4, the otherwise undisturbed subsoil.

Sample of aboriginal pottery recovered from Unit 7, Stratum 3. The top center rim sherd is approximately 1½ inches (3.75 cm) in length.

Further exploration of this locus likely will define the 18th-century earthfast that Pete and Company found, and it should expose additional Late Woodland deposits, hopefully such features as hearths and the postmolds of an aboriginal house.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Road to Warehouse Landing?

In between mouthfuls of baba ganoush and tortilla chips (a boy's got to eat) and with Carole King singing in the background I've been conceptualizing and designing a traveling exhibit. To illustrate what the PTAP team has found at Port Tobacco, I thought that I would plot the historic sites that we have found relative to the river and the town boundaries. The graphic below is the result.

The red ellipses and circle represent the 18th-century sites we found in Mr. Edelen's fields. All of this work has occurred in the floodplain of the river, so it comes as no surprise that the distribution of historic sites should be roughly linear. But could the linearity reflect the course of the road from Port Tobacco village to Warehouse Landing during the 18th century?

The distribution in the illustration is skewed in that there is a large wooded area between the fields and the river (not shown on the map) that has not been surveyed. Undoubtedly there are Colonial period sites in that woods as well, especially just north of Warehouse Point. The only way to find out is to look.

Mapping our results, as you can see, is a useful analytic technique. Drafting electronically makes mapping easy...and I don't get baba ganoush and tortilla chip crumbs all over my drawings, just on the computer keyboard and mouse.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Note on Tobacco Pipes

Through all our work, and other's work, we have seen a large number of tobacco pipes at Port Tobacco. No whole pipes, but lots of stem pieces and bowl fragments. Most of the tobacco pipes discovered have been made of white clay. A few have been terracotta pieces. As we clean and catalog the stems, we can get a sense of their date by measuring the bore sizes.

Another way to distinguish when (and where) the pipe was manufactured is through the Maker's Mark on the stem or bottom of the bowl piece. We actually found one of these on a stem piece during the ASM field session this past June. It is most likely a 19th Century piece and it has stamped lettering on it, although it is incomplete. The letters "DAV" are the first three on it. The fourth and last letter on the piece we have is hard to make out. It is either an I, or part of another D.

Going through the research material I have at my disposal, I have not been able to come up with a name of the manufacturer. I will post a picture of it tomorrow as it is saved on my computer at the office and I am at home. Research will continue to try and find it's maker which may include emailing pictures to some of our colleagues in the area.