Saturday, August 9, 2008

Prehistoric Sites Along Port Tobacco Creek

Yesterday Pete wrote about our traveling exhibit which will debut at the Charles County fair next month. It will include artifacts, maps illustrating the distribution of those artifacts, and a variety of historical photographs and maps. The map below shows the locations of prehistoric sites that we identified and mapped.

We are using this map and some of the artifacts on which it is based to illustrate something interesting that we learned and that relates to the exhibit and the project at large. Seven of the eight sites date to the Late Archaic period. (The northernmost, which we tested during the spring field session is Late Woodland, and possibly Contact period.) The fact that these sites survive in the floodplain and retain their cohesion (we could define their limits on the ground, they had not been washed away by floodwaters) indicates that the stream channel has not meandered outside of its current channel at least since approximately 1000 BC to 3000 BC.

Why is that important? The stability of the stream channel suggests that the process of sedimentation that denied the town access to navigable water before the Civil War, and as early as the late 18th century, had not begun until after European settlement. Significant deposits of silt would have altered stream flow. The distribution of prehistoric artifacts parallel to the current channel supports the hypothesis that sedimentation occurred during the historic period and likely as a result of specific activities, principally farming and urban development.

If sedimentation occurred during the historic period, and it was due mainly to runoff from surrounding farms and streetscapes, the residents must have known what was happening and foreseen the consequences for the port town and its economy. What, if anything, did they do about it?

We will not rest on this data, but will continue to find and analyze evidence on the sources and timing of sedimentation events. Our assessment of the data to date will appear in the traveling exhibit. We'll post new observations as we proceed with the analysis of data collected during the June field session.


Friday, August 8, 2008

County Fair Exhibit

The Charles County Fair is coming up in September from the 10th through the 14th. We are preparing an exhibit covering the archaeology that has been done in Port Tobacco to be shown at the fair. It will cover the history of the town, maps, artifacts, our research design, and what we have learned so far.

I am in the process of pulling artifacts from our collections to be shown off at the fair. Since the history of the town covers from the prehistoric times up until now, we will have a variety of artifacts to show off.

We will be focusing specifically on those artifacts that are temporally diagonstic from all time periods. Among the artifacts to be displayed are Potomac Creek pottery and projectile points, 17th Century ceramics (mainly Buckley Earthenware), 18th Century ceramics (Chinese Porcelain and Staffordshire Combed Slipware) and a few of the odds and ends things.

So come on out to the Charles County Fair in September! I am in need of some funnel cake so I might just have to drive down and check it out! Hope to see some of you there!

- Peter

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Upcoming Fieldwork

There is an electrical storm racing in so I have just a moment. I spoke with Cathy Hardy of Charles County's Planning department. She told me that our Preserve America grant (a White House initiative) is in the works. This means we can expect to begin archival and field research very soon. The work will focus on George Atzerodt and the Lincoln conspiracy.

Pete is still charging forth on the cataloguing and our volunteers and interns are making rapid inroads on artifact labeling of the materials recovered in June. I'm dealing with some other initiatives that should prove highly beneficial to our Port Tobacco efforts. I'll go into greater detail when those efforts come to fruition. Kudos to Cathy, Donna Dudley (County tourism director), and Jay Lilly and his Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco board of trustees. Great things are on the horizon.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rev. Lemuel Wilmer's House Site

I was in the library of the Maryland Historical Trust today perusing archaeological reports for Charles County. Sadly, there aren't as many as there are for other counties like Prince George's and Anne Arundel (both review all development projects for possibly adverse effects on archaeological sites). But there are a few goods ones and, as technical reports, the contents go largely unnoticed by the community: there are likely to be fewer than a dozen copies in existence and there are few or no venues for their publication for general audiences.

One report by Jody Hopkins, Ann Persson and Adele Philippides (2005) documents limited archaeological testing of the Dobson property, a tract that lies directly across the road from Piney Branch church. Thirty shovel test pits and five excavation units exposed part of the house and recovered a large number of artifacts that belonged to the Rev. Lemuel Wilmer, long-time rector of Port Tobacco Parish and the subject of several blog postings . The artifacts should be housed at the Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum in St. Leonard (Calvert County). Hopefully at some point in the future I will arrange access to the collection, photograph some of the material, and include it with a summary of the archaeological findings documented in the report.

Port Tobacco will make a lot more sense not only as we continue to explore and interpret the place, but as we examine it in the larger contexts of county, state, and nation. Archaeological studies from throughout the area should provide a wealth of information that other people have already collected, processed, and documented in peer-reviewed reports. That material is waiting to be used.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Artifact of the Week

So here's the latest interesting artifact that has come out of the Port Tobacco collection.

Normally when I see a button, I just look to see what it's made out of: bone, shell, plastic, etc. I note the size and count them and add it to the catalog. Today, however, I came across one that was a bit different. It's brown and looks and feels like it could be bone but it also has lettering stamped on it. So, I put it under the magnifying glass to read what was written on it.

It reads: Goodyear N.R. Co. P=T

I know Goodyear makes tires, but buttons? Well the patent for the rubber hardening process was held by Charles Goodyear and thus had to have "P=T" and "Goodyear" which stands for patent held by Goodyear.

These "Goodyear" buttons were produced by the Novelty Rubber Company and the patent was in place from 1851-1872. These buttons were very commonplace in the 19th Century, so while not unique to Port Tobacco, it is an interesting find to this archaeologist and hopefully to you as well.

So what we have here is a middle of the 19th Century clothing button. I love coming across something other than ceramics that I can date! These buttons were very commonplace in the 19th Century, so while not unique to Port Tobacco, it is an interesting find to this archaeologist and hopefully to you as well.

- Peter

James A. Swann, Part 2

Previously [Blog August 2, 2008] I wrote what the censuses, deeds, and newspapers told us about James Swann, a free African American, that kept a tavern/restaurant in Port Tobacco in the mid-1800s. Possibly the artifacts he and his family left behind could tell more. But first we need to know where his land was. So I went back to the deeds.

The first clue is the land that James purchased in Port Tobacco in 1843/6. It consisted of a lot (Land Record JB 25/276) and an undivided half of a lot (Land Records WM 2/29, in which Swann is described as a “free man of color”). Both were described as lying in the Town of Port Tobacco on what is commonly called the "Point", and James already had possession of both in 1846. James was living on the half-lot in 1843. This half-lot was described as being marked and designated on the plat of Charles Town (Port Tobacco) as Lot #4. Too bad we cannot find a copy of that plat.

Another clue to the location is provided by deeds in April 1852 (Land Record RHM 1/386) and February 1868 (Land Record GAH 1/393) for a certain unimproved lot owned by Peregrine Davis’ Peregrine Davis’ unimproved lot was described as being bounded on the north and west by Port Tobacco Run. It adjoined the property of James Swann on the east and the property of Henry A Neale on the south. Peregrine Davis bought the lot in 1852, and he gave it to his daughter Victoria Hughes in 1868. The description of this lot was the same in both deeds except that the later deed referred to Henry A Neale Sr.

So we know the land was near Port Tobacco Run and was probably on the outskirts of the town (since it had a low lot number). And it should be north of the land belonging to Henry A Neale, Sr. Also since an oyster restaurant was located on the land, there should be lots of oyster shells.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Religion in Port Tobacco

I decided to wait until tomorrow to post the second installment of Carol's piece on James Swann. In its stead I'm starting a series of Sunday blogs concerning the churches, cemeteries, and other religious matters in and around Port Tobacco. We can start with an oath of fealty.

Oaths of fealty in Maryland have been around since the founding of the colony. Early on they seemed to have had more to do with acknowledging Lord Baltimore's claim to Maryland than anything else. (Virginians and the proprietors of Pennsylvania, not to mention local Indian tribes, disputed that title and many colonists probably wondered why they had to pay rent to Lord Baltimore twice a year when they took all the risks and he provided only such services as served his interests.)

Here is an oath from a later period, about 1717. Below the images are my transcriptions.

Oath Required of the Charles County Commissioners in 1717 (Land Records M2/26).
The Subscriber do truly and Sincerely acknowledge & profess, testify and declare in my Conscience before God and the world that our Sovereign Lord King George is Lawful and Rightful King of Great Britain and all other the Dominion and Countries thereto belonging, and I do Solemnly and Sincerely declare that I do believe in my Conscience that the person pretended to be the prince of Wales during the life of the Late King James and since his death pretending to be and taking upon himself the State and Title of King of England by the name of King James the third or of Scotland by the name of James the Eighth or the State and Titles of King of Great Britain hath not the Right or Title whatsoever to the Crown of the Realm of Great Britain or any other the dominions thereto belonging and I do renounce, Refute and Abjure any allegiance or obedience to him and I swear that I will bear faith and true allegiance to King George… .”

To this was added the following oath:
I Do Likewise declare that I believe there is not any Transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lords Supper or in the Elements of Bread and Wine at or before the Consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.

Signed by
Samuel Hanson
Alexander Contee
Robert Hanson

The first oath ties early 18th-century Maryland politics into those of Hanoverian Great Britain, specifically in regards to the Scottish Stuarts having lost the thrones of England and Scotland, and rule over all British dominions, to the Hanovers, beginning with King George I. The taking of political oaths is alive and well in the modern Western world. (Perhaps you have heard of the pledge of allegiance and other oaths taken upon the acceptance of a government job or application for a passport?) The second oath, however, is a religious test banned by the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution.

Transubstantiation is a integral part of Roman Catholic ritual, wherein the host and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ. To reject this concept is to reject Catholicism. And, since the reigning British monarchs since King Henry VIII have also been the titular heads of the Church of England, to accept Catholicism was to reject the full authority of the monarch.

All of this makes perfect legal and procedural sense, but it still strikes me as a little bizarre to have County Commissioners--really just provincial farmers and lawyers--caught up in the political insecurities and religious bigotries of a distant mother country. Religious bigotries and particularly anti-Catholicism, however, permeated Colonial Maryland and persisted through the 19th century and, in some quarters, remain alive today.