Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cemetery Restoration

Tomorrow (Sunday) Scott and I will return to St. Nicholas Cemetery at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station after a two-year hiatus. We finally have approval to continue with, and complete, the restoration of a cemetery that had been entirely buried by the Navy in 1943 when the air station was created. This involves locating, excavating, recording, repairing if necessary, and re-erecting monuments that have been buried these 65 years.

The techniques that we have developed at St. Nicholas should be well-suited to the restoration of the late historic cemetery (north side of town) at Port Tobacco. That cemetery was buried with sediment by the early 20th century. Restoring it means not only the recognition of those who lived and died in town; it is also akin to recovering a small long-lost library, unearthing the names, relationships, fraternal and military affiliations, and dates of birth and death of the town's 19th-century inhabitants. Potentially, recovery of this archive could greatly enhance our understanding of Port Tobacco's past. Restoring it will be our gift to the current residents, many of whom have ancestors interred there. We have the skills, the technology, and the motivation...just need time and money.

Perhaps Scott will post a couple of pictures tomorrow to show you what we do and how.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Upcoming Talks

On Tuesday, November 11, at 7:30-9:00 PM, Dr. Julie King of St. Mary's College will present the results of the archaeological search for Charles County's first courthouse. This will be an illustrated talk and it will be held in the Port Tobacco Courthouse as part of a monthly meeting of the county's archaeological society. There are no fees and all are welcome.

On Wednesday, November 19, at 7:30-9:00 PM, I will be giving an illustrated lecture on Maryland cemeteries at the barn at Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, Maryland. I will be talking about our work on the Port Tobacco cemeteries, as well as those throughout Maryland and Delaware, discussing the search for cemeteries, and their documentation and restoration. Examples will include the Colonial church cemetery at Port Tobacco, Mulberry Grove (just south of Port Tobacco), a 17th-century cemetery in Calvert County, 19th-century St. Nicholas cemetery at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and others.

Hope to see you at both.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Alternate Spring Break

Here at Heidelberg College we have a two week long Spring Break in early March. We're located in northwest Ohio, quite a bit north of Port Tobacco so it seems only natural for me to take this opportunity to travel south and get in some fieldwork too.

This evening I met with seven students who are interested in an alternative Spring Break, one that would entail accompanying me to Port Tobacco. These students are well trained, most having worked at Johnson's Island and at least one other archaeological site in the US or abroad. I am confident that we can get a lot accomplished in four or five days of fieldwork, if the weather allows.

So the planning begins. I am applying for some funds to help offset the costs to the students and Jim is still working on getting our Preserve America funds into place so the entire Port Tobacco Archaeological Project Team can be out there at once, including our dedicated volunteers like Carol and Elsie.

There are some other plans for events to take place during this week of fieldwork. Stay tuned for those details.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Interesting Numbers

I took another look at the census data and came up with some interesting numbers. In 1850 there were 38 people in 17 different occupations that were listed in the census. In 1870 that number grew to 84 people in 26 occupations. A huge jump in the numbers for such a small town.

Now, of those 84 people in 1870, 29 were domestic servants and another 29 were "keeping house", the latter being housewives. An odd coincidence.

Of the 29 domestic servants, all but one were black, Hermie Brown being the only white woman who was 15 years old. The age range of the servants was large, 9-65 years old with an average age of 25.

Over half of the 84 in 1870 were not on the 1860 census. This suggests that people were not only setting up new residences in Port Tobacco but were either bringing their servants with them or possibly hiring on newly freed slaves (quite possibly some of their own).

This isn't really new news since this was a pretty common practice but I wanted to show what information you can get from the census when you really look at it.

More to come later on the census data.

- Peter

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Port Tobacco Occupations

Jim put together a simple set of tables showing what occupations were listed in the census data that we have collected for Port Tobacco from 1850-1880. When you break down any data into smaller, more manageable sections, some interesting facts start to appear. Here's a few tidbits about the occupations of the PT residents of the 19th Century.

- There is a dramatic upswing in the number of people employed in the town from 40 in 1850 to 151 in 1880, although 65 of those 151 are listed as either "at home, at school, or keeping house" so that number actually drops to 86 which is still double that of 1850.

- The number of servants jumped from 1 in 1860 to 33 in 1870. Could the jump in servants be from the number of ex slaves who were now employed by their previous owners? It was a common occurrence across the country after the war.

- The variety of occupations in the town changed from 19 in 1850 to 35 in 1880.

It is in the post Civil War censuses that we start to see more diversification in occupations while servants and merchants make up the majority of jobs held in town. The town was in decline but the specialty shops and occupations were actually increasing.

So there's a few interesting things about the census that we hadn't really looked at. There is more we can learn from the census data and I'll post more on it another time.

- Peter

Monday, November 3, 2008


As I noted in Saturday's blog, about half of the aboriginal pottery sherds recovered last June are of the Moyaone type (pronounced Moy- [as in boy] - ohn [as in clone]). Robert Stephenson defined Moyaone as a type in the early 1960s based on material recovered by Alice Ferguson from the Accokeek Creek site in the 1930s and 1940s. He described it as a compact, smooth paste tempered with very fine sand and mica and few crushed quartz or larger sand grain inclusions, with smoothed interior and exterior surfaces. The mica lends a glittering quality to both surfaces (see sherd on right in figure below).

Potomac Creek Cord-Impressed (left) and Moyaone Plain (right) pottery sherds.

We offer the following details on the Moyaone pottery recovered from Port Tobacco, the bulk of which came from the seven excavation units comprising the so-called aboriginal locus. Very fine sand grains (<0.5 mm) comprise approximately 10% of the clay. Four sherds had what appear to be fortuitous shell inclusions and five had bits of crushed quartz in excess of 1 mm in length. Sherd thicknesses, excluding rim and base sherds, range from 3 mm to 7.5 mm, averaging 5.5 mm. Coil breaks are clearly manifested on 32 of the 165 sherds. The exterior surfaces are typically reddened and the interiors are blackened (112 of 146 body sherds retaining both surfaces), a byproduct of firing pots upside down. Another 29 were reddened, or oxidized, on both sides and five were fired in a reducing (oxygen poor) environment resulting in completely blackened surfaces.

Cord impressions are few, largely because the potters smoothed both interior and exterior surfaces. Seven body sherds had cord impressions that were sufficiently clear to identify as to allow us to identify the cords as z-twist (as opposed to s-twist, the other pattern resulting from the direction in which the fibers were twisted in making the cord from vegetable fibers). Of the nine rim sherds recovered, six had cord impressions, all of the z-twist variety. No evidence of s-twist cords was noted on any of the sherds.

Moyaone pottery dates to the latter part of the Late Woodland period, roughly AD 1300 to 1650. This date range corresponds with the trade beads recovered from Port Tobacco, indicating aboriginal occupation at the time of European invasion.

Eighteen Moyaone sherds, along with one Early Woodland Accokeek sherd and three Late Woodland Townsend sherds, were recovered from Stratum 3 in Unit 7 (see below). This buried topsoil horizon appears throughout the aboriginal locus and it contains deposits dating to the aboriginal and early European occupations of Port Tobacco. We expect to find and learn marvellous things as we expand the excavations in this area.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Archaeology of Religion

This coming Friday I will be teaching the fifth in a series of six classes at the Anne Arundel County Senior Center at the old Bates School in Annapolis. The subject is the archaeology of religion, or more specifically, how archaeologists collect and interpret evidence of past belief systems. One of the advantages of teaching (it ain't the money) is that it forces the instructor to think about issues from a perspective different from that of the researcher. Religion in Port Tobacco is a subject about which the project team has given some thought but, to date, few resources.

We know that there was a series of Anglican/Episcopal churches in town throughout most if not all of Port Tobacco's existence. We know that there was a small Baptist congregation that used the south wing of the courthouse in the early 20th century, after the main part of the courthouse burned in 1892. And we know about the Jesuit mission established several miles to the south at what is now St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church. But here are a few things that we do not know about the practice of organized religion in and around Port Tobacco:
  1. What other Christian denominations were present?
  2. What non-Christian religious practices were publicly or clandestinely observed, including those of the local Indians, enslaved Africans, and non-Christians from the Eastern hemisphere?
  3. Did organized religion play an integrative or divisive role in Port Tobacco society? For example, in the years prior to the American Revolution, there were animosities between the English colonists (most at least nominally Anglicans) and Scots factors and merchants who controlled much of the credit and trade (and who, we might expect, were largely Presbyterians). To what extent might those animosities have been expressed through congregational membership and competing religious services?
  4. How can we explore these and other issues archaeologically?
The problem confronted by archaeologists is that we are quite adept at identifying and interpreting the secular aspects of everyday life in ancient societies. It is, after all, a relatively simple matter of reconstructing past dietary patterns from the bones and burned plant matter recovered from archaeological deposits; but how does the analyst identify belief systems, especially when the people who held those beliefs may not have fully understood them themselves? I'll post the answer to that question just as soon as I figure it out.