Saturday, November 22, 2008

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Scott and I, chatting over some shovel test pits today, were discussing Joseph Cocking and the murder of his wife Fannie and sister-in-law Daisy. During our conversation, Scott reminded me that he was never tried. In my last blogs about Cocking I undoubtedly gave the impression that he was guilty of the crimes. We will never know who was guilty, mob rule having denied Cocking of his right to defend himself and the community of its right to see justice properly served.

On Monday, Pete or I will write another blog about Cocking that will provide some material provided by one of our readers.

On another matter, in which firmly established, I will speak at the annual Christmas luncheon meeting of the Maryland Genealogical Society ( on December 6 in Catonsville. The subject, of course, will be Port Tobacco and, more specifically, about the townspeople and what they left behind.

Scott and I are back in the field tomorrow in southern Anne Arundel County. We'll see what other retractions I'll need to make when I get back.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Jamestown Conference

Yesterday Jim and I were down in Williamsburg for the 2008 Jamestown Conference. We tried to post from the conference but technology fooled us and we couldn't get a wireless signal. After a long day, neither one of us remembered to post a blog when we got home. So here's an update on the conference.

It was a packed conference with most of the presenters from either the Williamsburg or Jamestown projects. We were the only representatives from Maryland. All of the presentations were very well done. I'm not going to go through all of them but you can get a look at the schedule here. Here's a brief overview of two talks that I thought were very interesting.

Juliana Harding of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary gave a very interesting talk on oyster shells as data recorders of the environment. I wonder what the oyster shells from PT could tell us?

Jillian Galle from Monticello talked about DAACS: The Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery. This site is very extensive in its collection and after a brief look at it this morning, it seems fairly simple to navigate. It could prove a useful tool to anyone looking at artifact collections.

And of course, Jim gave his presentation on our work at PT and was well received.

We would like to thank Jamie May and all the folks who put the conference together for the invitation to come and talk about Port Tobacco.

- Peter

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Joseph Cocking, Part 2

Alas, we have been unable to pin down the location of Cocking's store; but we have pieced together a few tidbits about Joseph Cocking's life in the years immediately preceding the murder of his wife Fannie and of his sister-in-law Daisy.

Joseph bought his brother Thomas's share of their father's (John) bequest in 1891, the 400-acre farm called The Retreat and located somewhere northwest of Port Tobacco. He and his wife Fannie paid Thomas and Emily Cocking $1,200. Two years later, in August of 1893, they sold the farm to J. Benjamin Mattingly for $1,600. With a $400 profit, one might assume that they fared well; however, that April they had purchased 9.3 acres from a 55-acre parcel that Harriet Rennoe inherited from her father, Edmund Perry. The subdivided estate was just east of the hamlet of Hill Top, as depicted below.

Plat of the Perry estate (1877). The 55-acre parcel from which Harriet Rennoe sold 9.3 acres to the Cockings is the squarish tract at the top of the figure. The hamlet of Hill Top was immediately west. The Cockings' new lot was on the south side of the Port Tobacco-Hill Top road.

The Cockings took a $600 mortgage from the Baltimore Building & Loan Company in October 1895 and a $220 mortgage from White, Daly & Company in January 1896. On July 22, 1896, Sheriff George A. Wade sold the Cockings' land to White, Daly & Company (they satisfied the debt to the Baltimore Building & Loan Company in 1902). Joseph had been lynched on June 27.

There are more threads of the story to be pursued, but it appears that the Cockleys had not fared well financially. a 400-acre farm in Maryland was a substantially holding and to have sold was their home and that of Joseph's father before his death in 1890...must have been a difficult matter. Then, despite a significant profit on the sale...$400, equivalent to a year and a half wages for a laborer...they took two mortgages on their newly acquired homelot, presumably to build and stock their new store.

Of course, their timing in setting up a store was not good. The country was in the midst of the Panic of 1893, a severe depression wrought principally by railroad speculation. Unemployment reached crushing levels until the economy rebounded, helped perhaps by the short-lived Spanish-American War, in 1898.

We may never know what compelled Joseph to murder Fannie and Daisy, and it is overly simple to attribute the violence to financial problems, but clearly there were problems in the household and financial loss and indebtedness didn't help.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Joseph Cocking

On July 6, 1896, Joseph Cocking--who moved with his father and other family members to the US from England in 1871--was lynched in Port Tobacco in a highly publicized case in which he was accused of murdering his wife and sister-in-law. Scott has blogged, twice I think, on the subject. Today we had a request: do we know where the Cocking store was located.

The answer is not precisely, so far, but Pete and I have been researching the matter. We know that Joseph Cocking owned a small parcel in the hamlet of Hill Top, which is west of Port Tobacco, about half way to Nanjemoy. We are pretty sure that we have narrowed down the tract of land and we should have it nailed tomorrow.

Of course, knowing where the Cocking Store was doesn't tell us a great deal. We doubt it is still standing. Are there archaeological remains? Would we recognize them as pertaining to the store if we did find them? I don't know, but it would be fun and interesting to find out.


Monday, November 17, 2008

More Census Data

It occured to me that the map we have from Mr. Barbour has not only the names of the people who owned certain properties in PT but also what the buildings were, i.e., "Smoot Warehouse" and "Coombs Smithy".

With that, I went to the census data to look at what the different peoples occupations were in each year. Some of the information matched and some didn't. At least, not exactly.

In 1880, James Coombs is indeed listed as a Blacksmith. However, I had questions about a couple others. The old Quenzal store was in the town square. Mr. Quenzal's occupation though is listed as that of a watchrepairer. The Wade's were indeed merchants according to the census. David Smoot was a horsetrader and is listed as having a warehouse on the map.

The simplest answer is that these folks, like most in the late 19th Century in small towns, had multiple professions and used their homes and businesses for these jobs. I'm curious as to why Mr. Quenzal chose to have watchrepairer listed as his profession rather than merchant like Mr. Wade?

Census data is limited in actual information written down but take it in a different context and compare it to other available resources and a better picture can be made about the people you are looking into.

- Peter

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Digging the Big Ditch

No work on Port Tobacco today...barely a thought given to it. Instead, I spent the day in Cecil County working with the Archeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake, a chapter of the Archeological Society of Maryland. We continued work started last April, clearing, mapping and testing deposits around the 1803 locks of the Susquehanna Canal, which runs up the Susquehanna River from Port Deposit to the Conowingo Dam.

ASNC members working on the uppermost of three canal locks dating to 1803.

Ann Persson and Dan Coates have been leading the effort. Although much remains to be done, the work to date clearly demonstrates that this site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. We hope someday to see the series of three locks completely cleared, stabilized, and restored for public interpretation of one of the nation's earliest transportation engineering works. Secondarily, I think this site will become something of a monument to the role of voluntary groups in documenting and preserving these important traces of our collective past.