Saturday, January 10, 2009

African American Grave Marker

Yes, Scott and I toiled at the St. Nicholas cemetery in St. Mary's County yesterday. We were working along the southeastern edge of the cemetery where we expected to recover markers for African American graves.

Around mid-morning, we spoke to a journalist who works for The Tester, the Patuxent River Naval Air Station's newspaper. We explained to her that African Americans in Southern Maryland often made their own grave markers from inexpensive, and often highly expressive, form of mortuary art that freed them from dealing with suspect European American retailers and tradesmen. Not long after she left, Scott and I turned up a headstone that looked very much like a marble tablet set on a marble base; but instead of two pieces, there was only one. It was in fact a homemade marker cast as a single piece of concrete. We also found a matching footstone made the same way.

Such do-it-yourself markers contribute to the difficulty in finding African American cemeteries. Apart from the many unmarked graves and graves marked with fieldstones, even inscribed markers--especially if broken--can pass notice of the inexperienced.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Handyman at Work

Jim and Scott are off playing at the St. Nicholas cemetery today. So I am left to hold down the fort so to speak. No new news on Port Tobacco today. I have been organizing all the deeds for the town and looking for others.

Today and next week are going to be tests to my handyman skills as all of our screens need to be repaired. Either new screens needed to be put in, handles made, or adjustments to "ricketiness" have to be done. Now, for those of you who don't know me, I am not exactly "Mr. Handy". Actually, I'm lucky if I can find the right side of the hammer to use (Dad, I know you can relate).

I'll post some pictures next week on the process...that is if I survive the ordeal.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Surveying (Like Real Surveying) Port Tobacco

Responding to yesterday's blog, Scott suggested that we gather up available surveys from the late 20th century and, using two surveyors' markers found so far, resurvey the town lands. That way we can relate the old lots to points on the ground. For example, I wrote about Lots 4 and 5 yesterday. There are no metes and bounds for those lots; however, I was able to trace those two lots to land currently owned by the Compton family. We know those two lots were bundled with the Centennial Hotel lot, which fronted on the village green and was situated on the north side of Lots 4 and 5.

Of course, if you go out to Port Tobacco today, there are very few obvious survey points, but we did find one on top of the rubble pile on the jailhouse lot and another turned up in one of our excavation units, although I'll have to flip through the notes to find that unit. With our total station and a bit of experience on the parts of Scott and myself, we might succeed. It's so crazy it just might work. (Picture a Muppet saying this.)


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Spaulding Square

One of the challenges to reconstructing Port Tobacco's lot organization is the tendency of owners to consolidate and rename their lands, omitting entirely from the legal descriptions the original lot numbers. an example is the parcel that we focused on last June, the portion of the field owned by the Compton family.

The southern portion of this parcel traces back to the ownership of Margaret Baillie and Margaret Boyd. It was called Lots 4 and 5, as well as part of Spaulding's Square when William Boswell acquired them in 1859 (Liber JHC 1, folio 167).

On the north (village green) side of these lots was the land of Elijah W. Day and, I think, the Centennial Hotel lot. Here's where I'm going with this: I think the reason that Pete's excavations at the Centennial Hotel locus failed to encounter the expected foundations is that we were not on the Centennial hotel/Elijah W. Day lot...we were on Lots 4 and 5.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hidden Cemetery

Jim mentioned the supposed African American cemetery we discovered in Anne Arundel County last week and I would like to expand upon it briefly.

These types of burial grounds are very hard to spot. Indeed, we spoke to a hunter in the area and he had no idea it was there despite having walked past it numerous time. This type of graveyards lacks what one would normally expect to see: carved stones, flowers, and nice neat rows. This one is marked only by native stones placed at either the head or foot of the grave and sometimes both. In many cases, the grave is not marked at all but, seen only as a depression in the earth (fossae) from where a coffin had rotted and collapsed.

Site map of the cemetery

There is an obvious road cut as shown on the map above. It begins a rocky spring head, runs past the cemetery, and then off into the woods. While shovel testing nearby, Jim and Dio discovered some mid 19th century pottery that had been burned as well as brick fragments. Could this be the remains of a slave quarter? If so, is our burial ground associated with it? Perhaps exhaustive deed research could tell us more but, that is beyond the original scope of that project.

Map showing individual graves. Dark ovals represent grave fossae while other figures represent planted stones.

There are hundreds of such cemeteries throughout Maryland and all too often they are missed or worse, ignored when the land is slated for development. Many have already been obliterated. If, in your travels, you think you may have found such a site, notify your county government or historical society. You can also contact Jim or myself. Just do your part to protect this limited historical resource.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Pete has been working on drawings for a more detailed analysis of the Centennial Hotel locus and tomorrow he'll be researching the two glass trade beads that we have recovered from Port Tobacco: one from the Holt property (next to Burch House) and one from the Centennial Hotel locus.

I've prepared a drawing of the cemetery that Scott and I documented in Anne Arundel County Saturday and he should ave a blog posted on that soon.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Meeting of CCAS

On Tuesday, January 13, 2009, 7:30PM at the Port Tobacco Courthouse, Bruce Thompson will offer an illustrated presentation on his recent work at the Grieb site.

This is an incredibly rich 17th-century site on the Eastern Shore with one of the largest collections of British pottery that I have ever seen. I suspect that this was both a dwelling and a store and, as such, might offer a glimpse into what some of the Port Tobacco dwelling/stores have in store for us. Quantities of tin-glazed earthenware recovered from some of the unreported excavations at Port Tobacco in the 1970s are similar to the slipwares recovered from the Grieb site in both numbers and condition.

Before Bruce begins his presentation, I will talk a little about our upcoming fieldwork in and around Port Tobacco beginning in February.

All are welcome...there is no fee, just good fellowship.