Saturday, November 24, 2007

Robert Guy Barbour Describes the Swann House

While the Port Tobacco maps of the late 1800s contain a lot of detail concerning the center of town, the southwest area of town is not as detailed. I find two of these vague structures particularly intriguing. One is an unlabeled building in the field where we identified the remains of a structure built with post supports instead of the common brick foundations. The other is labeled "Swann" and is currently located in an area of brush we have yet to test, although foundation remains are visible. It is likely that these two structures were relatively old, compared to the others in town in the 1800s, and their archaeological deposits may provide us with important insight into the earlier history of Port Tobacco.

The Swann House is simply described by Barbour as:
"An attractive old dwelling situated on the extreme Southwest corner of the village on the Port Tobacco-Warehouse Road".

Two photographs of the Swann House, in a less attractive time, are below.

The above photograph bears little resemblance to the sketch of the Swann House made by Barbour.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Historic Archaeology Photos, Part 4

To end our series of photographs from the 1960s excavations at Port Tobacco, I leave you with a photograph that I have no interpretation for. Two young boys are working with piles of bricks at the site of the reconstructed courthouse (the well is visible in the top left). The boy in the foreground appears to have a hatchet and is using it on a brick. I would welcome any interpretations (serious or not). As always, click on the photo for a larger image.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Greetings!

On behalf of April, Pete, Scott and myself, I thank all of our supporters. The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project is an enormous undertaking that we have only just begun, but if the support and encouragement that we have received to date is any indication, we can expect a long and productive effort of which we can all be proud.

Thanks to John, Walt and Maxine: with your help Pete finished the cleaning, repackaging, and cataloguing last week. We recovered nearly 25,000 artifacts from 359 shovel tests and two 3 ft by 3 ft excavation units. At least 25% of those artifacts are ceramics dating to the founding of our nation.

Thanks to the Board of the Archeological Society of Maryland for taking a chance on this project and to the membership for providing support in the field and lab.

Thank you Maryland Historical Trust, and especially staffers Maureen Kavanagh, Charlie Hall and Bruce Thompson for logistical support and use of the laboratory. The initial Non-Capital grant made by the Trust to the project, by way of the Archeological Society of Maryland, was critical to the launching of the project.

Cathy Hardy and her staff at Charles County: your encouragement and support added to the joy of this project and increased our efficiency...the latter no small matter when so few resources are available for so large an undertaking.

Thank you Preservation Maryland and the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium for grants and good wishes.

And thank you property owners and residents of Port Tobacco for allowing us to work in your charming community and for sharing your knowledge of its history.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Historic Archaeology Photos, Part 3

Today's photograph of the 1960s archaeology at Port Tobacco shed some light on the laboratory facilities the archaeologists had. While the current project has the luxury of using lab space at both the Maryland Historical Trust and Gibb Archaeological Consulting, and storage space in the reconstructed courthouse, our predecessors appear to have had only a bus to work in (the courthouse not yet rebuilt).


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Notables of Port Tobacco

Port Tobacco was the birthplace or home to some notable characters throughout history. Some went on to do great things and others...not so great. I'd like to add another element to this blog that includes some brief biographical sketches.

George A. Atzerodt

Today's blog features one of the more dispicable products from the town: George Atzerodt, Lincoln assassination conspirator. Atzerodt was a Prussian immigrant and with his brother, opened a carriage shop at Port Tobacco. George was known for rowing his Confederate friends across the Potomac when he was approached by John Surratt and taken to the home of John's mother, Mary. It was then alleged he met with the likes of John Wilkes Booth, David Herold and Lewis Paine.

Most of you know how things turned out: Lincoln was assassinated, Booth was killed and Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Paine, and George Atzerodt were hung from the gallows at Old Capitol Prison in Washington DC.

Four Lincoln assassination conspirators preparing for execution at Old Capitol Prison. Atzerodt's face is circled as Mary Surratt has a hood placed over her head.

It is also notable that Atzerodt was referred to by name as "Port Tobacco" and was also a "notable coward". In 1977, his written confession was discovered and it implicated many of the alleged participants and exhonorated others. In his confession, Atzerodt makes a reference to some proprietors of Port Tobacco at the time. "Surratt bought a boat from Dick Smoot & James Brawner living about Port Tobacco, for which they paid $300.00 and was to give one hundred Dolls. extra for taking care of it till wanted." His last words were "May we all meet in the other world. God take me now."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Historic Archaeology Photos, Part 2

I am still learning a lot from the photographs of the 1960s excavations of Port Tobacco. The photo below is one of many showing surface collecting of the field across from the Burch House. This information is important for two reasons. First, many artifacts from the 1960s work are stored in the courthouse but we have yet to decode the numbering system that should tell us which areas of the town each numbered artifact is from. Second, we conducted a shovel test pit survey of this field (the color photo shows the Burch House during the recent restoration) and need to keep in mind the fact that artifacts were removed from it in the past.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Team Returns to Field December 3

We've had so much fun at Port Tobacco that the project team will return to the field on December 3, 2007 (Monday) and continue working in town until that Thursday. Sorry: we couldn't fit in a weekend. We hope to explore the northern part of the town, work underwritten in part by grants from Preservation Maryland and the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium (many thanks to both).

If you would like to join us, please contact me or April.

This will be the end of fieldwork for the calendar year, and possibly for the winter. Over the winter we will begin assembling our archival database, mostly collecting data from the censuses and local newspapers. Several folks have expressed interest in this part of the project and we certainly will avail ourselves of your generosity.