Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Van Vranken Lot

On the east side of Chapel Point Road, across from what most people think of as Port Tobacco, there were a series of parcels that were part of the town. These include the "colonial" dwelling occupied by George A. and Hattie S. Wade, the van Vranken (often misspelled Van Branklyn) lot, and, farther to the south, the Hamilton and Hutton lots.

Reconstructed plat of Frank and Mary Ann Wade's property indicating neighboring past property owners.

These lots included storehouses, dwellings, and a variety of outbuildings. Although on the east edge of town, bordering the Chandler's Hope farm to the east, these were still very much a part of Port Tobacco. Some of the town's preeminent citizens lived on these lots and we are having considerable success in sorting them all out and placing them on current maps.

We have not investigated anything east of Chapel Point Road, nor have we any plans to do so in the near future. There are just too many other things to do and too few resources with which to do them. The PTAP team will forge on into the new year with whatever resources we can beg, borrow, or find. Happy New Year to all of our readers and supporters.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Progress with Plats posting yesterday. We were involved in another project and my evening researches were inconclusive. Today, however, I connected a number of mid-19th century lots on the east side of Chapel Point Road. We have good chains of title for several merchants and physicians, specifically for the lots of Dr. Bennett Neale, Griffin Carter, John Hamilton, and William Boswell.

A source of data that we have not yet examined, but are nearly ready to do so, are the Orphan's Court/Probate records. These often provide details of ownership, tenancy, buildings, and landuse that are overlooked in land conveyances.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lot Research Update

Just a quick update on the town lot research. The way the data are falling out, it looks like we will have two, and possibly three subsets: the original lots and owners, lots and owners from the mid-18th century through the 1870s, and lots and tenants for the 1880s through the present.

It looks like ownership consolidated into relatively few hands during the 1880s and that pattern continued into the 20th century. Until we get most of the deed data into the database and start analyzing them, I can't be more specific. Hopefully, we will be able to link all of the deeds to specific lots for the entire period of 1724 (Chandlers Town lotting) to the present, despite radical changes in the configuration of lots.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Milling About

Scott and I were working on a different project today in a different county. Searching through a wooded area near where we were shovel testing, we found a breached earthen embankment that may well be part of a mill dam. These unprepossessing features can be found all over the landscape wherever there are streams with sufficient flow and volume to support one or more mills.

There should be a similar feature north of Port Tobacco where there was at least one mill seat. This kind of mill--water-powered--would have been very different from the steam-powered mill on "the Mill Lot" between the courthouse and Port Tobacco Creek. That mill probably took water from the creek for steam production. Steam power made mills independent of undependable water supplies (particularly during summer droughts and winter freezes) and it allowed millers to operate more efficiently the rolling mills that replaced traditional mill stones and the high-speed circular saws that replaced old-fashioned, slow, up-and-down saws.

I'm not sure what kinds of archaeological features we might find behind the courthouse that would survive from the milling operation (I've only worked on water-powered mills), but a furnace and boiler are likely candidates and probably easily identified.


Friday, December 26, 2008

A Doctor's Town?

While sifting through scores, and possibly hundreds, of Port Tobacco deeds, I was surprised to see quite a few doctors. Some owned the lots on which they resided, others were identified as tenants. One, Dr. Francis Mills, rarely used the honorific. Clues from the land records and items in the Port Tobacco Times suggest that he was more interested in agriculture than medicine.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. A town, especially a one-time port and long-time county seat, would have provided a ready market of patients and a central point from which to make house calls. (For readers under 50 years of age, try conducting a web search on 'house calls;' it is a quaint institution largely erased from the landscape.)

I wonder what sorts of objects we are likely to find in the refuse of country doctors. And I wonder if we will be able to recognize a physician's household refuse when we see it. I'm still confident, however, that the lot research will allow us to connect many of the archaeological deposits in town to specific households.

When the lot research has been completed, we will post a list of physicians and, hopefully, other Port Tobacco professionals and tradespeople, along with whatever biographical material we can muster.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanuka and otherwise enjoy your winter holidays. Now get back to your families and have fun.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Church-County Land Swap

Local lore has it that the County swapped land with the Vestry of Port Tobacco Parish, the new church built on the courthouse site and vice versa. The land record that may be the source of this misunderstanding is Liber IB 17, folio 333, dated 04 August 1821. This deed from the Justices of the Levy Court, replacing one from 1819 which had not been filed, specifies the:

"Lott of Land situate in Port Tobacco Town...whereupon the Church known by the name of Christ's Church now stands, also the land attached thereto for the space of fifteen feet in width."

Although we have not yet found a deed from the vestrymen to a private citizen conveying the one-acre lot originally reserved for the church, it appears that the 'new' Christ's Church was built on the three-acre courthouse lot. The cemetery that we partially exposed this past June very likely lies on the original one-acre church lot and the original church site also probably can be found on that same lot.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Cheer

Click on the link to see the Port Tobacco crew doing a little diddy for you (thanks to Franny's creativity).

Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you!


Deeds Solve Archaeological Mystery

Last June, while excavating around the jail house site, I was struck by the number of early 19th-century ceramic sherds recovered from around the foundations. The reason I was surprised was that I had assumed that the jailhouse was part of the 3-acre lot that was surveyed for the courthouse in 1728.

Two deeds came to light today. The earliest of the two is from Joseph and Rachel Hutton. On January 2, 1859, they conveyed to William M. Lyon "a certain House and lot lying and being in the Village of Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland, known by the name of the Red house containing about one-seventh of an acre more or less" (Land Records JHC 1/67).

On April 24, 1860, William Lyon conveyed that same "Red house" and one-seventh acre to the Commissioners, noting its location as follows: "on the west of the Church & on which the Public Jail is now situated" (Land Records JHC 1/356).

These two deeds clearly indicate that there was a house on the lot and that the house and lot were sold to the County for the construction of a new jail, which occurred in 1859/1860. The domestic refuse, including a number of pearlware sherds, therefore, come not from the jail, but from an earlier dwelling, some of the foundations of which we may have uncovered in June. Moreover, the earlier jail (1818) which remained standing when the new jail was completed, but which the Commissioners ordered dismantled, probably was on the courthouse lot and may be closer to the courthouse than we had anticipated.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Slogging through titles

Nothing much to report...the pile of Port Tobacco deeds that Pete and I have been printing is beginning to cover my desk. It will take a while to process all of this material. More news when there is news.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Incomplete Survey

The PTAP team has prided itself on its extensive survey coverage of Port Tobacco, having excavated well over 400 shovel tests and surface collected many acres to the south; however, there are holes in our coverage, one of which became clear this weekend while I was searching through the land records.

I found a series of six deeds dating between 1863 and 1881, all referencing the same two lots with essentially the same words:

"All of those two lots or parcels of ground situate, lying and being in the Village of Port Tobacco in the said County, running from the street in the rear of the Court House and the P.[rotestant] E. [piscopal] Church, back to Port Tobacco Run and lying between the lots of Mrs. Rose A. Stewart on the North, and the County jail and jail lot on the South."

The 1880 deed adds the following language:

"Together with the Improvements thereon, consisting of a Mill house, and the steam saw, grist, and bone mill."

In short, there was a road running behind the courthouse and Episcopal Church foundation that may be the level terrace that the crew constantly remarks upon, along the west side (stream side) of which there was a steam powered mill that ground grain, cut wood, and ground animal bones, probably for fertilizer. This area remains unsurveyed from the jailhouse lot northward, including Rose Stewart's lot which probably was the Smoot House or Hotel. Yep, we got lots to do.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hypothetical Lot Organization

This is not a map of Port Tobacco in 1728, although it is our best guess as to how the town was lotted. The numbered lots measured something more than one-quarter of an acre and probably straddled a 30 ft alley or street.

This view is based on the reconstruction of a parcel that combined Lots 3, 5, and 6, mention Lot 2, and the reconstruction of Lot 4.

Pete and I have been printing copies of deeds that date from 1724 through the 20th century. The pile is becoming very thick and Pete is organizing them as best he can. The volume of land conveyances is such that we are going to have to develop a more robust database structure to handle all of the data and to allow us to easily analyze that material and make sense of it.


Friday, December 19, 2008

"Lots 1" as Jim calls it

So Jim promised you guys that I would post something with a map of our reconstruction findings and how they all relate to one another. Well here it is...sort of.

While we have about a dozen lots mapped in AutoCAD, only one can be correctly (we think) placed in line with the 1729 courthouse lot. Now there are some complications with some of the metes and bounds. Exact measurements are not always given. Sometimes we have to go and find lot X to be able to create lot Y. A deed might say that Lot X is bounded on the North by lot Z and on the west by lot F (letters being someones name).

Now the 1729 plat of the courthouse is 3 acres of land. That's alot of land for just the courthouse and jail. It's going to be awhile before we get a real clear picture of the layout. Of course, Jim asks me every hour or so if I'm done with it. Sadly, I am not.

What you see below is the courthouse lot and lot 37 attached to it. Lot 37 was owned by John B. Mills Jr. in 1806 (I haven't finished tracing the lot, there is confusion in when and to whom it was bought and sold previously to 1806). In the descriptions of the metes and bounds it states that the 5th line stops "at a stone marked No. 6 at the SE corner of the Courthouse Square." It also states that there was a granary to the east of the lot and that the 4th line ends at "the SE corner of a granary". While frustrating, these clues will help put all these lots in line with each other.

Question the courthouse square the courthouse lot or the village green or the town square, all of which are mentioned in different deeds. Are they all the same area or is the Courthouse Lot to the west of the village green as it is today? Either Lot 37 fronts the Courthouse itself or the opposite side of the village green away from the Courthouse.
We'll figure it out one of these the title of the blog says and Jim says, this is attempt # 1 of our lot reconstruction.

- Peter

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lots of Lots

Pete has been out of the office all day on another task. While he was away, I did a little of my own town lot research. Using a tip from Elsie, I found a resident who owned parts of four town lots, some with surveyors' descriptions that include the lot lines of the courthouse square. Not the Rosetta Stone...probably more like a Rosetta pebble...but a significant find in our efforts to reconstruct the placement of numbered lots in Port Tobacco. I'll let Pete do the honors tomorrow in drafting and arranging the new lots.

One of the exciting things about this new find is that Charles Wheeler occupied a lot owned by Frederick Stone which adjoined one of the new-found lots. We do not know if Wheeler's widow continued to live there after his death, first with her new husband Henry O. Rose, then with George Atzerodt, but it is the best lead that we've had in awhile. And, by the way, thanks to Elsie's sleuthing it appears that Mrs. Wheeler's first name and middle initial were always Elizabeth B.--'Rose' was the family name of her second husband. Tune in tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008


While preparing a few extra slides for this evening's presentation at Port Tobacco, I grabbed a handful of Buckley Ware sherds that we had collected from the South Field in May 2008. Pete had written a little about this ware in a previous blog, but I thought it might be nice to show some representative sherds.

Buckley Pottery from Port Tobacco.
Buckley pottery, made in Wales and northwestern England, and widely used in the Chesapeake region during the 18th century, is easily recognized by its generally thick body of swirled red and yellow clays, covered with thick black glaze. Rims are generally heavy and pronounced. They should not be confused with another Buckley...

Buckley the Dog from Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Buckley is a new member of the household joining fellow canids Amis and Ellie.

Whimsy aside, the distribution of Buckley ware along Port Tobacco Creek should provide clear evidence of the pre-Revolutionary War layout of the town. Accurate and precise mapping, as always, are critical to the interpretation of such evidence.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wednesday Evening Lecture

Lately, Pete has been yammering on about reconstructing the layout of numbered lots in Port Tobacco. This isn't just an obsession: his research is integral to our understanding of the town and its development. It is also critical for identifying the locations of specific households and businesses that the team is interested in studying. For the purposes of the Preserve America grant, we are particularly interested in locating the houselot of Rose Wheeler and George Atzerodt's carriage shop, both of which might have been in town.

We are a long way, yet, from convincingly assembling the town lots. But there is much else to report. Tomorrow night (Wednesday, December 17, 7:30) at the Port Tobacco Courthouse I will give an illustrated talk on what the PTAP team found and learned this year. I'll also talk about some preliminary plans for developing an interpretive trail from Thomas Stone National Historic Site to the north of town, through Port Tobacco and southward to Chapel Point State Park. This trail would thematically link the various sites that we have found, both to one another and to sites elsewhere in the Port Tobacco valley and in the Chesapeake region.

Come join us tomorrow night...hour, hour and a half tops with questions and answers.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Lot Reconstruction Update

I thought I'd share with you a bit more on reconstructing the lots. Below is a reconstructed lot map of the Burch House property that Jim did a while back. If you look at the image, you can see points where the lines join other properties. While they don't seem like a marker of much, the N-S street and boundary stone markers show up in many of the deed references. With time and a lot of luck, we will have the town reconstructed. It's slow going but productive.

Side note: We have references to the 1729 plat on at least 6 of the deed references we have going back to the late 18th Century with lot numbers (remember there were 100 lots in the town) mentioned. Whether or not they are the same lot numbers as the original 100 is still to be seen.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Preserve America

In May of this year, we received notification of award, Preserve America granting Charles County $60,000 to research and interpret Port Tobacco's Civil War era, focusing on the Lincoln conspiracy. I have now received the official notice to proceed from the county. We have already begun the archival research component and, after consultation with the Maryland Historical Trust, we will begin fieldwork after the first of the new year.

As always, we welcome participation. Refer to this blog for updates on what and when, and write or call me with specific questions. We will need help with all aspects of the work: archival, fieldwork, laboratory work, and all of the myriad activities that each aspect entails.


Friday, December 12, 2008

History Hootenanny at the College of Southern Maryland

It's just 11PM and I'm just back from La Plata. The College of Southern Maryland hosted the unveiling of a new book published by the Smallwood Foundation and attended by US Rep. Steny Hoyer, State Del. Murray Levy, all of the Charles County Commissioners, and a variety of other dignitaries and a large crowd of well-wishers. We were all there to celebrate the publication of Pathway to History, a scholarly work on the history of Charles County.

The project was spearheaded by Mike Sullivan--a native Countian of unbelievable energy and unquenchable love for his community and its history--and drew on the scholarship of Dr. Julie King, Dr. Christine Arnold-Lourie, and Ms Susan Shaffer, and the talents of a number of designers, photographers, editors, organizers.

I only flipped through the book, but it is well-illustrated and well-produced and, if the few snippets I read are any indication, well-researched and well-written. Just goes to show what the community of historians and archaeologists can do with leadership, hard work, and a clearly defined sense of purpose. Such lessons are worth the investment of a Friday night.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Modeling Town Lot Organization

Reconstructing the town requires that we figure out where each lot was located and which families were associated with which lots throughout the town's history. This graphic (see below) should convey some sense of the problem. On the left are 100 squares, each equal to 10,000 ft2, or about one-fifth of an acre. They could be larger, measuring as much as one acre. On the right is a reconstruction of the town boundaries based on the surveyor's metes and bounds, or description.
Now, arrange the numbered blocks in the correct order without knowing where to start or end. If you can imagine that, you have some sense of the problem.

This is not an impossible task. We can place a few lots on the ground today. We then use the land records to figure out which lots border a particular lot. Find enough clusters of lots that can be reliably arranged and relate them to a lot that can be defined on the ground and progress has been made in reconstructing the layout of the town. That done, we can relate archaeological finds to specific households and businesses.

Of course, all of this would be a hell of lot easier if we could find a copy of the 1728 plat!


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Puzzle Continues

So the amount of information we have on deeds in Port Tobacco can be staggering to look at as a whole. You wouldn't think for such a small community that it would be that difficult to trace this stuff back to the original town...well I didn't think it would be...but it is.

And I keep getting side tracked by things I find in the deed records, which leads me to find out other information that we were looking into. It's a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Here's a few things I learned while doing deed research that may be of use to us in putting together the story of not only the town itself but its residents.

(1)Remember Joseph Cocking? The man hung on the bridge over the Port Tobacco River. Well, according to several deed references to part of the property of the "New Wade Store", one of the boundary lines runs along "the state road towards the new bridge over Cockings Run"! Could this be the replacement bridge for the one that he was hung on? I'm thinking this might be the bridge on MD Rt 6 going over PT Creek but there's still a lot of piecing together of records to do.

(2)I always love coming across names from our census records in the deed references too. One of those that stood out was Mary A. Scott. I saw it and in parenthesis was (then Shackelford). Both of those names clicked in my head and I went back to look at the census data. Here's what I found...stay with me's a bit tricky:

In 1860 Mary Shackelford is listed as married to John Shackelford, merchant. They have a 1 year old son named James Shackelford. In the same 1860 census, we have a Thomas H. Scott aged 18.
In 1868 (according to deed records), John Shackelford conveys land to Mary Scott (Shackelford). In the 1870 census, the only Shackelford on the census is 11 year old J.W. Shackelford. Mary Shackelford is now Mary Scott, 36, married to Thomas H. Scott, 26, carpenter.
Somewhere between 1860 and 1868, John Shackelford either dies or leaves and Mary Shackelford marries Thomas H. Scott. By 1880, the names Scott and Shackelford are gone from the census records.

While the lineage of the PT residents may not give us a whole lot of information at the moment, it will in the future as we piece this stuff together.

On a personal note, it's very interesting to me when we can make a family connection. I started a family genealogy years ago that my father took over from my meager beginnings and transformed it into a family database that stretches back to England in 1733 and includes Quantocks from around the world.

- Peter

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Survey of 1729

First, a correction: ASM has determined that the dates of the 2009 field session will be May 22 through June 1...mark your calendars.

Comparing Surveys
On 26 September 1729, Robert Hanson submitted his survey of the newly erected Charles Town (aka Port Tobacco) to the County Commissioners. Using his description, I have drawn the survey plat and placed it beside the 1888 plat of county surveyor H. C. Page. As you can see, the two drawings differ to the point where one cannot be aligned on the other with confidence.

Hanson divided the 60-acre town land into 100 lots with streets, reserving one acre for a market square and excluding the previously surveyed courthouse (3 acres) and church (1 acre) lots, which appear to have been circumscribed by the new town boundaries.

The 1729 survey is oddly shaped. I think it reflects, in part, the linear nature of the 18th-century town, with prospective lot owners vying for ready access to the creek for shipping. Locals registered 46 of the 100 lots between 1729 and 1732. Lots 20, 33, and 34 might already have been taken up by Francis Ware and John Speakes as residents of the former Chandlers Town. The smaller (50 acre) town of the late 19th century took the form of the New England village green. The creek, long filled with silt, no longer was the focus of the town...everything appears to have faced in toward the courthouse and church.

Here are the last lines of Hanson's survey. They tell us that there was a plat prepared of the town, presumably with the numbered lots illustrated.

"Containing and now laid out for Sixty acres Exclusive of one Acre for the Church & three acres formerly laid out whereon to build a Court house, and have also laid out one acre of the said Sixty acres for a market place and Divided the Remaining fifty nine acres into one hundred Lots staked out & numbered from one to one hundred, with Convenient Streets & Lanes according to the directions of the saud act which by the Platt hereunto annext may appear" (italics added).

This plat has not emerged and it may not survive.


Monday, December 8, 2008

ASM Field Session

April and I have begun planning the ASM's Tyler Bastian Annual Field Session in Archeology. The dates are May 15 through 25, 2009. Some fieldwork, however, will begin before the field session to prepare target areas. also, we will be organizing two or three workshops that will occur before, as well as during the field session. These will occur on one or more Saturdays. Although aimed at candidates in ASM's Certified Archeological Technician (CAT) program, these workshops are open to all ASM members and to non-members. Seating, however, is limited and preference will be given, in descending order of priority, to CAT candidates, ASM members, and then non-members. We will post workshop dates as soon as they have been selected and venues reserved.

We hope to offer workshops in those areas that will benefit field session participants for the duration of their stay at the field session and that are difficult to conduct efficiently during the field session. At this point, historic pottery, soils description, and aboriginal artifacts are the main contenders for the weeks leading up to field session.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stagg Hall Invitation

Saturday afternoon I spoke to the Maryland Genealogical Society at their annual luncheon meeting in Catonsville. Before things got rolling, an old friend Betty Linton De Keyser, whose roots in Charles County run deep, gave me a photocopy of an invitation that she owns. I've reproduced it below.

On the back is inscribed the name Mrs. E. Nalley.

I've often wondered why one of Port Tobacco's surviving 18th-century buildings, Stagg Hall, is so named. What was Stag Hall (as spelled on the card)? A fraternal organization like the Masons? Or the Elks, an image of which appears on the card? Did they meet at Stagg Hall, the house now occupied by Mrs. Dorothy Barbour?

Perhaps the answers to some of these questions can be found in period newspapers.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tyler Bastian Annual Field Session in Archeology

This morning I attended the quarterly meeting of the board of trustees of the Archeological Society of Maryland. The Society has elected to hold the 2009 field session--11 days of fun in the sun-- at Port Tobacco in May. The team has a great deal of planning to do and their are many details to address. We will keep our readers abreast of all significant developments. Now is the time to think about participating.

Plan also on attending the MHT Workshop on March 7 and the ASM Spring Symposium, probably on April 4. We will also hold one or two CAT workshops (to which all are invited, but seating is limited and preference goes to CAT candidates and then ASM members) in advance of the field session.

There was no posting yesterday...I was on the road all day.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Report Update

The report on the ASM Field Session is done. Jim put the finishing touches on it today and will present it down at Port Tobacco on Wednesday December 17th at 7:30pm at the Courthouse.

More to come later...

Jim is plenty busy tonight and tomorrow with presentations and meetings and I will be presenting our findings to the Council for Maryland Archaeology tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Nail review

Pete and I spent a few hours re-visiting the nails from several contexts at Port Tobacco. I was struck by the fact that, while analyzing the data from the cemetery area, that we recovered 122 nails from three units, but not one nail could be identified as to type (viz., handwrought, machine-cut, or wire).

All of the nails proved, in fact, to be unidentifiable...they were too badly preserved to permit us to distinguish types. My guess is that they are all handwrought nails and relate to a nearby building.

We also took a second look at the nails from the Jail Locus. Most of those nails were machine-cut (post 1840s), and a few were wire nails (post-1885). That accords well with our suspicion that what we found were the foundations of the 1859 jail and not either of its predecessors, the 1728 and 1811 structures. The later wire nails likely were left by Clayton Rice, a local character who added on to the jail house in the 20th century, living there after abandoning his 'shack' in front of the courthouse ruin.

Anyway, this sort of analysis is one of the reasons for asking our volunteers to collect all of those nasty bits of iron from the screens...they have research value.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What's in a Name?

When we planned the June 2008 campaign, April and I found it expedient to name each of the loci that we expected to test with the help of the Archeological Society of Maryland. The putative site of the county jail, naturally, became the Jailhouse Locus. The area in which we thought our shovel tests hit two graves we dubbed the Cemetery Locus. The problem with such names, of course, is that people occupied Port Tobacco for millennia, leaving behind deposits that overlapped with those of their predecessors and successors.

At none of the loci tested this past June is this situation clearer than at the so-called Aboriginal Locus. We selected this area for testing because we had some questions about sedimentation and wanted to look at the problem with the entire span of human occupation in view. also, this locus provided a perfect opportunity to satisfy the interests of some of our volunteers who wanted to work on prehistoric deposits. As I have noted in my recent postings about the Aboriginal Locus, this is a rich area for aboriginal artifacts, and it is just as rich for early historic artifacts. As an example, we recovered 208 fragments of tobacco pipes that have measurable bore diameters. Using a technique identical to that applied to the South Field survey (the field just above Warehouse Point), I calculated a mean date for the plowzone (Strata 1 & 2) at the aboriginal locus.

Depending on the formula used, I got two dates: 1729 (Binford formula) and 1716 (Hanson formula). These are, of course, mean dates and reveal nothing of how much earlier and how much later the locus was occupied. (Thousands of ceramic sherds recovered from those same deposits will help define the range of occupation.) One point I'm making here is that we recovered a statistically significant sample from the plowzone of only seven units. The other point is that 'Aboriginal Locus,' as a name, doesn't cut it. April: We need to devise another way of denominating loci at Port Tobacco!

By the way, those pipestem bore diameters mirror the distribution noted for the South Field and for a number of other very late 17th and first quarter of the 18th century sites in Southern Maryland, as the graph below illustrates.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Another View on John Hanson's Whereabouts

The note below was posted the other day as a comment on a post about John Hanson that we ran on October 14. Rather than let it get lost in the distant past of our blog, I've elected to reproduce it here. I'll get back to our findings in the Aboriginal Locus of Port Tobacco tomorrow.


From Peter Hanson Michael

Certainly a primary cause of the nation's faded memory of John Hanson is that the location of his grave is unknown. Unlike Washington’s much visited tomb at Mount Vernon, there is no grave known today for the nation to visit to pay its respects to John Hanson.

John Hanson died at the home of his nephew Thomas Hanson at Oxon Hill, Prince George's County, Maryland, November 22, 1783, a year after completing his term as president of the United States. He would have been buried in one of three places: there at Oxon Hill Manor, 21 miles away in his family cemetery at his ancestral home at Mulberry Grove, or 95 miles away in Frederick, his home at the time of his death. Rumors and one or two unsubstantiated written claims have existed since the time of his death that Hanson was buried at his nephew's estate, a practice not uncommon at the time. For example, Harry Newman wrote in his 1940 book on Hanson that, “He [John Hanson] was interred in the ancient burying ground of the Addison family at Oxon Hill,” but Newman does not cite a source for this. The Addisons were relatives by marriage of the Hansons but I have not been able to determine what relationship they might have had to Thomas Hanson of Oxon Hill Manor. When several old burial tablets were uncovered in the estate's graveyard in the 1990s, it was theorized that one of these could be John Hanson's.

A stronger clue would be the grave of Hanson's wife, Jane Contee Hanson, which is at Mulberry Grove. When Jane died in Frederick in 1812, 29 years after her husband and having outlived all of her twelve children, her body was transported the 95 miles to Mulberry Grove for burial. If she had directed that she be buried at Mulberry Grove rather than in the existing family plot in Frederick, it is very likely that she would have done so to be buried beside her husband. There is a conspicuous unmarked sunken grave between hers and the graves of two Hanson children who died in infancy. But if the grave beside Jane's is that of John, why would it be unmarked?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More on Aboriginal Locus

In finalizing the section of the latest Port Tobacco report on the 'Aboriginal Locus,' I was taken aback by the large number of artifacts recovered: 16,041 from seven 5 ft by 5 ft units. Of those, nearly 1100 are aboriginal and, as we've discussed in previous blogs, these appear, for the most part, to be late prehistoric and early historic. This is an amazingly rich area and I'll have more to say about it tomorrow as I look more closely at what we found.

And, as a brief follow up on yesterday's blog, interested readers should refer to the GAC website for more details on St. Nicholas cemetery:


Saturday, November 29, 2008

St. Nicholas Campaign

I have been finishing up the latest of our Port Tobacco reports (more on that tomorrow), but for a change of pace I went back out to St. Nicholas Cemetery at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Scott and I, ably assisted by the youngest Lawrence--Doug--recovered a record breaking 15 monuments, not including footstones. About half of them need repairs. Hopefully our experience at St. Nicholas will be useful in estimating the level of effort needed to restore the 19th-century cemetery at Port Tobacco if we ever have the opportunity. As our readers might recall, St. Nicholas cemetery was purposely buried by the US Navy. The second of Port Tobacco's three cemeteries was buried by sediments. While the causes are different, we expect the results to be the same.

Given the present rate of recovery, we hope to finish at the Naval air Station by the end of next year.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Website Returns

In late October of this year, the GAC website ( succumbed to technical difficulties. Our learned colleague, Dionisios (Dio) Kavadias, on holiday leave from his graduate studies at the University of Virginia, has been working on it all day and has repaired most of it. Dio set up the site for me in 2005.

There is still quite a bit of content for me to upload to the site, and I'll do it as soon as I can. This blog, however, will continue to serve as the principal voice for the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project. Over the winter we expect to make significant improvements, both in format and content, to the project's web presence. All such improvements will be announced in this space.

Echoing April's blog yesterday, I wish all of our readers an enjoyable holiday. Got to run...the tofurkey is out of the oven.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to our crew, our supporters, and our blog readers!

Jim and I have been working on a Port Tobacco conference abstract this morning but I believe we are both thankful for the opportunity to conduct research that we believe in.

Enjoy the day!


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Food for Thought

It is Thanksgiving Week and a guy's mind naturally turns to food. (I'm not a sports fan, otherwise I'd have two things on my mind, leaving little gray matter to devote to blog writing.) Over the past few years I've developed an interest in the variety of dietary patterns that must have existed throughout the Chesapeake region. Specifically, I've been interested in the differences between households along the Bay and its principal tributaries and those occupying upland areas. Certainly the availability of fish and shellfish was greater for those along the coast, while inhabitants of the uplands may have had greater access to game and certain wild plant foods. Certain cultigens also may have characterized the diets of uplanders.

Our work at Port Tobacco raises another dimension of dietary variability: the urban-rural continuum. How did the diets of Port Tobaccoans differ from those of their neighbors farther inland? With a heterogeneous population (Scots v. English, free citizens v. slaves, owners v. laborers), might we see differences in dietary patterns within town? And how might those patterns have changed over the course of 200 years?

Addressing these questions requires that we carefully excavate deposits that represent relatively short periods that we can date with accuracy and precision. We will have to recover bones and burned plant remains from past meals. And we will have to be able to relate those deposits to specific households, or at least to classes of households (e.g., wealthy merchant, tradesman, clergyman). A tall order, to be sure, but one I expect we will fill. Of course, we still need comparative data from other sites, and that material is not ready at hand. The quality of dietary data recovery and analysis for archaeological sites in the region can be much improved upon, but I'm hopeful.

For now, think about what you are eating, what your friends and neighbors are eating, and what those similarities and differences say about life and society in the early 21st century.


Monday, November 24, 2008

And the Plot Thickens...

As Jim mentioned yesterday, we have been in contact with one of our blog readers about Joseph Cocking and we have (as we've posted) come across some interesting information. Last week, we received some more. Our reader had this to say:

"I obtained the attached painting from an artist, Patricia Windrow, who said it was "Jordan's House" in Hilltop. She also said that a child living in the house had come out to watch her paint and confided that a woman was murdered in it. I paid no further attention to the story until an Aunt of mine, now deceased, recognized the house as the Jordan House and said that the man living in it killed his wife and was later hung at the Port Tobacco Bridge."

This is all very interesting information. Now we have to remember that this information came from a small child and an elderly aunt so we have to take the story with a grain of salt. However, in my experience, most familial stories come from some sort of truth, whether or not they have been elaborated upon.

What we ask of you, dear readers, is this. Does anyone recognize this painting? The house in it?
Has anyone heard of a house in Hill Top being called "Jordan's House"? The Jordan family? I will be looking through the land records and census data for a "Jordan" in Hill Top and see what I can come up with.

More on this as it comes...

- Peter

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No News

Sorry...we've got absolutely nothing to say today other than that we have nothing to say. Enjoy your weekend.

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.


Saturday, November 15, 2008


Walter Ashby Plecker is one of the subjects of the last lecture of this semester's class on Chesapeake Indians at Stevenson University. This seemingly mild-mannered small town physician directed Virginia's Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 until 1945, just two years before his death.

Walter A. Plecker at the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics

The class has read a little about him (or at least they are supposed to have) in a book by Helen Rountree and E. Randolph Turner on Virginia Indians. This man of science promoted institutional racism, supporting and enforcing Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924...a law that categorized the state's citizens as white or black and that prohibited interracial marriage. Few people have so energetically applied science...warped science...then or since. But he wasn't alone. He was merely a local manifestation of the international eugenics movement, racial supremicism masquerading as a science to improve the human condition and that was promoted by many prominent individuals and charitable organizations until Nazi rhetoric brought it into disfavor in the 1930s.

While the movement is largely dead, its effects ramify into the present. The practices instituted by Plecker and by many states played a significant role in the destruction of Native American culture and history. Those practices still pose a significant hurdle in attempts by Maryland and Virginia Indians to achieve state and federal recognition.

It is my hope that the PTAP team will work with the Indian peoples of Southern Maryland to help restore some of this lost past using the seemingly rich resources identified by our surveys and initial testing.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Jamestown Conference

Next Thursday, November 20th, Jim and I will be down in Williamsburg VA for the 2008 Jamestown Conference. The conference is small and fairly informal. The presentations will be about ongoing projects in the Chesapeake region, mostly in Virginia. Jim will be giving a presentation on the ongoing work at Port Tobacco.

More information can be found here, including a schedule. Hope to see a few of you there.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Time to Celebrate!

Many moons ago, I won't say how many, a boy was born. He was destined for greatness. People rejoiced in all the lands. Monuments were erected in his honor. Future children would be named after him. Books would be written about him. People stop and listen when he speaks. Who is this man and what's so special about today?

It's our very own Dr. James Gibb and its his birthday!! So wish him a Happy Birthday and stroke his ego as I have and all will be right with the world!

Happy Birthday Jim!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Restoring Memories

Yes, Scott and I did spend Veterans' Day at the St. Nicholas cemetery at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. I arrived on site a little before 9:30 AM. Scott, having arrived earlier, probed three areas for buried markers. We recovered seven, as well as several foot stones, and two of the markers were granite pedestals supporting cast steel crosses about 3.5 ft high, with names and dates (mid-19th century) in low relief.

At day's end, I looked around and marvelled at what we have accomplished. When we first started five or six years ago, St. Nicholas cemetery was a well-manicured lawn traversed by a pleasant, if deteriorated asphalt path. It was park-like and there was nothing to suggest that it had ever been a place of interment. At this point we have raised 90 markers, more than one-third of the stone markers (not including foot stones) known to have existed. Scott has repaired many of the marble markers. The place looks like a cemetery.

I'm not especially fond of cemeteries. It's not that I find them eerie or in any way disturbing. I just do not find them that interesting. Yet...these are the places at which we remember those who came before, those who built that which we now build upon. After we moved one of the markers into place...a marker that has been buried for 65 years...I said, "Welcome back, Ann." She is still dead...Scott and I don't work those kinds of miracles...but her marker now looks again across a little bit of Southern Maryland. Once again she is remembered, and that, to a great extant, is what history is about.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Just a few updates...

Jim and Scott are working out at the St. Nicholas cemetery again today. April is in the middle of the school semester out in Ohio. Dio is studying hard at the University of Virginia.

As April and Jim have mentioned, we are looking at the beginning of March to get back out to PT for a few days. I'm not sure if we will get out there sooner than that. Although it doesn't seem like it, November is upon us and the cold weather will be here soon.

I am working on title searches for the 1729 lots in Port Tobacco and a couple other projects at the same time. Searching the online land records is sometimes very easy, sometimes not.

In honor of Veteran's Day I leave you with this list from the Wearmouth's book on Port Tobacco:

Confederate Veterans from Port Tobacco Area*

Richard T. Boarman, Nicholas J. Miles, Capt. Robert Semmes Floyd(KIA), John J. Brawner, John Fergusson, William Penn Compton, Hugh Mitchell, Joseph H. Stonestreet, Sherrod C. Hannon, William Fendley Dement, John G. N. Harris, Basil Spalding, Joseph Harris, Col. Frank Neale, Thomas W. Latimer, William Roby(KIA), Capt. Michael Stone Robertson(KIA), Richard T. Boswell. KIA = killed in action.
*Christopher J. Iekel, compiler, unpublished manuscript, 2005.

A big salute from myself and the rest of the PTAP team to all the soldiers, past and present, who serve our country.

- Peter

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lot Reconstruction

Jim mentioned back in September that he has put together a Lot database from the 1729 time frame but couldn't put it up here due to some technical difficulties. I thought since I am working on trying to reestablish these lots for us that I would share what he found. Unfortunately I am having the same technical difficulties. So, instead I thought I'd share a few things about the list.

There are several names on the list that appear later in our research as well: Hanson (the surveyor), Coombs (same name as a store owner in the 19th Century), Neale (very prominent family in the 17th and 18th Century in Charles County). There are others and reconstructing the lots is not an easy task.

One thing Jim didn't mention is that when the lots were bought, the owner had one year to build on it or they had to reenter their lot with the county so they didn't lose the land. The law was set up so that the town would start to grow and not just be stagnant from landowners buying the land and not building on it.

As soon as we've made some progress on the reconstruction of the town lots, we'll post it for all to see.

- Peter

Sunday, November 9, 2008

St. Nicholas Cemetery Restoration

As Jim mentioned yesterday, we returned to St. Nicholas Cemetery at NAS PAX River. Let me provide a brief history of the project and how this relates to Port Tobacco.

The area known as Cedar Point in St. Mary's County was occupied by the English colonists from the early 17th century. Many manors and plantations grew over the years in the vacinity until 1942 when the Navy acquired the land for an aircraft test center. For reasons unknown, one of the acts of the Command was to bury the extant cemetery at St. Nicholas and to demolish the 1795 church. In 2002, I sought permission from the Navy to ressurect the cemetery and enlisted the help of Jim to complete the task.

To date, 83 stones have been repaired and or re-erected at the site. My records show at least another 140 stones to be recovered. Most of the almost 700 known burials are unmarked. We carefully and fully document all excavation procedures and, when the project is complete, will submit a full report to the Navy and the Maryland Historical Trust.

The techniques I have learned over the years can be directly applied to cemetery restoration and stone repairs at Port Tobacco, should any stones be recovered. Our techniques are proven and documented and we hope to find the funding for the recovery of the lost cemeteries known to exist at Port Tobacco. Think of the thrill of the rediscovery of this important resource!

Our day in the field was very productive. We recovered 10 stones including the obelisk shown below. While three of the stones we found were intact and immediately re-erected, the remaining need repair. Grave Concerns is going to make the repairs soon and they will be permanently replaced on site.

Consider your tax deductible donation to the PTAP project as well at the St. Nicholas Project. Funding and the dedication of professionals is what makes our past become the history of today.

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.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pot Sherd Mania

Well, after many hours of staring at little pieces of fired earth through an 8X magnifier and measuring the bits of sand, crushed quartz, and shell that served as temper, I finally finished cataloguing the aboriginal pottery from June's 'Big Dig.' A tedious, but instructive, exercise. Some number crunching remains to be done, but that's the fun part. Here are some preliminary results:
  1. We recovered nearly 350 sherds of aboriginal pottery.
  2. About 86% of those came from the seven units that Pete was in charge of...the so-called aboriginal locus identified through shovel testing in October of 2007.
  3. We recovered 14 sherds of Accokeek (Early Woodland) and eight Mockley (Middle Woodland), but most of the sherds date to the Late Woodland (post AD 900).
  4. The Late Woodland sherds include Potomac Creek (82), Townsend (34), and Moyaone (166) types, and three possible Yeocomico sherds.
  5. Moyaone sherds comprise about one-half of the aboriginal pottery assemblage, Potomac Creek about one-quarter, and Townsend about 10%.
  6. Surface treatment and decoration in all cases were limited to cord-marking (well, there are a few net-impressed and fabric impressed wares)...there were no incised decorations.
In general, the aboriginal pottery dates to the latter part of the Late Woodland. This contrasts with our findings in the plowed fields which comprise mostly earlier (Late Archaic/Transitional) materials.

I'll post additional findings as I analyze the spatial and stratigraphic relationships among the sherds and other aboriginal artifacts.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Jailhouse Update

I was looking through the abstracts about the jailhouse in the PT Times and found a couple interesting things.

First, lots of people broke out of the jail...easily. It's amazing to me how simple some of these ideas were and that they worked. I guess I'm used to seeing the big "super max" prisons of today. In one case an "inmate" used a log to break open the ceiling of the jail and then crawl out. Where did he get a log from? The jail had a fireplace in it, but did the prisoners have access to the wood and the fire itself? Seems odd to me, but there was another entry in which a prisoner burned a hole in the floor and then dug through the dirt to get out!

Another interesting note was that while building the 1857 jailhouse, the abstract noted that the 1811 jailhouse did not get demolished until the new one was built. In the same note it stated that prisoners were being held in a "temporary jail". Where was this temporary jail and what did it look like?

Just a couple interesting things I pulled out of the abstracts that were posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2008

- Peter

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Note on Christ Church

Before I post anything, I check our blog to see what has already been said on the subject so I don't repeat myself (or someone else!) I was thinking about Christ Church and the cemetery we found and whether the two are connected. My guess is they are but its too early in the project to state for certain.

Last December, Jim posted a blog about Christ Church and the possibility of 5 different building phases through time.

One thing in particular caught my the end of the blog there is a picture of the sign near the ruins of the last Christ Church in Port Tobacco and it points out into Compton Field. While it doesn't point at the cemetery we found persay, it does point in that general direction. It could be that the question Jim asked then..."What is it pointing to? The site of the original log church? If so, it is not very specific as to where that church was located."

It's very possible that we are on the right track to finding the original church!

- Peter

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Aboriginal Pottery Update

As I have mentioned, Jim is working on the analysis of the Aboriginal pottery. We just had a brief discussion about what he has been looking at and so I am going to share with you a little bit of that. While some Early (BC900-300) and Middle Woodland (AD200-900) pottery has been uncovered, the majority of the pottery coming from the site has been Late Woodland (AD1300-1650), specifically Potomac Creek and Moyoane types.

Moyaone is a Late Woodland ware, characterized by fine grained sand and mica temper, soft texture, compact paste, and smoothed interior and exterior surfaces.
Potomac Creek is a Late Woodland ware, characterized by a crushed quartz or sand temper, cord-marked exteriors, and rim strips (collars).
We have talked about the different pottery types before so I won't go into specific details. When we were out in the field, most of the pottery we found was thought to be Potomac Creek pottery. Because of the similarities of the two types it can be hard to identify until it is been cleaned and looked at closely (under a microscope if necessary). The pottery was found in every locus except the Jailhouse Locus. So if we look at what we have, it suggests that we have different occupations of Port Tobacco from around BC900-AD1650. What kind of occupation I can't say. It may have been a seasonal camp or something more permanent. Port Tobacco is on a floodplain and has good land for cultivating crops which would make it an attractive area for Native Americans to settle.

For detailed information about each of the pottery types, I direct you to the Jefferson Patterson Park website.
Jim will have more to say on this topic once he has finished the analysis of the pottery.
- Peter

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Summer is Over!

It's nearing the end of October and we have had very mild weather for the fall around here. Well that's ended. A Nor'easter has blown threw and we are getting the remnants of it. High winds and rain the past two days (with another day to come) have us in the office today. We were out doing a shovel test survey of a property in Bowie yesterday and were able to complete that in the wind and light rain before the heavy stuff started to come down.

Report writing and Aboriginal artifact analysis was the plan for today. Unfortunately the weather has killed the power at the, Jim is reading up for his class on Friday with the dogs at his feet to keep him warm.

How then can I write this if the power is out you ask? I'm working from home...with the heat on.

We are still awaiting word on some grants and are looking forward to spending some time back out on site in the coming months. We will, as usual, post information as soon as we can about dates for fieldwork. For now, its report writing and analysis in the office.

I'll try and find something more interesting to say tomorrow...

- Peter

Monday, October 27, 2008


It was a great weekend down in St. Mary's City despite the rain and wind!

All the presentations were very good that I heard. As usual with these conferences you have to pick and choose which session to attend during the days. The opening presentations were all about the Archaeology of the Atlantic World. They mostly focused on past work and what exactly the "Atlantic World" consists of. Not everyone agrees.

Lunch on Saturday was set up under a tent next to Farthings Tavern and I thought for sure the wind was going to blow the tent away at one point! The food was very good and it was nice to sit and talk with some of the other attendees.

The afternoon presentations were about finding 17th Century sites in Delaware. Interesting but not very informative.

Saturday night, Scott and I went on a Cemetery Crawl in the pouring rain! Lots of fun and then we headed over to "The Green Door" (a local bar, nay, the only bar!) for some cocktails and to listen to a Blues band.

Sunday morning was spent listening to presentations on public archaeology. Basically it was that we need to do a better job of bringing archaeology to the public but no real solutions. Our presentation went well and there were a few familiar faces in the small crowd.

All in all, a good conference that I enjoyed. Now its time to start writing for the MAAC's in the spring.

- Peter

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Seeking Lost Towns & Cities

I was preparing a lecture today for a Friday morning class that I give at the local senior center. The subject of the course is recent discoveries in archaeology around the world. Not having studied world archaeology since my undergraduate days back in the 1970s, I've had to do some remedial work. While reading about the recent discoveries in Giza (Egypt) and Caral (Supe Valley, Peru), I was struck by the similar approaches taken by the PTAP team and those of scholars working on some of the most important archaeological sites in the world.

All of us are confronted with the same problem: how do we explore complex sites that we suspect were urban, but for which little evidence survives above ground? The common answer is survey...we all collect information on a broad area that includes and extends beyond the expected limits of the site. We forgo intensive excavation, with its short-term potential for producing extraordinary finds, and employ survey techniques that will limn the extent of the site, and possibly aspects of its internal structure (e.g., streets, neighborhoods, special sites such as religious edifices). As we develop a deeper understanding of the we map its extents...then we can begin to devise questions and select areas for more detailed study.

There is still some survey that we can do at Port Tobacco, including the east side of Chapel Point Road and the forested areas interspersed among the Edelen family's fields; but the bulk of the survey has been completed and it's time to focus more on certain parts of the site. We started that this past June and we expect to test other parts of the town site over the coming year.

We will not find gold masks or elaborate tombs with mummified kings. We will find the many aspects of common life of the common people whose contributions, seemingly mundane, built the foundations on which our society is founded.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Moore's Lodge

Yesterday I mentioned that I would be speaking at the annual dinner meeting of the Charles County Historical Society. (I'll be leaving soon...just have to pack up the projector and screen.) I also mentioned that, at the request of the Society, I would say a few words about Mike Sullivan and Julie King's successful search for the first county courthouse. In preparation for this evening, I read the report of their methods and results.

This is a fine report and I hope it will be made available to the general public on the Web if not in hard copy. The report is clear, concise, and well-illustrated. If provides as definitive an argument as can be made in archaeology for the identification of the site as that of the first courthouse, ordinary, and probable home of Thomas Hussey and his successors.

Tonight I will briefly summarize those findings before discussing the Port Tobacco work at greater length. For those interested in hearing the full Moore's Lodge story, Julie will speak about the project at the November meeting of the Charles County Archaeological Society. The meeting will be at the Port Tobacco Courthouse at 7:30 PM on the second Tuesday of November (the 11th). Al are welcome and I'll be sure to remind folks of the presentation a week beforehand.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Charles County Historical Society

As Pete noted yesterday, he and April will present a paper on some of our Port Tobacco research this Sunday at the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology meeting in St. Mary's City. Not to be outdone by the young people on the team, I'll be speaking at the meeting of the Charles County Historical Society in Wayside Saturday, 6:30 PM. I'll be talking a little about Mike Sullivan and Julie King's discovery of the first courthouse (1674-1727) at Moore's Lodge and then segue into a discussion about what we have been doing and finding at Port Tobacco.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

CNEHA 2008

Just a reminder that this weekend is the 2008 Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology in St. Mary's City, MD. It's a three day affair with tours on Friday and presentations on Saturday and Sunday. Further information can be found here. April and I cowrote a paper that I will be presenting on Sunday afternoon.

Here is the abstract for our paper:

Dividing the Space of this Place: Nineteenth-Century Port Tobacco, Maryland
Peter Quantock, April Beisaw

Historical maps of Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland document the
town's nineteenth-century layout. A central courthouse and church front on a public square of offices and businesses, including two hotels, one on the north and one on the south side of the square. Other "paired" structures include one-room schools and
social halls in the north and south ends of town. Archaeological and archival
research provide a means of understanding the apparent north-south spatial
division of life in Port Tobacco.

Scott and I are going on something called the "Cemetery Crawl" on Saturday night in St. Mary's. Not sure what that is but I'm sure it will be fun. I will report on the conference when I get back on Monday.

- Peter

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Aboriginal Locus

When leaving a site, we have documentation and photographs of what we've done. However, it sometimes is easier to look at things on a digital level. Which is why we draft all of our drawings in AutoCAD to make it easier to put them together. The Aboriginal Locus is another example. Here is what the whole area looks like when all the plan views are put together. What we originally thought was a rectangular cellar is not so rectangular.
The shaded area is the rubble fill layer that was exposed first in Unit 5. We expanded the whole area to try and find the boundary of the fill layer and now with this drawing we can see where we would need to dig further to find the outline. Unit 7 shows the post hole and mold that was found. On the east side of Unit 26 is another possible post hole and mold.
Obviously there was a building here and with what we know from the post mold feature in Unit 7, at one point it was a earthenfast building before a brick structure was built. Was that earlier building an Aboriginal dwelling that coincides with the Potomac Creek and Moyaone pottery found in the same units? This is a question I would love to know the answer to!

- Peter

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jailhouse Foundation

I have finished the drawing of the jailhouse foundation that was uncovered this summer. While we have found the jailhouse that we were looking for, many questions still remain about the structure itself. We have no good detailed photographs to look at and no drawings either. Uncovering the rest of the foundation and area inside and out of the foundation could give us more information on what it looked like. This isn't a top priority for us but it is something that we will go back to. Now that we know where the jailhouse is located, it will be easy for us to get back to it at a later date. Here's the up to date drawing of the foundation:

The units at the top (north end) were uncovered after all the brush was cleared away on the edge of the woods. Units 27 and 28 were excavated after positive shovel test pits were dug uncovering the top of the foundation.

- Peter

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Religious Freedom Scenic Byway

This Tuesday, October 21, the County Commissioners for St. Mary's County will hear about a draft management plan for a proposed religious freedom scenic byway that will take in much of St. Mary's and Charles counties. The Charles County Commissioners have already approved the plan. Assuming St. Mary's approves it, the nomination and plan go to the Federal Highway Administration which, the advisory committee is confident, they will approve.

Precisely what happens after that, and how it will benefit Port Tobacco and other historic sites in the County, I'm not sure. Certainly scenic byway status will attract funds for advertising the sites. Unfortunately, the historic sites in Charles County, Port Tobacco included, need more than advertising...they need capital investment. Needless to say, the timing for seeking such monies couldn't be worse...well, not much worse at any rate.

Port Tobacco's place in the scenic byway, given the religious freedom theme, was not clear last year and in the first half of 2008; but the unanticipated discovery of the Colonial period cemetery last October and its partial exposure last June, and the likelihood of finding the first Anglican church nearby, improves our chances of contributing to the scenic byway.

The spiritual life of Port Tobacco is not something the PTAP team has looked at very closely. After all, we went into this venture expecting to investigate a port town, not generally considered a hotbed of religious sentiment. Researchers are likely to find more drinking establishments and brothels than churches in busy port towns, but there were churches in Port Tobacco and the Catholic church, St. Ignatius, is just down the road. Spirituality is certainly a dimension of Port Tobacco life that we must, and will, investigate. Whether religious freedom or religious conflict best describes our findings, ultimately, remains to be seen.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

ASM Annual Meeting

Just back from the annual Archeological Society of Maryland meeting held in Frederick. The presentations, as advertised, covered the late prehistoric period and early encounters with Europeans. Unlike many interpretations in recent years, which have focused on environmental change and local cultures adapting to those changes, these six presentations focused on the movement of people and goods.

The two trade beads recovered from Port Tobacco would have fit very well with those shown by a couple of the presenters. It is still early in the Port Tobacco research, but I'm confident that we will have something to contribute to this discussion in a couple of years. In the shorter term, I am proposing to the ASM board that the Spring Symposium take on the preceramic cultures of the Chesapeake, an area for which we already have some good data from the fields south of town.