Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Old, Old Port Tobacco

In 1727, the General Assembly of Maryland passed an act for the purchase of land and construction of a courthouse and prison on the east side of the Port Tobacco Creek in what was called Chandlers Town. I have transcribed the local proceedings that detail what happened and when and offer the significant portions below. I've made only a few changes, modernizing spellings to make the text more intelligible. At the end of the selection I have listed a few pieces of information that I find particularly important in terms of the archaeological study of Port Tobacco.

Be it Remembered that on this day (to wit) the fifth day of December 1727 pursuant of the appointment made by the Justices at the Last Court held at Portobacco on the Second Tuesday in November Last met at Chandler Town on the East side of Portobacco Creek in said County the worshipful John Fendall George Dent Robert Hanson Gust Brown and John Briscoe Gent Justices with the County aforesaid in order as well to meet with the owner or proprietor of the Land there about the purchase of three acres whereon to Erect a Court house and prison as with workmen or undertakers to Build the same pursuant of the act of assembly in that Case made and provided when and where the Justices aforesaid appointed to meet the next day at the house of John Neale in order to proceed in the Premises—

At which day (to wit) the Sixth day of December aforesaid the Justices aforesaid met at the house of said John Neale and for that the Land aforesaid had been formerly laid out for a Town and Several of the Lotts taken up and Built on tho the houses are now Decayed and Gone and the bounds as well as the proprietors of some of said Lotts Being uncertain—
These are to Certify that I have Surveyed and laid out the aforesaid three Acres Bounded as followeth (vizt) Beginning at a Bounded Spanish Oak standing in or near the South fifteen Degrees East line of the said Town running thence East two Degrees south twenty one perches [one perch is equal to 16½ feet] and nine tenths to a Locust post then north two Degrees East twenty one Perches and nine tenths to a Locust post thence west two Degrees north twenty one perches and nine tenths to a Locust post in a Marsh thence with a straight line to the said Spanish Oak as by the plat hereto annexed may appear—
Surveyed and laid Down by a Scale of 10 perches in an Inch—
Robt Hanson sur[veyor]

Robert Hanson's plat of the Courthouse Lot (1727).

Charles County Inquisition Indented and taken at Portobacco in said County on the twentieth day of December before the major part of the said Justices of the County By Virtue of an Act of assembly Entitled an Act for Erecting a Court house and prison on the East side of the head of Portobacco Creek at a place Called Chandler Town in Charles County and for making Sale of the old Court house and prison by the oath of William Penn Mark Penn James Maddox William Theobolds Thomas Reeves Charles Yates Barton Hungerford Igna Luckett John Ebernathy John Chandler Archibald Johnson and Thomas Stone—
The Justices last mentioned likewise agreed with Messrs. Robert Hanson and Joshua Doyne to Build a Court house and prison Stocks and pillory on the Land aforesaid for the Consideration of one hundred twenty two thousand pounds of Tobacco according to the work and Dimensions mentioned in Certain Indentures of Covenant made between the said Justices on the one part and the said Robert and Joshua on the other—which part Signed by the said Robert and Joshua is Lodged in the hands of Coll. John Fendall—

  1. Charles County planned construction of a new courthouse and prison on a three acre lot on the east side of the Port Tobacco Creek at a place called Chandlers Town.
  2. There was already a courthouse and prison at Chandlers Town and the undertakers for the construction of the new buildings probably had salvage rights for the old ones.
  3. Chandlers Town had previously been surveyed and, presumably, divided into lots. Some of those lots had been acquired and built upon, "tho the houses are now Decayed and Gone," and the property markers and proprietors were gone. That suggests occupation at least as early as ca. 1700.
  4. The 'decayed' houses likely were of earthfast construction; which is to say, the houses were built on wooden posts set into the ground (a common technique in the Colonial Chesapeake region), without benefit of brick or stone foundations.

In short, this document tells us, as archaeologists, that we need to look for earthfast buildings, probably with wattle and daub chimneys (pole structures with interwoven branches plastered with mud), and we need to look for artifacts characteristic of the very late 17th and very early 18th centuries. These types of sites have been excavated by archaeologists throughout coastal Maryland. I'll talk about one such site at the first meeting of the Charles County Archaeological Society on February 12, 2008, 7:30 to 9 Pm at the Train station in La Plata, more details forthcoming.


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