Thursday, July 17, 2008

Washington Burch

I've been working with Carol and Paula on reconstructing Port Tobacco's town plan from deed descriptions. It is a difficult job because most of the constituent lots were consolidated in the 20th century and many of the lots from the 1720s onwards were not described in detail. We have had to take an unorthodox approach. Usually a title searcher starts with the current owner and works back using references in each deed to preceding deeds. We've had to pursue the names of individuals we know lived in Port Tobacco, searching through the land records for those town lots that were associated with those individuals.

Combining the title and census data together will allow us to write biographies of many Port Tobaccoans. One of those of immediate interest is Washington Burch who is reputed to have owned the Burch House, or Catslide House as it is often called (see picture below). Some of our readers might know it better as the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project field headquarters.

We know that Wesley and Alice V. Bowie sold Washington Burch part of one lot that they had acquired from John J. and Victoria R. Hughes. Burch paid $100 on August 5, 1879 (Land Records BGS 4/31). The drawing below is based on the description of the lot as recorded in the deed.

Washington Burch died sometime around 1900 without a will and the disposition of the property is uncertain. It may have gone to Elizabeth Brooks, apparently his daughter, aged 26 and caring for her sons Washington and William C. Brooks in 1880.

There are a few things about Washington Burch of which we are certain. He was part of a group of African American men who acquired a small parcel in town from William B. and Ann T. Matthews on December 11, 1868, for the expressed purpose of erecting and running a school for African American children who were excluded from white schools (Land Records GAH 2/50).

We know that Washington Burch served as the county jailer as early as 1884 until at least 1896, at which time the new jail opened in La Plata. Burch was described in an 1897 court action against the County sheriff as "an old and infirm negro."

Washington Burch likely was well known among all segments of Port Tobacco society from the 1860s through ca. 1900. If he did indeed live at the Burch House, then we have already conducted some archaeological research on him and his family and we expect to do more in the near future. Still, we have to push on with the title search and make sure that Washington Burch did live in the extant 'Burch House.' If he did, then the project team will permanently dispense with the handle "Catslide House" (inaccurate, in any case; this is not a catslide roof) and commemorate one of Port Tobacco's prominent citizens by using his name in denominating our headquarters.


No comments: