Saturday, August 2, 2008

James A. Swann, African American Tavern Keeper

Did you know there were more than three taverns in Port Tobacco in the 1800s? The 1850 Census listed four tavern keepers in Port Tobacco. You have probably heard about three of them--David Middleton (Union Hotel), Peregrine Davis (Indian King Hotel), and Lyne Shackelford (Farmers and Planter Hotel). The fourth tavern keeper was a free African American named James Swann.

Looking at historical records (censuses, deeds, and The Port Tobacco Times) I found out a little about James Swann and Port Tobacco. At the time of the 1840 Census James, a “free colored male” aged 24-36, was residing in Port Tobacco with his wife (aged <25) and two daughters (aged under 10). By 1846 James had purchased land in Port Tobacco (Land Records JB 25/276 and WM 2/29). The JB 25/276 land record indicates the heirs of Joseph Sheirburn owed James $300. In consideration of that debt and for an additional $100 they sold James the half lot on which he already lived.

It is in the 1850 Census that James, a “mulatto” aged 41, was listed as a tavern keeper. His wife Susan (aged 40) and his daughter Mary (aged 15) were also listed. No other people were listed as residing with them. Twice James advertised in The Port Tobacco Times that he sold fish--once February 27, 1850 and again March 2, 1854.

There is no mention of James or his family in the Maryland 1860 Census. Yet deeds in April 1852 (Land Record RHM 1/386) and February 1868 (Land Record GAH 1/393) for a certain unimproved lot mention James Swann’s lot as being east of this unimproved lot. So it can be assumed that James retained the lot in Port Tobacco.

J A Swann (aged 62) shows up again in the 1870 Census in the town of Port Tobacco. His occupation was listed as ‘keeping restaurant’, and the census taker had written “restaurant” next to his name as if the census information was taken at the restaurant. According to The Port Tobacco Times (November 19, 1875) James had operated an oyster house and restaurant for a long time.

Evidently James had remarried since his wife S M Swann was listed as being 36 rather than 60. There were four children under ten as well as M A Swann who would have been his daughter by his first marriage. In addition to his family there were four other people residing with James. One was a twelve-year old domestic servant that evidently worked for the Swanns. The other three must have been boarders. Their occupations were baker, hostler, and fisherman.

James Swann died sometime before March 3, 1871 when The Port Tobacco Times reported him deceased and that William Boswell would be his estate’s administrator (Orphan’s Court).

On May 29, 1871 to pay a debt to William Boswell, Sally M Swann mortgaged the real estate of her deceased husband James A Swann (Land Record GAH 3/202). The real estate included the following:
a lot and house occupied by Sally in the village of Port Tobacco,
a tract of land in Charles County known as part of “Mayday” containing 30+/- acres and occupied by Dennis Bond
The mortgage also listed her personal estate which included the following: all her household and kitchen furniture of every description, one roan horse, one bay horse, one red and white cow and two calves, one hog, one wagon with box and wood bodies, one covered wagon, one carriage harness, one wagon harness, as well as one plow and gear

An Administrator’s sale of James’ personal property was listed in The Port Tobacco Times on April 14, 1871. It listed James personal property as his household and kitchen furniture, two good work horses, one colt, one cow, one heifer, one farm wagon and harness, one spring wagon, one covered spring wagon, one buggy (no top) and harness, one double shot gun, and a lot of oyster shells.

In the 1880 Census Sally M Swann is listed as the head of the family along with four children (John, Amanda, George W, and Jeanette) and her stepdaughter Martha (aged 35). Martha was a schoolteacher. [see Blog Saturday, July 19, 2008: Where was the African American School?] This time there were two additional households (comprised of 6 people) residing with the Swanns. The occupations of the head of these households were servant and laborer.

The 1871 mortgage was released December 22, 1885 when Sally deeded (Land Record BGS 8/412) the land known as part of “Mayday” to the widow and daughters of William Boswell. This covered Sally’s debt to William Boswell of $163 incurred May 27, 1871, plus all the interest from that date.

So far the mortgage in 1885 is the last reference for the family that I have found in the deed and census records. Other historical documents may reveal more about James A. Swann--like why Joseph Sheirburn owed him $300, or when did James acquire part of “Mayday”. And some day archaeological artifacts may reveal more about how he and his family lived.

Carol Cowherd

1 comment:

Jim said...

Tomorrow we'll post a second, shorter blog from Carol on Mr. Swann. I'm still trying to locate the tract that he owned--May Day--on the ground.