Saturday, January 19, 2008


Just a brief note, having just returned home from a talk that I gave on mills. The Historical Society of Carroll County asked me to speak on the subject and the Maryland Humanities Council co-sponsored the event. The crowd--about 200--was great.

There were many questions about technology and such, and it all made me realize that we have not yet broached the question of milling in the Port Tobacco drainage. Sure, there would have been flour mills grinding local grain into flour for local use, but what about bakeries preparing hardtack for outward bound ships in the 18th century? Did the local mills supply them and, indirectly, the tobacco fleet?

So there it is, on the list of things we will eventually research and, no doubt, to which we will find answers outside of the narrow limits of the town.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Latest Logo Entry

We have our second official entry to our logo contest.

This entry comes from Carol and here is her explanation of it:
There is a tobacco leaf (because its part of the name Port
Tobacco and also because planting tobacco contributed to the silting in of the river)
on top of a symbolic river that goes from wide to narrow (silted in). And the point
and the bottle are to indicate that this site has both prehistoric and historic

Great job Carol.
We are still entertaining logo suggestions for a few more weeks and we welcome all entries.


Burch House Addition?

Scott e-mailed me today, asking about what appears to be an addition to the Burch House as seen on the far left of this photograph, in the background. (That's the Wade House in the right foreground.) I think he is right: it is a 1½ story addition, the brick floor and foundation of which we uncovered in November 2006.

Wade House (right foreground) and Burch House (far left background). The white building in the middle background may be the 'Colored Hall' noted on one of the versions of the Barbour map of 1942.

Archaeological plan of the Burch House showing remains of addition on left side.

Detail of 1942 Barbour map. Burch House, with its addition, and the hall are directly above the scale.

We do not know the purpose or purposes to which this addition was put, but I think a few well-placed excavation units could help us figure it out.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

American Indians in Port Tobacco

I'm a little late in writing today's blog. Pete and I were in the northern part of the state today mapping a hillside cemetery that a high school group is restoring under the direction of their teachers and members of the Archeological Society of the Northern Chesapeake.

I wanted to say a little more about Pete's blog yesterday. First, that we found American Indian artifacts at Port Tobacco was not a surprise. Fragments of stone tools and pottery, and waste flakes from stone tool making had been found by others over the years. Our finds are important for several reasons.
  1. We know exactly where each piece came from, so we can look at their distribution across the site and better define where the people who discarded those objects lived. As Pete pointed out, we have identified three concentrations of material (locuses or loci) so far.
  2. Because we have been able to identify separate loci, we can look at each independently from the others. The artifacts in one locus may differ from those in another, or they may be the same, suggesting different uses of the land from season to season or over the years, or considerably stability in the adaptations of the local aboriginal groups to the Port Tobacco drainage and its immediate environs.
  3. We can relate these loci to other features of the landscape, most specifically to the changing course of the Port Tobacco River. That tells us how and when the river drainage changed prior to European settlement.

No, dear readers; you have not heard the end of our prehistoric finds at Port Tobacco, only th beginning. We will revisit the collection and look more carefully at the stone (lithic) material to see what we might learn through further analysis, and we hope to conduct more test excavations at each of these loci to collect additional data as well as to seek the remains of aboriginal hearths, storage pits, and houses.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Potomac Creek Ceramics

This type of pottery was first described by W.H. Holmes in 1903 named after the type site in Stafford County Virginia (ESAF, vol.10, 1982). The wares have since been expanded and refined over the years (Stephenson et al. 1963). The vessels are of a pottery group manufactured by the coiling technique with malleated surfaces. The vessels are small to large, with rounded bases. The clay is tempered with crushed quartz with or without medium sand grains. The vessels are made with hard compact clay and are usually thin. There are two types of Potomac Creek pottery: Cord Impressed in which the surface is cord marked using a wrapped stick or paddle and the Plain type which are more smooth either without cord marking or smoothed over after cord marking. This type of pottery dates to the Late Woodland period (800AD-1600AD) and has been found predominately, but not exclusively, in northwestern Virginia and throughout the lower Potomac drainage.

We know in Port Tobacco that there are three possible prehistoric sites, one in Compton field south of the old Episcopal Church, one in the Jamison field, and one in front of Stagg Hall. The majority of the prehistoric ceramics we have recovered were excavated in Compton field including all of the Potomac Creek sherds.

Above left is an example of the Potomac Creek Cord Impressed ceramic found at Port Tobacco.
Size: 2.6cm x 2.6cm (one inch by one inch)
Description: cord impressed rim with diagonol hatching either made with cord wrapped stick or paddle. Blackened (reduced) interior and reddened (oxidized) exterior, indicating that the pot was fired upside down.
- Peter

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Robert Fergusson

Robert Fergusson was a busy man. He was born in Scotland around 1745 and by 1772 he was in the United States and was an agent or "factor" in the tobacco trade in Europe. Along with Alexander Hamilton (not the one dropped by Aaron Burr), they became wealthy merchants in Georgetown and Port Tobacco. In about 1788 he married Elizabeth Ballentine and he purchased Mulberry Grove in Port Tobacco from the family of John Hanson. (Yup, the John Hanson. I'll blog on this bloke later.) As Jim showed us in an earlier blog on the Freemasons of Port Tobacco, Robert Fergusson was the Senior Warden.

View of the Hanson/Fergusson cemetery at Mulberry Grove.

Fergusson died at Mulberry Grove in 1812 and is buried in the family burial ground. This burial ground is extremely interesting. Jim and I visited the cemetery this past fall at the invitation of the current owner to assess the condition of the stones and to possibly determine if John Hanson is buried here. While we know two of his children are here, it seems unlikely that Hanson or his wife rest here.

Fergusson's burial tomb is seen below and it obviously has collapsed and needs repair. Over all, the site is in decent shape and was recently reclaimed from overgrowth by the Charles County Genealogical Society. The epitaph on his stone reads:

Sacred to the memory of Robert Fergusson who died Sept 1st, 1812 aged 72 years, he was a native of Dumfries County, Scotland, but America was early the country of his choice and Maryland for 50 years the theatre of his useful honourable and virtous actions. He was a merchant of the first rank and talents, Chief Justice of the Orphans Court of Charles County and in every relation of society an upright and benevolent man, as in life he was respected and esteemed, so in death he was justly lamented. In testimony of their affection and gratitude for a kind and magnificent Uncle, this monument is erected by his nephews Robert, John and James Fergusson (Info is from the Historical Society Research located at the College of Southern Md. LaPlata, Md).
Fortunately, this box tomb is repairable and my company, Grave Concerns, has a proposal to the owner for repair. Let's wait and see what happens!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Smarter Principals

April and I have returned from the annual conference of the Society for Historical Archaeology, April to the frozen wastes of the north, me to the balmy clime of Southern Maryland. I think we both learned much and I expect to see some of that new found wealth of knowledge brought to bear on Port Tobacco. The theme of the conference was The Public Benefits of Historical Archaeology and I participated in two sessions dealing with those issues. Port Tobacco, a preeminently public archaeology project, will benefit.

While we were gone, our learned colleagues Pete and Scott expounded on several topics. I wanted to address one of those: Scott's piece on Barton W. Stone (1772-1844). Stone, you will recall, was born in Port Tobacco and went south to North Carolina to study under David Caldwell. As it happens, back in 1979 I think, I worked on the David Caldwell Log College site in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is the place where Caldwell lived in the very early 19th century and where he convened his school. Stanley South, one of the fathers of modern historical archaeology, had conducted an archaeological excavation there some years earlier.

We found the remains of his house and a variety of features, some jam-packed with bone. We even recovered a glass inset from a pair of cuff links. The inset had LIBERTY in raised letters on the back side. The letters were reversed so that when the glass was fixed to the cuff link (probably pewter or silver) the word and sentiment were clearly understood.

It's been a long time, and I don't think I ever saw the report, although I know there was one, so I don't have the details at hand. I recall from our historical research that Caldwell was a rabid anti-Catholic, supporting the exclusion of Catholics from public office. Barton Stone may have absorbed that prejudice. If so, it is well that he didn't bring them back to Port Tobacco...or did he?


Sunday, January 13, 2008

When in doubt...Ask the experts!

First let me apologize for the lack of a post yesterday.

This past week I had the task of looking more closely at the area just south of the old Episcopal Church in Port Tobacco. More specifically I was looking at the prehistoric ceramics, fire-cracked rock and lithic fragments we have found in that area to better define the prehistoric site area. So after playing with our map and outlining areas where sherds and flakes were found we decided that we need to identify these sherds to see what they were. Great idea! The problem was that Jim was out of town and I have no experience with prehistoric ceramics. So it was time to ask the experts. I contacted Dr. Charlie Hall at the Maryland Historical Trust for help. Dr. Hall was very helpful in that not only did he help me identify the sherds he explained some of the differences that you look for and how some of these vessels were made. I was also given some good reference material on prehistoric ceramics in the Maryland and Chesapeake area. Dr. Hall was not alone in helping me for he recruited Maureen Kavanagh who is the head of the office of archeology at the Trust to help as well. I want to make sure I thank them again here for their interest and help in our project at Port Tobacco.

So what did we find when looking at these pottery sherds? Out of the 9 pieces I took from the collection to identify, 5 of them were Potomac Creek, 1 Townshend, 1 Rappahanok, 1 Accokeek and 1 which was unidentifiable. Does this mean that the site we have is a Potomac Creek site dating anywhere from 900AD to 1600AD? Well not necessarily. 5 pieces of pottery is not enough to date the site without further investigation. What it does tell me is that i have to do some research on Potomac Creek ceramics so I can tell you all about them tomorrow!