Saturday, January 26, 2008

Native Americans at Warehouse Landing

As our regular readers are aware, when the Port Tobacco River became silted in the port moved south to Warehouse Landing. Here two Native American ossuaries were excavated in the late 1920s. The date of these ossuaries was placed at 1585-1682, based on the presence of Native crafted artifacts of European copper.

The report on these excavations (Graham 1935) identifies the remains as those of the Piscataway of the Powhatan Confederacy, who were under regular raids by the Susquehannocks between the years of 1634 and 1644. "So exposed were the Piscataways to these attacks that Father White, in 1642, removed his mission to Port Tobacco River." (8) According to Graham, the Port tobacco Indians disappeared within 10 years of Father White's departure in 1643. However, from 1660-1662, Port Tobacco was the location of a council on Indian derived titles and a constable was stationed there.

It seems that there is still a lot to be learned about the late prehistoric and early historic Native Americans of Port Tobacco. [PS. See Jim's comments below.]


Graham, William Johnson
1935 The Indians of Port Tobacco River, Maryland, and their Burial Places. William Graham, Publisher.

Native American Archaeology at Port Tobacco

Yes, the focus of the project team's research at Port Tobacco is the Colonial Period development and 19th-century transformation of the town. But, as April's posting yesterday demonstrates, we are interested in the American Indians who occupied the region prior to what scholars call the Contact Period (sustained relations, amicable and hostile, between the aboriginal occupants and the invading Europeans).

Our first phase of study has identified pottery that archaeologists have identified throughout coastal Maryland as Potomac Creek and Rappahannock (both Late Woodland, or dating after AD 800), and as Accokeek and, possibly, Popes Creek (the Early Woodland [750 to 400 BC] and Middle Woodland [400 BC to AD 200] periods. Peter wrote about some of this material a week or so ago. [Just a reminder: these are terms that archaeologists have applied to periods that we have defined and to types of artifacts representative of those periods; they are not the terms used by the people whom we study in referring to themselves and their neighbors.]

The later material seems most prominent and we hope to conduct further testing in the area of one of those concentrations this spring. Given the prevalence of these aboriginal sites throughout the region, one might ask...actually, you might ask...why we are bothering. Well, we wrestle with that question too. As I mentioned in a previous posting, we hope that an exploration of the prehistoric deposits might shed some light on what has happened in the Port Tobacco Valley prior to European colonization; specifically, we'd like to know what geologic processes were in motion before Europeans introduced large-scale deforestation and agriculture.

It is also my hope that we can develop new ways of looking at prehistoric sites in the Chesapeake Basin from the vantage point of Port Tobacco. In my opinion, the amount we are learning each year about these sites, and the people and cultures they represent, is quite small compared to the great strides of a generation and more ago. We are in a bit of a rut, and Port Tobacco offers the opportunity to rethink some strategies and concepts, and perhaps to revise some of the long-held, but poorly substantiated interpretations such as that April wrote about yesterday.

I hope to see many of our readers at Port Tobacco courthouse tomorrow at 1PM for our first major public presentation on our findings. And I hope to see many of you on the edges of our excavation units this spring.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Raiding the 17th Century Chesapeake

Lois Carr's 1974 piece, The Metropolis of Maryland: A Comment on Town Development along the Tobacco Coast seeks to understand the sparsity of 17th century Chesapeake towns. In the end, she concludes that "the costs of centralizing the tobacco trade were higher than the benefits and that this fact hindered the growth of towns along the Chesapeake" (pg 144). But, she also places blame on a Native American group, the Susquehannocks, and their raids for limiting town development.

It just so happens that the Susquehannocks have become a research specialty of mine. The Susquehannocks are an enigmatic group in that they are clearly present in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the 1600s but their pre-Lancaster history is a topic of much debate. The Susquehannocks are believed to have moved down to Lancaster, from northern Pennsylvania and southern New York, beginning in 1550. On their 30-year journey they massacred the local Shenks Ferry people, set up short-term residence in the Shenks Ferry villages, adopting and marrying those they spared. The reason for this long distance migration and conquest was to gain better access to European trade and to move away from their enemies, the Five Nations Iroquois.

What's my take on this story? I don't believe it.
At the Society for Historical Archaeology conference earlier this month, I found out that I am not alone.

There is mounting evidence to suggest that the migration and the massacre did not occur, at least not as outlined above. In fact, the Susquehannocks and the Shenks Ferry are probably one in the same. The Susquehannocks have long been cast as the marauders of the region. I think this will change soon.


Carr, Lois Green
1974 The Metropolis of Maryland: A Comment on Town Development along the Tobacco Coast. Maryland History Magazine, pp. 124-145. vol. LXIX.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Port Tobacco Schoolhouse

In 1991, architectural historian J. Richard "Rick" Rivoire prepared a series of measured drawings of the ca. 1878 Port Tobacco schoolhouse, the white building on the right that one notes entering Port Tobacco from the north. Over the past few days, Pete and I have been digitizing those drawings so that we might use them for the project and share them with others. Here are some of the key views:

Port Tobacco Schoolhouse, redrafted from Mr. Rivoire's 1991 measured drawings.
Tomorrow we hope to search through the published State Board of Education records to see if we might recover some additional information about the school.
We are also putting together additional images for the presentation at Port Tobacco Courthouse this Sunday (1PM to 3PM). Pete pulled some photogenic artifacts from the collection earlier in the week and we will take their pictures tomorrow. Say 'potsherd' and smile.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another Logo Contest Entry

We have received another entry for out logo contest. This logo comes from Alexandra who lives in Toronto.
Here is what she has to say about her entry.

"I love the distinctive three-chimneyed houses in the pictures you've posted, so I decided to use them as inspiration in a really simple line design above the name of the project."

Thanks for the entry Alex!

We are still accepting entries for our logo contest. All entries will be posted in early February and a reader poll will help us decide which submission will be our new logo.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Mystery Deepens

Something has been bugging me about the Centennial Hotel for a few weeks now. Field analysis indicates there might be two buildings west of the Wade house where the Centennial Hotel once stood. The photograph below was taken in 1915 and it shows the Wade house and the hotel in an advanced state of decay. Note the proximity of the two buildings: they are on the same axis and appear to abut each other.

Wade House (left) and Centennial Hotel (right), 1915.

Now look at the next photograph. It's date is unknown, but it obviously predates the photograph above. Again, it shows the Wade house on the left with the front porch intact and the house is obviously maintained. What about the building seen on the right? It sits a considerable distance behind the Wade house. Is this the Centennial? In any case, we have two different buildings.

Undated photograph, Episcopal Church on right, ca. 1892-1895.

This picture must date to the time soon after the courthouse burned (1892) as it is part 2 of a panoramic view of the green. The other picture shows the burned out courthouse and the Episcopal Church. This creates another problem. If the older building was standing in the 1890's, how is it that it was removed, another structure was built, and fell into ruins in the space of only 25 years? It's possible I suppose, but the second structure was sizeable and took a considerable effort to build. Why would it have been allowed to decay after so little time?

The old photographs are an invaluable part of the historical record. It's a shame more snap shots do not survive. If any one of the millions of blog readers have some old pictures of Port Tobacco, please send them along.

Don't forget that Jim (assisted by me) will be discussing the Project at the Courthouse on Sunday January 27th from 1-3 pm. It should be fun and informative.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Centennial Hotel Update

After looking at our AutoCAD map, the Barbour map, and the Page survey plat along with the surrounding STP’s from that area I have come to the conclusion that we don’t know any more than we already thought. I was attempting to redefine the Centennial Hotel site for more accurate excavations in the future. I looked at the surrounding STP’s in 4 separate clumps of 6-8 STP’s to look at the distribution of 18th Century ceramics, nails, and brick rubble. What I found was that no one area separate or combined with others is any more distinct than any others. So what does this say? We know that the hotel sat next door to the Wade House and offsets the old Christ Church. Distinguishing between where the hotel was and where the Wade house was is something that can’t be done by looking at artifact distribution alone. STP collection data alone can not differentiate the two areas since they are too close together and don’t give any clear cut site locations.

The next step is to look at the STP log books to see if anything pops out of them. Brick rubble layers, depth of excavation, and oyster shell volume might help define the parameters or outline of our hotel and house locations. Further in depth excavations will be needed in the future to help solve this problem.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Town Square?

The town or village square at Port Tobacco continues to be an enigma. When was it created? Did it develop as its creators planned? What did it look like? Was it really an open square fronted by the courthouse and other buildings, but otherwise empty? Our preliminary findings at the end of last year suggested the story might be more complicated than the simple image of a New England-like village green might suggest.

Elsie found the following bit that speaks to the subject in material abstracted from the newspaper, the Maryland Gazette:

"Property of the late Thomas How Ridgate, in Charles-Town, Charles County, commonly called Port Tobacco, will be sold on August 16th. Lot 1 fronts south on the square [emphasis added], 70 feet from where the courthouse stands, and 500 feet on St George's Street, the principal entry to the town from the north. In the angle of said square and street stands a well-built framed house fronting south, 40' X 28', 2 stories high with 2 brick chimneys at the end and dry airy brick cellar, the size of the house, with 2 fireplaces. The first story is a large store... four rooms and a passage upstairs has piazzas and platforms on the north, south, and part of the west end. On the northeast of house is framed kitchen...washhouse etc. Behind is garden, 300 feet square. Lot 2 is a 1-acre lot fronting St. Andrew's Street, for 140 feet. Has house. Lot 3 is 3-acres fronting St. Andrew's Street with an unfinished house. (23 JUN 1796)"

Source: Sprouse, Edith Moore, Along the Potomac River: Extracts from the Maryland Gazette, 1728-1799. Willow Bend Books, Westminster MD 2001, p 115.

Elsie also reports that John and Roberta Wearmouth, prominent local historians, have just published a new book on the history of Port Tobacco. I look forward to getting a copy and reading it...they must have accumulated reams of material on the town over the past 40 years or more.