Saturday, February 2, 2008

Another Logo Submission

Here is our latest submission for our logo contest.

Pat describes her logo as follows:
" I thought to bring the present and past together. Within an outline of the Courthouse (present), a simplified scales of justice ( past county seat & court), weighted with pre-historic & historic artifacts (the present dig & past)and tobacco leaves for the river-creek-town name and exports."

Great job Pat!

This is the last call for logo submissions. Please send me your logo ideas by Saturday February 9th. Voting on logos will begin Sunday February 10th.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Patented Lands around Port Tobacco

I know that it often seems like we jump around alot in our blogs, each day's note often referring to something we wrote about days or even weeks earlier. In part that is because there are four of us contributing blogs and we are all working on different things and have different interests. (Wait until Carol or Elsie or one of the other folks starts contributing ocassional pieces!) But the diverse topics that we cover also reflect the breadth and energy of the work. Eventually, we will bring all of this material together in exhibits and books and through other media. For today, however, here is yet another foray into our myriad questions and the varied data that we use to try to answer them.

Pete and I are looking at land titles--deeds--and using them to reconstruct on modern maps who owned what land. We look at patents (original conveyances from Lord Baltimore or the State of Maryland) and deeds, and the descriptions of the land and neighboring lands provided by the surveyors. A brief description of one such tract appeared in the blog about the courthouse and jail lot the other day. These documents often require a great deal of patience to decipher--translate is not too strong a word--and then patience to record and draft so that we can compile a series of plats--drawings of each tract--and piece them together. And then, of course, we examine how the land is further subdivided and, ocassionally, reconsolidated.

Below is an example of a plat provided by a surveyor along with a table of courses. Most early deeds did not include a drawing or convenient table of courses; the descriptions, or metes and bounds, were written out. While less convenient, the written descriptions often mention roads, stream banks, dams, neighboring tracts, and bits of the parcel's history of ownership, so they are well worth reading. Each course, or line bounding a property is described in terms of distance and bearing. Distances were generally in perches in the 17th and 18th centuries, and often in the 19th and early 20th centuries as well. A perch is equal to 16.5 ft. It was a convenient measure, just like yards are today; e.g., one can say 10 perches or 165 feet, 100 perches or 1,650 ft. I think you get the picture.

Thomas Stone's patent called Plenty, dated October 1, 1784.

Surveyors of the 17th century often used a mariner's compass, giving bearings like North Northwest or East Southeast, but more typically measured bearings in the 18th century and later relative to north or south. For example, northeast would be N45 degreesE. Minutes (e.g., S32d 10'W) rarely were used before the 20th century in Maryland.

Table of courses for the Plenty patent. It includes metes and bounds for the original tracts and for the entire resurvey that combined tracts and otherwise vacant lands.

In future posts we will illustrate some of the plats that we have reconstructed and their relationships to other parcels.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Charles County Archaeological Society

All are welcome to join us at the first meeting of the Charles County Archaeological Society on February 12, 2008, 7:30 to 9:00 PM, at the historic Train Station in La Plata. The Train Station is located at 101 Kent Avenue (see map below). The Society will be dedicated to archaeological research in Charles County and offer opportunities for public involvement in all aspects of research.

Location of Train Station in La Plata.

The meeting will start with some brief organizational issues and end with my presentation on 17th and early 18th-century Colonial sites in Southern Maryland. I'll be talking about some of the early historic artifacts and features that we likely will uncover at Port Tobacco and at other sites around the County.

The Society, tentatively, will meet the second Tuesday of each month, except for the Summer months of July and August, and will feature invited speakers, workshops in artifact identification, and other activities in accordance with the interests of the members. The Society will form under the aegis of the Archeological Society of Maryland.

This will be fun...join us.


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.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Cowardly Assault

Some things reported in the news strike me as funny and it is interesting what is considered news locally and how that news can travel to far reaching places. The following piece is a condensed news report I found in the New York Times by way of the Baltimore Sun. It is dated June 1st 1883.

Apparently, a trial was underway at Port Tobacco concerning an assault by a man named Carpenter. “The remarkable scenes witnessed during the Carpenter assault trial were crowned yesterday afternoon by a startling occurrence, the like of which has never been witnessed within the ancient walls of Charles County Court-house. Judge Daniel R. Magruder had just closed the argument for the State…when he was assaulted by L. Allison Wilmer, of counsel for the defense.” “Mr. Wilmer left a seat which he occupied at a table near the prisoner’s dock, passed in front of the prisoner, walked up behind Judge Magruder, and struck him a powerful blow on the back of the neck and head with his fist, saying at the same time, “Called me a liar did you?” Other blows followed in rapid succession.”

Presiding Judge Brooke cried, “I command the peace!” Lots of folks gathered around and restrained Wilmer and the fallen judge. Sheriff Sotherland removed Wilmer from the courthouse, but he was not arrested.

This was all the result of a misunderstanding about questioning during the trial. This case brings some interesting thoughts to mind. Why wasn’t Wilmer arrested and held accountable for his assault? There is one simple answer: There was (and still is) a Southern code of honor. Wilmer, despite the misunderstanding, felt his honor and reputation had been violated. It also seems that all in attendance recognized this code of honor. It boils down to a gentleman’s disagreement that was settled between the two.

Are lawyers volatile by nature? There is some fact that may support this theory. My brother John is 3 years older than me and he is now an attorney. When we were kids, he was always smacking me around…a natural born lawyer? I assure you, he doesn’t do that anymore!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Port Tobacco Jail

Sorry about the lack of a posting yesterday...I was pretty late getting back from the presentation at Port Tobacco which, I'm delighted to say, went well. But we gave you two for the price of one on Saturday, so we're even.

Pete and I were conducting some research today at the Maryland State Law Library (easily one of the State's least used research facilities). We were looking into two sites: the Port Tobacco School and the Jail. We found an interesting tidbit on the jail, the site of which we hope to test this spring. It is a law passed by the General Assembly on December 27, 1811, authorizing the raising and disbursing of tax money for the purpose of erecting a jail. Here is the law in its entirety:

Laws of Maryland, Chapter 55 (passed December 27, 1811)

An act to authorized and empower the Levy Court of Charles county to assess and levy a sum of money on the assessable property thereof, for the purpose of building a jail in said county.

AND BE IT ENACTED, That the justices of the levy court of Charles county are hereby authorized, directed and required, to assess and levy on the assessable property in said county, at the time of levying their public levies, a sum of money not exceeding tow thousand dollars; that is to say, the sum of one thousand dollars, in the eighteen hundred and twelve, and the remaining sum of one thousand dollars in the year eighteen hundred and thirteen; together with the collector’s commission for collecting the same, for the purpose of erecting the jail aforesaid which said assessment so as aforesaid to be made and levied, shall be collected by the collector for the time being, in the same manner that other public charges are by law collected, and the same sums of money when so as aforesaid respectively collected, shall be paid by such collector to the aforesaid commissioners, or the major part of them, or to their order or orders which said commissioners or a major part of them, are hereby authorized and required to receive and apply the same to the use and purpose as by this act is directed.

AND BE IT ENACTED, That the said commissioners, or a majority of them, shall be, and they are hereby authorized and required to contract and agree for the building of the said jail, and to direct the plans of the same; which said jail shall be erected on the public ground in Charles-town, commonly called Port Tobacco, in Charles county, and when erected, finished and completed, shall be used, held, taken and deemed to be the proper jail of Charles county.

AND BE IT ENACTED, That in case any of the said commissioners shall die, remove, refuse or discontinue to act, the remaining commissioners or the majority of them, shall appoint one or more persons, (as the case may be,) to fill up such vacancy.

AND BE IT ENACTED, That the said commissioners or the majority of them, shall render a full and fair account to the levy court of said county, of the receipts and expenditures of all monies by them received and expended by virtue of this act.

No doubt there is an earlier act that this law amends and I'll post it when I find it. There very likely was an earlier jail, similarly authorized, and I'll post information on that too when we find it.

We do not have specifications for this early 19th-century jail, but photographs of the burned courthouse (1892 and later) show a small, rectangular, nondescript brick building of two stories.