Saturday, March 1, 2008

Life is a Beach

Three-fourths of the PTAP team, and at least one of our volunteers, are enjoying a cold and windy weekend in Ocean City at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference.

We are taking in presentations on all aspects of regional archaeology and were looking forward to one talk in particular, entitled "Why Salisbury: The Development of Maryland's Second Largest Port" by Jennifer Gardner.

Jennifer is in the early stages of this research but there are obvious overlaps with our work. Where Port Tobacco declined when the railroad failed to include it on its route, Salisbury increased in prominence when it gained the railroad to compliment the port. We will be keeping tabs on this project.

Peter and Jim are giving talks tomorrow. I will report on those then.


Friday, February 29, 2008

Town-Founding Symposium

All of the details are not quite in, but this much is settled: The Archeological Society of Maryland will hold its annual Spring Symposium on April 12, 9AM to 3PM, at the First Presbyterian Church on Duke of Gloucester Street in Annapolis. It is open to all...there is a small admission fee.

We have selected Annapolis as the location in recognition of the 300th anniversary of the City receiving its charter. Speakers will include:

Dr. Henry Miller on St. Mary's City
Dr. Julie King on St. Leonard in Calvert County and Moore's Lodge in Charles County
Mr. Mike Lucas on Mt. Calvert/Charles Town in Prince George's County
Dr. Al Luckenbach on Providence and London Town in Anne Arundel County
and, yours truly on Port Tobacco.

We're going to rock!


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wagon Boxes

I've been asked about distinctive artifacts from carriage and wagon shops, such as the one operated by the Atzerodt brothers behind the Chimney House. I found this photograph of 'wagon boxes' that I recovered from a wagon shop site in central New York.

Although called wagon boxes, these are wheel bearings that were inserted into wooden hubs. The axle, well greased, turned inside the boxes. The flanges readily observable on the top and bottom objects, and to a lesser degree on the left-middle specimen, prevented the box from turning inside the hub. The greased axle and box arrangement allowed for smooth turning without damaging the wooden hub.

Wagon boxes were typically cast iron and they typically were produced by American iron furnaces that also turned out cast iron pans, kettles, and other household and agricultural products. Because they were cast rather than forged, these boxes or bearings were difficult to recycle. When broken, the wheelwright or vehicle maker generally discarded them. When broken wagon boxes are found on the site of a carriage or wagon shop, it is a pretty good indication that the shop took in repair work. We will be looking for these, and other vehicle parts, when we complete the survey behind Stagg Hall and Chimney House.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Logo Contest

Time is running out to cast your vote in our logo contest!
See the left side column for entries and the poll.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Carmelite Nuns of Port Tobacco

Prior to the American Revolution, a woman who was called by God to the Catholic faith, had to travel to Europe and enter a monastary. In 1790, Father Ignatius Matthews wrote to his sister, Mother Bernardina Matthews. "Now is your time to found in this country, for peace is declared and religion is free." She arrived with four other nuns and founded the Carmalite Nuns of Port Tobacco. Upon arrival, they first stayed at Chandler's Hope, but soon found this location unacceptable. Apparently, Port Tobacco wasn't quiet enough for the nuns. They were given land just north of town at a place called Durham.

By 1830, the buildings were falling into decay and the nuns were called to Baltimore and Mt. Carmel was sold to Edward Sanders. One hundred years later, in 1935, the land was purchased by the Archbishop and a group called the Restorers of Mt. Carmel was formed. In 1954, a new brick chapel was constructed and the nuns returned in 1976. The monestary is located directly across from the campus of The College of Southern Maryland.
I'd like to take a moment to introduce everyone to the new web site for Grave Concerns. Please stop and visit: The site is in its infancy and will grow often with new material to see. A big thanks to April for all her help with this web site!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Smithing: the Gibb Hypothesis

Businesses came and went in Port Tobacco, as they do and have done in any urban place. Owners retire, die, sell out, or lose out to bankruptcy. There is one kind of business in Port Tobacco, however, that survived throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, even if it did so under a host of different owners: blacksmithing.

Blacksmiths were the automobile mechanics and handymen of the pre-automobile era. In fact, early automobile manufacturers and repairmen were blacksmiths, the repairmen eventually calling themselves machinists. They often shoed horses and draft animals, tired wooden wheels, fixed household appliances, and made new things to order.

For the country blacksmith, depending on individual skills, daily work was a mixture of making new and repairing old. That began to change, however, after the Civil War. Factory production (called derogatorily the "Cheap John" system for its often shoddy products), stimulated in part by war demand, began to ship products by rail to distant markets, aided first by regional salesmen operating through local smiths and other tradesmen and retailers, and then by mail order catalogues. Blacksmiths increasingly repaired objects made hundreds of miles away. Working with wheelwrights, they repaired wheeled vehicles often by replacing a worn or broken part with a new part made elsewhere.

In 1985, working on a wagon shop site in central New York State, it occurred to me that we could see this transition from new work to repair work through the materials left behind, and therefore we could date that transition, the move of manufactured goods into a community and the deskilling of the local labor force. Specifically, I was able to distinguish between scrap piles and trash piles of the Tripp Wagon Shop in Perry City, NY. One served as a source for raw material to make new parts, the other comprised worn machine-made parts that were simply discarded without any apparent intention to to be used again as raw material.

Although port towns, particularly in the Southern States, long imported manufactured goods, I am hopeful that in exploring the smithies, wheelwright and wagon/carriage shops of Port Tobacco we will find similar deposits that will help us chart the town's changing place in the evolving global economy of the 19th century.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Spring Field Session/April's Hypothesis

I have submitted to the board of the Archeological Society of Maryland a proposal for holding its annual field session at Port Tobacco. Typically, the field session includes Memorial Day weekend and the previous or following weekend, and the week between. With a Friday set-up and Monday wrap-up, the field session covers about eleven days. ASM brings with it several thousands of dollars in grant money and, conservatively, $25,000 in contributed labor with 20 to 50 volunteers on site each day, often more on the weekends.

Holding the field session at Port Tobacco would provide the project with an enormous lift and virtually insure continued activity on site through at least the middle of the summer, by which time we hope to have secured additional funding. The research strides that we could make during those eleven days and the subsequent weeks of laboratory work we can only guess at, but they would be tremendous.

Port Tobacco is not the only site under consideration for this spring. If you are interested in working at Port Tobacco with the ASM field session...if you support holding the field session at Port Tobacco this spring...drop me a line. I would like to show the board and the field session committee that there is interest in making this happen among ASM members and interested groups and individuals apart from ASM. Contact me at:

Now, in continuing the conversation of what we might call April's Hypothesis, Elsie offered this insight:

"John & Roberta Wearmouth's recent book on Port Tobacco, has some info related to Friday & Sat's blogs and comments. Pages 183-184 quote an article from 12-22-1906 Baltimore American. Here are a couple of excerpts. 'You will see handsome old colonial homes...where once dwelt prosperous families... now tenanted by colored people, two or three families occupying one house.' 'Only three white families live in the dying town. The other families are colored. The total population does not number 40.'

A summary of the 1870 census (on pages 211-212) lists 37 households of which about 7 include black servants living in (assumedly) white households and several households of people of color. The summary of the 1880 census (pages 213-214) lists 36 households of which 5 are black or mulatto. The only (assumedly) white households including black servants are the St. Charles and Carrollton Hotel (first time I've seen this name). I'm not sure I summarized this stuff correctly, I'm sure Carol's work will be more detailed. Will be very interesting to see what 1890 & 1900 census show about the shift in demographics.

Pages 183-185 also refer to early 20th C articles about Port Tobacco in Washington Star and Baltimore Sun."

Yes, I think Carol's meticulous data collection from the decennial censuses and her subsequent analyses should go a long way toward accurately and quantitatively describing the changing demographics of Port Tobacco. Those data will inform on variability in household structure, occupation, and other matters of anthropological and historical interest.