Saturday, April 19, 2008

Adding to Our Reading List

I came across this Ph.D. dissertation that I am adding to my reading list for Port Tobacco:

Title: A punishment for my pride: The Hamiltons of Port Tobacco, Maryland, 1860--1900
Author(s): Arnold-Lourie, Christine M.
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2003
Pages: 480
Institution: University of Maryland College Park; 0117
Advisor: Chairs Hasia R. Diner R. Gordon Kelly
Source: DAI, 64, no. 11A (2003): p. 4097
Abstract: This dissertation explores life in rural, agricultural Charles County, Maryland, in the period 1860–1900, through the lives of three generations of the Hamilton family, spanning the era from the Civil War through Reconstruction and into the next century. John Hamilton (1798–1883) had been, in 1860, the second-wealthiest man in Charles County. His son, Francis Patrick (1839–1896), lived and farmed throughout the unsettled period that followed the Civil War. Frank's son, James Neale (1867–1946), witnessed the struggles of his father and their neighbors to farm profitably through two economic depressions and three decades of low commodity prices.

The lives and history of the Hamilton family and of Charles County in the period 1860–1900 encompassed two of the most significant changes in American society: the transition from slave labor to free, and the impact of the growth of an industrial economy upon agricultural society. How did three generations of the Hamilton family act and react in the context of the forces for change and stability that shaped Charles County and the nation? How did the forces which reshaped life in the United States in the late nineteenth century affect the relatively isolated world of southern Maryland? The lives of the Hamiltons and their neighbors, black and white, illuminate the nature of the changes the county experienced, and reveal the patterns of kin and community, labor, religion and social relations which may have served as counterweight to the agents of change.

The dissertation explores the ways in which the county's white and black residents renegotiated their social, economic and political relationships. Although by 1900, the county boasted a rail line and a federal installation, for most residents, little had changed. Emancipation had freed the county's black population, but in 1900, whites continued to control most of the county's farms, dominated local politics, and derived most benefit from the slight increase in commerce the county experienced. Despite debt, economic insecurity and an unstable work force, the Hamiltons of Port Tobacco in 1900, though not as wealthy as they had been in 1860, retained their social position as leading citizens of Charles County.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Port Tobacco in the News

From the Washington Post
The Charles County commissioners and other officials and residents gathered Saturday at the reconstructed Port Tobacco Courthouse to reenact the signing of the document that created the county in 1658.

Dressed in costumes appropriate to the Colonial period, the commissioners affixed signatures to the Order of the Council of State, which led to the founding of Charles County 350 years ago. During Saturday's portrayal, the document was presented to horsemen, just as was done in 1658, for delivery to the Colonial governor in St. Mary's City.

The new county was named for Sir Charles Calvert, the Third Lord Baltimore.

Events commemorating the county's birthday are planned throughout the year.
Photos of the event are available at the Washington Post site.

Of course anyone who has been following our blog knows that no such event ever occurred at the Port Tobacco courthouse. But who are we to spoil historical re-enactment fun?


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Indiana Jones, National Treasure, Other? You Decide!

The team has been working on our preparation for the upcoming field session. Along with all of the work we will all be doing, we will also be holding lectures and workshops by both the PTAP team and also guest lecturers. Since we will be using a projector in the courthouse for some of this, we thought it might be fun to have a "movie night" as well. It will be a nice break on some evenings or even on (God forbid) bad weather days.

So, give us some input on what you would like to see! Some ideas we thought of were the Indiana Jones movies or the National Treasure movies.

Let us know what you would want to see and then we will put up a poll on the blog probably starting on May 1st, so get your suggestions in!

- Peter

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

June 1864 in Port Tobacco, Version B

A few days ago I posted a summary of events surrounding Walter Bowie's 1864 visit to Port Tobacco. I obtained my information from a single website. Afterwards, I received an email from Jim Dunbar, Publicity Office of the Pvt Wallace Bowling Camp 1400, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Jim provided some corrections to the account.

According to Jim, Bowie was a Lieutenant in the Virgina Calvary known as Mosbys Rangers. He came to Port Tobacco in October, not June, 1864, with 7 of him men. They captured 17 Federal soldiers and 8 horses. Bowie himself was killed during this trip to Maryland, while in Montgomery County.

Hopefully more Civil War historians will provide us with details of events that occurred in Port Tobacco but that are otherwise outside of our research agenda.

As always, feel free to comment or to contact us.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More on Atzerodt

I feel a little bit sorry for George Atzerodt. Here we have a man of little education caught up in a conspiracy to murder the President. All of his cohorts are educated and articulate. George could barely sign his name. His co-conspirators merely used him because of his back wood knowledge and took advantage of his dim-wittedness. Please don’t misunderstand me, George was guilty and deserved punishment, but he was told he was to assist in a kidnapping – not a murder. In fact, he chickened out and spent the evening of the crime getting drunk. In today’s world, George would have done some hard time and finally released. Oh well. Those were the days.

Let’s take a few moments and discuss what we know about George and his family. Henry and Victoria Atzerodt immigrated to the US in about sometime 1843 and 1844. The family was living in Westmoreland Co., VA in 1850 and according to that census, Henry and Victoria had the following children:

John Atzerodt, 21, blackmsith, b. Germany
George A. Adzerott, 14, b. Germany;
Maina Adzerott, 7 (female), b. Germany
Henry Adzerott, 5, b. MD

They had another daughter Catherine, but we will discuss her later.

John and George find their way to Port Tobacco in 1857 and placed an ad in the Port Tobacco Times and the Charles County Advertiser:

3/12/1857: J. C. Atzerodt and Bro., carriage maker, have located in Port Tobacco and will make to order any description of carriage, wagon or cart....

9/12/1857: George A. Atzerodt advertises "sorrel mare strayed or stolen from Port Tobacco." He purchased mare from John W. Jenkins, Esq.

So now we know they are here and have set up shop. Why don’t they appear in the 1860 census? One reason may be that John left the business and moved out of Port Tobacco and became a detective for the Provost Marshal in Washington DC. George may not have had the capacity to run a business and found smuggling more to his liking.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons he took up with the widow Rose Wheeler. According to the book American Brutus by Michael Kauffman, Rose and George lived as man and wife with her paying the bills. She had three children with her deceased husband and a 2 year old daughter with George. The only reason I can think she is paying his way is because his business no longer existed.

Now for the irony of the whole story. When John left Port Tobacco, he began working as a detective for the Provost Marshal in Washington DC. To further the irony, George’s sister Catherine is married to the Provost Marshal in Washington DC. Now you may be asking yourself, “So? Who is this Provost Marshal fella?” He was John L. Smith, Provost Marshal of D.C., 1861-1865 and the one whose testimony caused George to get the death penalty. His wife Catherine never forgave him. In fact, he read the death order to George and to Mrs. Surratt.

Testimony to support George during his trial introduces some Port Tobacco resident who knew George. Although claiming to know him, the testimonies were less that flattering:

ALEXANDER BRAWNER: I live in Port Tobacco, Md. I have known the prisoner, Atzerodt, six or eight years. He was at Port Tobacco about the last of February or the beginning of March. I think he came from Bryantown; he rode a sorrel horse. I had some business in the country, and he went along with me. I never considered Atzerodt a courageous man, by a long streak. I have seen him in scrapes, and I have seen him get out of them very fast. I have seen him in bar-room scrapes, little scrapes, and where pistols were drawn, and he generally got out of the way, and made pretty fast time. His reputation is that of a notorious coward.

LOUIS B. HARKINS: I have known Atzerodt for probably ten years. He was down at Port Tobacco about the latter part of February or the beginning of March. I think I saw him for a day or two. He is looked upon down there, by folks that know him, as a good-natured kind of a fellow. We never gave him credit down our way for much courage. I call to mind two difficulties in which I saw him—one happened in my shop, and the other in an oyster saloon—in both of which I thought he lacked courage.

WASHINGTON BRISCOE: I have known the prisoner, Atzerodt, six or seven years at Port Tobacco. He has always been considered a man of little courage, and remarkable for his cowardice.

After his conviction and execution, John and Victoria went to President Johnson and requested permission to reinter George's body in 1869. 2/19/1869: "On Monday the body of George Atzerodt was taken up and removed. On opening the box, which had somewhat decayed, the vial containing the name was found, and bones scattered about, upper part of skull on one side of box and lower jaw on other, spine curved. Remains on Wednesday deposited in receiving vault Glenwood Cemetery where they will remain until arrival of family, when they will be finally interred." Later John had the body moved to St. Paul Cemetery in Baltimore where it is buried under the fictious name, Gottlief Taubert.

My special thanks go to April for providing some this information and especially to Linda Davis Reno for providing the genealogical data. She is indeed the Queen!

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Quick Update

Today the team is in the planning stages for the upcoming ASM field session at Port Tobacco and the following months.

While Jim is working on logistics today, April is plotting out more precise locations for the work we are going to be doing in June.

The Annual ASM Spring Symposium was a great time for all of us and we gained a few more volunteers that want to come and play with us in Port Tobacco.

While no immediate fieldwork is scheduled for Port Tobacco, Jim will be giving a talk at the senior center in LaPlata tomorrow, and April and I will be going down to map out the cemetery at Mulberry Grove.

- Peter

Sunday, April 13, 2008

June 1864 in Port Tobacco

We've begun stepping up our research on the Civil War history of Port Tobacco in response to our Preserve America grant award of last week. On Tuesday, Scott will be providing some insights into Atzerodt and his mysterious Mrs. Wheeler. For today I will provide a brief account of some related Confederate activites in Port Tobacco.

Walter Bowie (born 1838) was a lawyer in Upper Marlboro, Maryland when the Civil War broke out. He soon left for Richmond and became a Confederate Spy. He was arrested several times but his prominent family name secured him release at least once. On another occassion he fought his way free.

In 1864, Bowie came up with a plan to kidnap the govenor of Maryland, Augustus Bradford, for ransom. Upon arriving in Annapolis for the kidnapping, he discovered that the govenor was too well protected for his plan to succeed.(This story should be sounding a lot like the John Wilkes Booth story by now.)

Where Port Tobacco fits in this story is that it Bowie came into Port Tobacco on his way to Annapolis. There, in June 1864, he found the 8th Illinois Calvary stationed in the courthouse. Bowie and some of his men spent an evening drinking in the Brawner Hotel. At midnight, they walked over to the nearby courthouse and stole the Calvary's horses.

When this event occurred, George Atzerodt and Mrs. Wheeler were probably sleeping in a house not too far away from the courthouse and the Brawner hotel. Maybe this event provided added inpiration for Atzerodt and his group. Maybe Atzerodt was actually involved.

To be continued....