Saturday, September 13, 2008

Traveling Exhibit Debuts

The Port Tobacco Archaeological Project's new traveling exhibit premiered this weekend in the Flowers Building at the Charles County Fair. The exhibit poses questions about the effects of human occupation on the Port Tobacco Valley and shows how archaeological research has produced data that allow us to document and date significant environmental events.

The Charles County Garden Club invited us to present the exhibit in their hall at the fair, and I am very grateful for the invitation and their help in registering the exhibit at the Fair office. Bonnie Persinger did the initial design work and then partnered with Kathryn Burns of the Bridge Gallery in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to complete the design. Ms Burns did a marvelous job of fabricating the final product.

Of course, the content of the exhibit was made possible by the hard work and contributions of members of the Charles County Archaeological Society and Archeological Society of Maryland, Cathy Hardy and Donna Dudley of Charles County Government, and donations from Ed and Lexy Edelen, Sheila Smith, the Southern Maryland Heritage Areas Consortium (Roslyn Racanello, Executive Director), and Preservation Maryland. We hope this is the first in a series of increasingly content rich, ambitious exhibits that engage the public in historical and environmental issues that resonate today.


PS. Yes, that is a red ribbon on the table to the right. The purpose wasn't to compete for awards, but what the hell...take the glory where you can.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Wilmer Office

Wilmer Office
Originally uploaded by Port Tobacco Archaeological Project

Yesterday I told you about Dr. William Wilmer. Above is a picture of his office as it looked in the 1970's. The building is no longer standing but remnants of it can be seen along Chapel Point Rd just north of an old barn and just south of the one room school house. It was this office that he left when he moved to Baltimore. Whether or not the office stayed in his possession after his move is something we haven't established. Some archival work on this property will help us fill in the gaps in the timeline of Dr. Wilmer.

- Peter

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dr. William R. Wilmer

Dr. William Wilmer was the son of the Rev. Lemuel Wilmer of Port Tobacco. He also appears to have been a prominent citizen of the town. While he isn't famous, he did achieve a large amount during his lifetime.

Pouring through the census along with information gathered from the PT Times abstracts (Thank you Elsie) gives us a view of some of the things that happened to this particular citizen.

Starting with the 1860 census, he was a 30 year old physician in Port Tobacco and again in the 1870 census. According to the work Elsie has done, he moved to Baltimore between the 1870 and 1880 census with his brother.

Before he left though, he made his mark on the town and county as a physician as well as local politician. Here's a list of some of his achievements:

1860 - Treasurer Medical & Chirurgical Society
1866 - President, Charles County Board of School Commissioners
1867/68 - One of 2 white trustees for establishment of “colored” schools in Nanjemoy and Durham districts
1871 - elected to the House of Delegates
1874 - Dr. William R. Wilmer announces Republican candidacy for Congress

This is where some interesting things happened that kind of make me scratch my head and ask "what happened?"

Dec. 1874 - William R. Wilmer & Lemuel Wilmer and others "stricken from registration lists." (Were they removed from voter lists because they had moved to Baltimore sometime during the year?).

September 1877 - Republican convention: …Dr. Wilmer resigned

October 1877 - Dr. Wilmer has been transferred from the office of the Collector of Internal Revenue, 3rd Maryland District to Night Superintendent of Baltimore Post Office. [These were remunerative political appointments that would have gone to Republicans in the years after the Civil War and before implementation of civil service procedures and termination of the 'spoils system.']

1880 - William R. Wilmer (Wilmore) living with brother Lemuel & Lemuel’s family in Baltimore. William is listed as widowed and a P.O. clerk

1883 - Is Naval officer for Port of Baltimore – no mention of when appointed

Some interesting career changes over his life. He went from a physician, to politician, to Post Office Superintendent, to PO clerk, to a Naval officer. Why all the different changes in his life? What was his reason for leaving Port Tobacco? Political? His political career does not seemed to be very distinguished. These questions can't be answered easily but I'm sure there are answers out there. The small town of Port Tobacco sure has had its share of interesting residents throughout history, Dr. Wilmer included.

- Peter

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When Mountains Move

The recent series of tropical storms and hurricanes traversing the Caribbean have caused considerable loss of life and property. Pictures of Haiti in the news media show extensive flooding, destroyed buildings, and homeless people wading through ankle-high and deeper water. Some of those pictures also show mud-filled streets.

One of the causes of the flooding and sedimentation is the loss of vegetation on the hillsides. Haitian colliers have cut down stands of trees to make charcoal, an important cooking fuel, and the more level portions of those once forested tracts are now in cultivation. Without that dense vegetation, the water runs unimpeded down the slopes and into cities and villages. With light and moderate rains, the amount of sedimentation is probably negligible, perhaps even unnoticed by residents; but heavy rainfall causes catastrophic destruction.

In some ways, recent events in Haiti illuminate Port Tobacco's past. Like the Haitians, Americans extensively cleared the Port Tobacco valley. The resulting sedimentation...gradual and catastrophic...filled the river and covered portions of the floodplain. In previous posts I've shown that a foot or more of gravelly sediment had been deposited within the town. Throughout the 20th century, much of the land in the area has reverted to forest, greatly reducing the movement of sediments. But there is still sedimentation on a smaller scale and it continues to choke the remaining open waters of the Port Tobacco River.

Our new traveling exhibit deals with these issues and the role of archaeology in studying the changing landscape over centuries and millennia. It debuts at the Charles County Fair this week...see you there.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Unit 13 East Wall Profile

Unit 13 East Wall Profile
Originally uploaded by Port Tobacco Archaeological Project

The updating of maps continues. This week I am focusing on the profile drawings and getting them digitized using AutoCAD. Some of the drawings are very simple which makes it easy to recreate them on the computer. However, some (like the one pictured below) of the drawings are more complicated. One of the challenges I have encountered is in trying to decipher the drawings. This is due to the lack of continuity from drawing to drawing. Not all the drawings are complete and they were not all drawn using the same parameters. Since there was not one person overseeing the drawing phase, it is making for a bit more difficult time interpreting them. Not a big problem, just a step we could have avoided and will avoid next time.

Here’s a sample profile drawing without descriptions of each level. I will still do some tweaking of the drawings in AutoCAD to make them easier to see and to read.

The process for creating these in AutoCAD is fairly simple. The drawings are first scanned onto the computer. Next, those scanned images are imported into the existing map. Then we just trace the image onto the map.

Now that seems simple enough, right? Well, it is. There are a few other steps that we must do, like scaling the drawing to size, but over all that is the process.

Once all the drawings are in AutoCAD, we can then put them together to get full profiles of units and continuous walls through several units. I will post some images of these to the flickr site once they are done.

- Peter

Monday, September 8, 2008

Edelen South Contours

As part of our one-year birthday celebration, we are trying to improve the quality of our images in the Port Tobacco blog. We are trying to upload our images from our site instead of from our local area network or individual hard drives.

The image that you see below is not a file, but a link to the Flickr site. If you click on the image, you will be automatically directed to that image on the Flickr site where you can see a larger view and have the ability to save the image to your own computer. (You might click on All Sizes when you get to that site.) There are no restrictions on these images, although--of course--we would like the project to be credited for any images used.

Edelen South Contours
Originally uploaded by Port Tobacco Archaeological Project
Please let us know if you have any difficulty with the'll take a while to work out the bugs. We hope to further improve our images and videos with higher quality's nothing we can't fix with a couple of thousand dollars...but we need to find a source for those funds.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

An Act Concerning Religion, 1649

Much has been made, over the years, of Maryland's primacy in promoting religious freedom. One readily turns to the act of the General Assembly titled "An Act Concerning Religion" that was enacted in 1649 with the consent of Caecil, Lord Baltimore. Unfortunately, the act is not all it has been portrayed to be; indeed, it is vicious law that guaranteed freedom of worship only to those who espoused Christianity, and a narrowly defined Christianity at that.

Here's a URL link to the Act on the Maryland State Archives website that you can copy and paste:

For those unfamiliar with 17th-century English syntax, vocabulary, abbreviations, and non-standardized spelling, it is a bit challenging to read. I could parse it, but that would eliminate much of the fun and challenge of reading it. For those who haven't the time or patience, here's some highlights:
  1. For those who blaspheme, or who deny the existence of Christ or the Trinity and the unity of the Trinity, you are subject to execution and confiscation of all of your property. (That would mean that, unless other family members were willing to take them in, the perpetrator's spouse and children probably would have had to sell themselves into servitude.)
  2. Any decrying the Virgin Mother or the Apostles are subject to fines and, if unable to pay those fines, public whipping and imprisonment. The penalties increase with the second offense, and a third offense leads to confiscation of all property and exile.
  3. Anyone using religious epithets towards any other inhabitant also is subject to fines or physical punishment, the severity increasing with each offense.
  4. And those who fail to observe the Sabbath or who are drunk and/or riotous on the Sabbath will be similarly punished.
Apart from that, you're fine.

While it is true that none of the rights of Americans today are unqualified (e.g., you can't yell 'Fire!' in a movie theater and expect the First Amendment of the Constitution to protect you from prosecution and civil liability), it is also true that the rights we enjoy are the products of centuries of development. Democracy does not come ready made. Nor does it ship well.