Saturday, September 20, 2008

Buying Chandler's Town

In the late summer of 1729 County Commissioners met at the new courthouse at the head of Port Tobacco Creek. They were charged by Charles, Lord Baltimore, to create a town. The Commissioners settled on William Chandler's land, then called Chandler's Town. William Chandler, however, could not guarantee that he held full title to the entire 60 acres that the Commissioners wanted...several of the Chandler's Town lots had been taken up already, although the houses were "now decayed."

The Commissioners ordered Sheriff Randolph Morris to impanel a jury and charge them with determining how much Chandler should receive, the implication being that any future claimants would go to Chandler and not the Commissioners or new lot owners. They settled on 15,000 pounds of tobacco. Francis Ware and John Speake had recently purchased three of the lots--20, 33, and 34. Major Robert Hanson, as the county surveyor, surveyed the 60 acres and divided it into 100 lots and thoroughfares, reserving one acre for a market place in addition to the previously surveyed 3-acre courthouse lot and 1-acre church lot (not, apparently, included in the 60 acres).

The above information comes from Charles County Land Records, Liber M #2, folio 176, etc. Following the records of the proceedings are Hanson's metes and bounds description of the town site and a list of the 43 lots taken up by various individuals over the following two years. Several of those men had to reenter their claims after 18 months because they failed to meet one of the fundamental requirements for retaining possession...they had not built a dwelling on each of the lots.

I have transcribed the records and entered all of the lot data into an Excel spreadsheet. Unfortunately, disagreements between me and our blog software preclude my including the information in this blog without reentering it directly into this posting. It is available on request...just e-mail me at


Friday, September 19, 2008

Trade Beads

Glass beads, like the one shown below, were introduced by Europeans in the 17th Century. They became more prevalent in trade between the Native Americans and Europeans through the 18th Century. The one shown below was found on the Burch House property last year in the initial test pit survey. This summer we found a second glass bead that is barrel shaped. No other trade goods have come from our excavations as of yet. I hope that we are able to find some other trade goods (e.g., copper) in the future to help confirm our Contact Period site.
The glass beads and other goods, such as thin sheets of copper, were traded for food and clothing (fur pelts in the early days in a short lived attempt at fur trade) between the European settlers and the Native Americans. This is not something newly discovered, it has been well documented and found throughout the United States.

Dating the beads themselves is difficult, but finding them in context with other artifacts from the 17th Century will help us better define our Contact Period site in Port Tobacco.

- Peter

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Contact Period

The Contact Period for the Chesapeake area ranges from 1608 through to the 1660’s, though these dates are open to interpretation. There was contact before and after these dates but the dates we are concerned with are those in which there is sustained contact between Native Americans and European colonists.

In our excavations this summer we found a second trade bead to go along with the one found at the Burch House last year. This second bead was found in Unit 13 Stratum 3. Several other Aboriginal artifacts were found along with it. This stratum was divided into 3 separate areas when profiled. There were a few quartz flakes, one of which looks as if it was being worked into a tool and was abandoned, as well as two pieces of Potomac Creek pottery. The other artifacts found in Unit 13 are various and stretch across from the early 18th Century to the 20th Century. There is no doubt that the ground has been mixed up. Our hope is to find a layer underneath the plowzone that indicates a large Woodland site and 17th Century artifacts to go along with the Aboriginal ones.

Unit 13 is one of the four units opened up in the Centennial Hotel area, not the Native American area. We know the Native American area brought to light a well defined Woodland occupation.
With what we have found in the Hotel area, we could have a fairly substantial Contact Period site on our hands.

Further analysis and excavation is necessary to define our Contact Period site. For now, we are continuing our overall analysis of the whole site.

More tomorrow about the Contact Period and the artifacts associated with it.

- Peter

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Town Layout

I'm keeping it short today because we have a whole bunch of stuff to assemble for the next few blogs, some archaeological, some archival. I'm trying to reconstruct the original Charles Town plat prepared by Robert Hanson in 1729 and Pete has some Contact Period stuff to talk about.

Report writing for the June field session began in earnest yesterday and we hope to have a completed draft by the end of next month. We've got some pretty exciting stuff, but it takes awhile to pull it all together and to recheck our facts, analyses, and interpretations.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dr. William R. Wilmer's Lot 3

The other day Pete posted some of Elsie's research on Dr. Wilmer and then followed up with a photograph reputed to be Wilmer's office. That building, as Pete noted, has collapsed and lies just north of Stagg Hall and the barn on Chapel Point Road. I did a little title searching today and found that Dr. Wilmer owned Prospect Farm, a tract he acquired from the heirs of George Dent, and Lot 3 in Port Tobacco.

The Port Tobacco deed (GWC 1/408) is dated 31 March 1864. Dr. Wilmer purchased the land (acreage undisclosed) from Elijah and Mary Day for $1,000, the price indicating that it was a developed lot. Dr. Wilmer's land had previously sold for $1,000 in 1855 and 1827. The deed describes the parcel as Lot 3 on the plat of Port Tobacco, previously called Charles Town. That plat has not surfaced and we are using lot references in deeds to reconstruct the layout of the town. If the downed building does indeed occupy Lot 3, that is an important clue.

Other numbered lots that we have encountered are: 1, 20, 33, 34, 47, and 48. Lot 1 appears to be Chimney House by the courthouse.

There is a problem with this approach: some deeds reference lots (33 and 34) of Chandler's Town, others Charles Town/Port Tobacco. In the end, the towns are the isn't clear whether the Chandler's Town lot system carried over to Charles Town, formally erected by legislative act in 1727. We'll see...I hope.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Carter Griffin

Mr. Griffin was a resident of Port Tobacco from around 1840-1860. He is mentioned in all three censuses in that timeframe. The 1840 census doesn't give us much information to go on other than his name and possible age (35). The census of 1850 lists him as 45, and the 1860 census as 55 years old.

So what's so special about Carter Griffin? From the census data, the only thing that stands out is his financial state in 1850-1860. During that time, his personal value almost tripled from $2500 to $6000. His real estate value went from nothing to $5000 during that time. Mr. Griffin was a wheelwright and up until when the automobile took off in the early 20th Century, wagons and horses were still the best overland transportation next to the railroad. So imagine if you will, traveling in a wagon and going from place to place on dirt roads. Pretty bumpy ride. And wagons didn't have rubber wheels or shocks to help with the comfort level of the ride. (they did have metal leaf springs that weren't very different from those on automobiles today.) A typical wheel prior to the Civil War was made out of wood with a metal tire on the outside.

Now we know that around 1857 the Atzerodt brothers (you remember them, right?) supposedly had a carriage shop in Port Tobacco. They certainly would have needed the services of a wheelwright. Could there be a connection here? It's possible that there was a business venture between the two brothers and Carter Griffin.

I will ask our wonderful volunteer, Elsie, to look at the Port Tobacco Times abstract for any information on Carter Griffin and then post an update if anything comes up. And Elsie, since I know you read this, thank you in advance.

- Peter

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Native American Spiritualism

As archaeologists we are accustomed to analyzing data...the potsherds, flakes, nails, brick, and other flotsam of human occupation that we terms of function. More specifically, we look at our data in terms of did the acquisition, use, and discard of an artifact help a group earn a living. When dealing with Native American sites, especially those that predate European contact, we take more of an ecological approach, but that's just another way of saying economy. But people often assign meanings to objects that are not readily reduced to matters of making a living or adapting to the environment. This is especially true of Native American objects.

Many Indian groups known through historical accounts were animists, to use an anthropological term. They regard all things, even those that Westerners regard as inanimate, as having within them a living spirit. A discarded projectile point or pot is more than an object that is no longer serviceable. It has an existence apart from its daily use and that it retains when the object is no longer useful. This poses significant problems for archaeologists, both in terms of collecting and analyzing materials that may still have important value to the descendants of the users of those materials, and in understanding what those materials meant to the people who made, acquired, used, and discarded them. The problems become all the more complex when we consider that modern Western notions of personal property may not have been recognized by at least some of the people we are studying. The maker of a projectile point or a pot had to take into account that she or he might not be the only user, and the person who discarded the object might not have been the person most directly connected with it.

Graduate students and university professors struggle with these issues and I'm not sure how close we are getting to a resolution. Nevertheless, archaeological science continues and, I think, we are learning more and more about ancient Native American groups. And more and more contemporary Indians are working with archaeologists, bringing very different perspectives and, we all hope, a better rounded view of the past. It is my hope that we will soon begin to work with the American Indians of Charles County, and that we will be offer as much to them as I expect they will teach us.