Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fall Effort

I was informed this past week that the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium awarded the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco a grant in the amount of $1,000. The money, we hope, will leverage additional funds for the exploration of the Colonial cemetery and search for the first Anglican church in Port Tobacco. On behalf of the PTAP team, I thank the Consortium and its executive director Roz Racanello.

We haven't yet scheduled the work, but I think it will happen in November. Since so many of our readers are interested in the Colonial Period (12 of 35 responses to our latest poll), I think you will find the work interesting. As always, we will post our schedule when we know what it is and we invite your previous experience required.

For those interested in hearing about our findings to date, I will be speaking at the annual dinner meeting of the Charles County Historical Society on Saturday, October 25, 2008: Social Hour 5-6PM, Dinner 6-7PM, me until they throw me out of the joint, the joint being Christ Episcopal Church in Wayside, Maryland. E-mail requests for information to me ( and I'll pass them on to the Society.


Friday, October 3, 2008

William Graham and “The Indians of Port Tobacco” – Part 2

Here is part two of Carol's blog.

*It is not the intent nor wish of the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project to look for or excavate human remains.*

At the Warehouse Landing site four burials were found. All were secondary burials.

First Ossuary -- According to the paper in 1930 William Graham was told that a human skull had been found at Warehouse Point a few years earlier. (Laws and concerns have changed since the 1930’s.) With the landowner’s permission, Graham excavated the first burial site. The pit was oval, and there was no particular order in placing the disarticulated bones from approximately ten skeletons. No stone artifacts nor pottery were found in the ossuary. Near one body there were found eighteen copper tubes or beads. Also two varieties of shell beads were found when the dirt was sifted.

Second Ossuary – In 1933 after a heavy rain, fragments of human bone were found projecting out of the soil at Warehouse Point. Dr T D Stewart of the United States National Museum assisted Graham with the excavation. They found an oval burial pit with the disarticulated bones of about fifty skeletons. There were a clay pipe, two kinds of shell beads, two shell gorgets, and one clay bead,

Third Ossuary – Just north of the second ossuary was found another oval burial pit with approximately one hundred human skeletons. There were also some bones of a dog. No stone artifacts were found. Three kinds of shell beads including the type know as wampum, a shell pendant, two clay pipes, one clay bead, and a bone tool were found in the ossuary.

Fourth Ossuary – East of the first ossuary Dr Stewart worked with Graham to excavate another oval pit that may have contained about twenty-five skeletons. It appeared to be a little different from the others. As in the other ossuaries there were two kinds of shell beads. There were a number of rolled copper beads as well as three triangular flat copper ornaments. Five flat rectangular copper plates were pieced with two holes on opposite corners and still had some sinew or strips of skin on them. Twenty-five small round blue glass beads (2mm to 6mm in diameter) and eleven round opaque white glass beads (5mm in diameter) were found. These glass beads would have been trade beads.

You can read more about these excavations and other ossuaries in Maryland in Dennis Curry's book: "1999 Feast of the Dead: Aboriginal Ossuaries in Maryland. The Archeological Society of Maryland and the the Maryland Historical Trust Press, Crownsville."

- Peter

Thursday, October 2, 2008

William Graham and “The Indians of Port Tobacco” – Part 1

Today is the first in a two part series relating to early 20th Century excavations along the Port Tobacco River authored by one of our volunteers, Carol Cowherd.

In addition to volunteering with the Port Tobacco Project, I also volunteer at the Smithsonian Institute’s Museum Support Center (MSC). At lunch one day I was told that there was a small collection from the Port Tobacco River at the MSC and that there was a paper associated with it. The paper was “The Indians of Port Tobacco River, Maryland, and Their Burial Places” by William J. Graham. The paper had been privately printed in 1935, and I found a copy of a copy. The paper is definitely worth reading. (This is the same paper referenced in the Jan 26, 2008 blog, “Native Americans at Warehouse Landing”.) Here is a brief overview of the Graham’s excavation sites on the Port Tobacco River. Graham designated them as the village sites.

Site 1 – mouth of river on east side (part of Causeen’s Manor) – decaying oyster shells, quartz and quartzite spalls, projectile points, grooved stone axes, considerable number of pottery sherds. Oyster shell deposits extend from water’s edge for 200-300 feet.

Site 2 – further north on west side of river from Deep Point to Fourth Point –oyster shells, broken and chipped quartzite rocks, considerable number of lithics including projectile points and hammer stones.

At Chapel Point --- heavy deposit of shells up to several feet deep. Artifacts and camp refuse was found intermingled with the shells

Site 3 –north of Fourth Point on an area of about twenty acres-–projectile points, broken pottery, lithics including perfect, broken and rejected stone artifacts. Remains of a disturbed burial site were found.

Site 4 – north of Site 3 on 3 to 4 acres that are part of Mulberry Grove farm--many artifacts including stone hoes, broken pottery, and spalls.

Site 5 – near Warehouse Point –large number of lithics including perfect examples, rejects, spalls, stoned grooved axes, and scrapers. Four burial sites were found.

Site 6 – west side of River across from Warehouse Point –projectile points, stone hammers and axes, pottery sherds.

Site 7 – south of Site 6 at Sims’ Point -- many artifacts including pottery sherds.

Site 8 – across the river from Chapel Point – oyster shell deposit that is a few inches to two feet deep and contains quartz and quartzite pieces and pottery sherds.

The paper contains pictures of the some of the artifacts. Excluding any artifacts found in the burials, Graham described some of the artifacts found. Smaller projectile points were mainly made of white quartz. Larger projectile points were mainly made of tan-colored, pink, or gray quartzite. There were sandstone rubbing stones, felsite pestles, sandstone or quartzite mortars, and quartzite hoes, fish line sinkers, and hammers. Pottery was quartz-tempered and usually was of the “outside basket or bark marked type”. He mentioned that there were a few fragments of English trade clay pipes. But he indicated there were no beads, shells, or copper relics found on the surface.

We sure would love to have a map of these sites to relate them to the town itself and also get a look at the artifacts that Graham found. Hopefully Carol's research at the MSC will produce some more interesting finds for us.

An overview of the burials Graham found will be in Part II.

- Peter blogging for Carol
- Thanks Carol!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

African Diaspora Archaeology

To follow up on yesterday's blog, The September 2008 African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter is now available online at:>

In this month's newsletter is a review by Dr. Gibb of Patricia M. Samford's book, "Subfloor Pits and the Archaeology of Slavery in Colonial Virginia".

While I have not read it yet (it's on my table at home waiting to be read), the review Jim gave it was very good and the book could come in very handy in future work at Port Tobacco.
Here are a few snipets from his review:

"Patricia Samford offers her readers a typological approach to the problem of intramural pits on African and African-American sites in the Virginia Tidewater region...Samford's results, based on simple quantitative analyses are compelling. Patterns in feature placement and geometry clearly distinguish hearth-fronting food storage pits from other types of pits...In the well-established tradition of anthropology, with its long association with evolutionary theory, Samford writes much about enslaved Africans coping with or adapting to the conditions of slavery and of a new environment. "

Elsie also came across some interesting tidbits on the slave trade in the Port Tobacco Times abstracts she has been going through. Once Elsie has compiled some of the articles, I will post them here.

- Peter

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Slave Trade

Yesterday I posted a sketch drawn by George Alfred Townsend. He was a war correspondant during the Civil War. He also gave us a description of Port Tobacco which was posted on our blog last year. (see post of Tuesday, September 18, 2007)

In his description, he gives this statement: "Before the war, Port Tobacco was the seat of a tobacco aristocracy and a haunt of negro trades."

We know that residents of Port Tobacco had slaves. There is evidence in the court records, newspapers, and the census data. What we still lack is the archaeological evidence. After the Civil War, we know that the town became a mostly African American population.

Where were these trades or auctions taking place? It wouldn't be surprising that they were held on the courthouse steps as has been seen in other towns. But I am thinking of another possibility that happened in most port towns. In Annapolis, MD, there was a auctioning block right on the docks (right about where "ego alley" is today). Was there a similar area in Port Tobacco or down at Wharehouse Landing?

- Peter

Monday, September 29, 2008

More on George Atzerodt

Over the weekend, for some odd reason, a picture came to my head, one that I had shown Jim and April earlier this year. First a little refresher:

George Atzerodt was a conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

He lived in Port Tobacco with his common law wife Mary Wheeler.

He and his brother ran a carriage shop in town.

One of our objectives for the Preserve America grant has to do with finding that carriage shop. Information gathered led us to believe that the shop was behind the Chimney House.

When we were doing shovel test pits behind Chimney House and found nothing to lead us to believe it was there, we started talking. It was during this conversation that nobody could remember seeing any historic photos of the shop in all the pictures of the house. This is when I spoke up and said that Scott and I had seen one up on the top floor of the courthouse.

Well, as you can see from the picture below, it wasn't a picture, it was a sketch. According to the Wearmouth's book on Port Tobacco, this sketch was done by journalist George Alfred Townsend in 1885, noting that it was a repair/paint shop located behind the house.

Look at the sketch again. Notice anything else odd about it? In all the photos we have of Chimney House, not one of them has a covered front porch on it or even what appear to be remnants of one. If this sketch was done in 1885 and our earliest photographs of the house are in the early 1900's (roughly 1910), then it was torn down before.

Could this be a journalists imagination just trying to make the house look in better condition than it was? Remember that most of Port Tobacco was in shambles after the Civil War as people migrated out of town. Is the repair/paint shop located behind Chimney House?


- Peter

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Church Orientation

First, for those of you expecting a blog Saturday, I posted something Pete had written. Unfortunately, it shows up under Thursday, the day he drafted it. Sorry about that.

As we explore further the possibility of finding the Colonial period Anglican church that likely was associated with the recently discovered cemetery, I've been thinking about what we might find and what it might look like. Last Sunday I suggested that there were two areas--northeast and southeast of the cemetery--where shovel test data collected last year revealed possible building locations. Interestingly, the long axes of the clusters of architectural debris are oriented east-west. This is the same orientation of the 1886 Episcopal Church and it is in keeping with the Christian tradition. Ideally the altar would be at the east end of the church, the direction from which the sun/the Son will rise. Of course, that wasn't the case for the 1886 Episcopal Church, its altar being at the west end of the building.

I think we are looking for earthfast construction, which is to say, postholes and not brick footers or piers. I think it was heated with a wattle and daub fireplace, although it may have had a brick fireback. The amount of brick recovered from the area could indicate a brick chimney and fireplace and it is possible that brick replaced an original wattle and daub arrangement. That would be evident in an excavation that exposed significant portions of the building.

We have not recovered much window glass and none of the lead cames--the crisscross lead supports that held triangular panes in place--that would suggest glazed windows. Testing in the area, however, has been limited to shovel tests at 25 ft intervals and the three 5 ft by 5 ft units that exposed the graves and fence ditch. We need a larger sample.

As to the kinds of non-architectural artifacts that we might find around the church, that is hard to predict. Certainly the team at St. Mary's City has recovered tobacco pipes, religious medals, and a variety of ceramics, bottle glass, and other domestic artifacts near the Chapel Site, but much of that material may be related to the nearby Priests' House Site. We haven't yet searched the literature for comparable sites, so I will forgo any predictions about artifacts.