Saturday, October 18, 2008

ASM Annual Meeting

Just back from the annual Archeological Society of Maryland meeting held in Frederick. The presentations, as advertised, covered the late prehistoric period and early encounters with Europeans. Unlike many interpretations in recent years, which have focused on environmental change and local cultures adapting to those changes, these six presentations focused on the movement of people and goods.

The two trade beads recovered from Port Tobacco would have fit very well with those shown by a couple of the presenters. It is still early in the Port Tobacco research, but I'm confident that we will have something to contribute to this discussion in a couple of years. In the shorter term, I am proposing to the ASM board that the Spring Symposium take on the preceramic cultures of the Chesapeake, an area for which we already have some good data from the fields south of town.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Mulberry Grove

Just to follow up on our efforts at Mulberry Grove and the search for John Hanson. Jim and I were out there on Monday and finished the mapping which you can see below. While Jim was presenting a talk for the Garden Club at the Port Tobacco Courthouse, I excavated in the spot where a bush was taken out awhile back next to the graves of Peter Contee and Elizabeth Hanson. I dug a trench 1.5 feet wide by about 4 feet long (shown in red on the map). It was a possible spot for a grave but it was not to be. After reaching a depth of 3.5 feet, I found nothing and excavation was stopped. What many of us thought to be a good location for the possible grave of John Hanson turned out to be nothing at all. A different approach is needed to find John Hanson.

- Peter

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Drafting the Jailhouse

As Jim mentioned yesterday, I am working on the field session report. Today I have been focusing on the Jailhouse Locus and drafting all of the profiles and plan views of the foundation walls that Scott and company uncovered. It has actually been a little more difficult than I had thought. Because of the dense vegetation and root system where the jailhouse site is, it was hard to get an exact 5x5 unit set up in there. As you may remember, we put in one 2x10 foot trench. My point is that when trying to "fit" the plan view of the foundation I have to make adjustments for the "off" dimensions of the unit. Not a huge problem but one that takes a little maneuvering to make it fit.

Below is a picture of Unit 20 with the foundation wall put in. Without a 3D model of the foundation, it looks like a flat line of bricks. The numbers help to delineate the courses of brick, 1 being the top course on down to course 6. Once I am finished with all the units in the jailhouse, it will go into the site report and I will also put an image on the blog again of the whole jailhouse lot with the foundations in the corresponding units.

- Peter

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Report Writing

Pete has been steaming along on drafting figures, analyzing data, and writing text for the report on the June field session. This will be the first report for which Pete will be listed as a co-author...the first of many to come.

We're doing well, but we will not get the report done this week.

I've gone back to the aboriginal pottery to take a closer look. I've set up a spreadsheet that allows us to describe the principal attributes of each sherd, thereby justifying for ourselves and our successors the classes to which we have assigned each sherd.

I tried out the new system today with material from the plowzone in Unit 11. The result: I think I've identified both Potomac Creek and Moyaone pottery types, both of which are very late forms and consistent with the trade beads that we have recovered. There are also a few very small fragments that defy classification beyond 'sand-tempered aboriginal pottery.'

As with the other three reports, this one will be posted on the website of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco ( just as soon as we are satisfied with its form and content.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Washington Post Article on John Hanson

From the article "Historian seeks to honor first 'president'".

"Mr. Michael thinks Hanson was buried at Mulberry Grove, in Charles County's Port Tobacco, after he died in 1783 at Oxon Hill Manor, in Prince George's County.

Mr. Ashbury thinks Hanson is likely buried on the manor because people were generally interred as fast as gravediggers and families could bury the dead."

And the debate continues.


Monday, October 13, 2008

ASM Annual Meeting

On Saturday, October 18, 2008, from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM, the Archeological Society of Maryland will hold its annual meeting at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, East Church Street, in Frederick, Maryland.

The slate of speakers will discuss various Maryland sites occupied during the Late Woodland Period (ca. AD 900 - 1700), a period of considerable interest for the project, especially since many of the sites that will be discussed lie within the same river drainage (the Potomac) as Port Tobacco.

The meeting is open to all. There is a small charge. Details are available from There are a number of very nice eateries within walking distance of this downtown meeting site and there will be ample time for dining, so take your favorite archaeologist out to lunch.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Father Andrew White and the Village of Portobac

Maryland is fortunate in having many documents that survive from initial European colonization, and most of those are in print or otherwise publicly accessible. One of the earliest compilations of early Maryland documents is Clayton Colman Hall's (1910, 1925) Narratives of Early Maryland, 1633-1684, reprinted by Heritage Books (1988) of Bowie, Maryland.

Among the passages from the annual letters of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to their superiors in Europe is one reporting on the efforts of Father Andrew White in the region in 1642. It mentions that the so-called Empress of/from Pascataway (Piscataway) had been baptized in St. Mary's City and there was learning English. Then follows the following quotation:

Almost at the same time most of the town called Portobacco received the [Catholic] faith with baptism; which town, as it is situated on the river Pamac, (the inhabitants call it Pamake, [Hall states that it is now called Port Tobacco Creek]) almost in the center of the Indians, and so more convenient for excursions in all directions, we have determined to make our residence; and the more so, because we fear that we may be compelled to abandon Pascataway on account of its proximity to the Sesquesehanni, which nation is the most savage and warlike of these regions, and hostile to the Christians (p. 136).

On the strength of this short passage, then, we know that the small group of Jesuit missionaries intended to establish a mission along Port Tobacco Creek in the early 1640s, encouraged by ready access to Indians throughout the area and impelled by the threat of Susquehannock attacks on their base in Piscataway, further up the Potomac River in Prince George's County.

One of our tasks in exploring the archaeological record of Port Tobacco is to generate some expectations of what we might find, both of the "town called Portobacco" and of the Jesuit mission, and then to see if we can find that evidence in our excavations. While these tasks sound simple enough, they lead to a welter of questions, and I'll leave you today with some of them. Feel free to opine on any or all of them by commenting on this posting.
  1. What was Portobacco like before Father Andrew White made contact? Was it a village in the sense of a dense settlement occupied the year round, or was it a dispersed settlement of households along several miles of river front with small groups decamping from time to time to hunt and gather elsewhere in the region?
  2. Did missionization alter the appearance of Portobacco, perhaps with greater concentration of the Indians in a core area? And, if the latter, where was that core area?
  3. We have already recovered two European trade beads from the Holt and Compton properties, but is there evidence of more intensive trade and adoption of European material culture by the Indians? Did they Europeanize their houses, or did they continue to build their houses as they had prior to European contact? For that matter, what did those pre-contact house look like?
  4. Did early European settlers adopt any of the ways of their Indian hosts? For example, what did the house of Father Andrew White and his lay assistants look like and did they adopt aboriginal dietary patterns?
We'll have many more such questions, each of which prompts a series of more detailed questions.