Saturday, December 27, 2008

Milling About

Scott and I were working on a different project today in a different county. Searching through a wooded area near where we were shovel testing, we found a breached earthen embankment that may well be part of a mill dam. These unprepossessing features can be found all over the landscape wherever there are streams with sufficient flow and volume to support one or more mills.

There should be a similar feature north of Port Tobacco where there was at least one mill seat. This kind of mill--water-powered--would have been very different from the steam-powered mill on "the Mill Lot" between the courthouse and Port Tobacco Creek. That mill probably took water from the creek for steam production. Steam power made mills independent of undependable water supplies (particularly during summer droughts and winter freezes) and it allowed millers to operate more efficiently the rolling mills that replaced traditional mill stones and the high-speed circular saws that replaced old-fashioned, slow, up-and-down saws.

I'm not sure what kinds of archaeological features we might find behind the courthouse that would survive from the milling operation (I've only worked on water-powered mills), but a furnace and boiler are likely candidates and probably easily identified.


Friday, December 26, 2008

A Doctor's Town?

While sifting through scores, and possibly hundreds, of Port Tobacco deeds, I was surprised to see quite a few doctors. Some owned the lots on which they resided, others were identified as tenants. One, Dr. Francis Mills, rarely used the honorific. Clues from the land records and items in the Port Tobacco Times suggest that he was more interested in agriculture than medicine.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. A town, especially a one-time port and long-time county seat, would have provided a ready market of patients and a central point from which to make house calls. (For readers under 50 years of age, try conducting a web search on 'house calls;' it is a quaint institution largely erased from the landscape.)

I wonder what sorts of objects we are likely to find in the refuse of country doctors. And I wonder if we will be able to recognize a physician's household refuse when we see it. I'm still confident, however, that the lot research will allow us to connect many of the archaeological deposits in town to specific households.

When the lot research has been completed, we will post a list of physicians and, hopefully, other Port Tobacco professionals and tradespeople, along with whatever biographical material we can muster.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Greetings

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanuka and otherwise enjoy your winter holidays. Now get back to your families and have fun.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Church-County Land Swap

Local lore has it that the County swapped land with the Vestry of Port Tobacco Parish, the new church built on the courthouse site and vice versa. The land record that may be the source of this misunderstanding is Liber IB 17, folio 333, dated 04 August 1821. This deed from the Justices of the Levy Court, replacing one from 1819 which had not been filed, specifies the:

"Lott of Land situate in Port Tobacco Town...whereupon the Church known by the name of Christ's Church now stands, also the land attached thereto for the space of fifteen feet in width."

Although we have not yet found a deed from the vestrymen to a private citizen conveying the one-acre lot originally reserved for the church, it appears that the 'new' Christ's Church was built on the three-acre courthouse lot. The cemetery that we partially exposed this past June very likely lies on the original one-acre church lot and the original church site also probably can be found on that same lot.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Cheer

Click on the link to see the Port Tobacco crew doing a little diddy for you (thanks to Franny's creativity).

Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you!


Deeds Solve Archaeological Mystery

Last June, while excavating around the jail house site, I was struck by the number of early 19th-century ceramic sherds recovered from around the foundations. The reason I was surprised was that I had assumed that the jailhouse was part of the 3-acre lot that was surveyed for the courthouse in 1728.

Two deeds came to light today. The earliest of the two is from Joseph and Rachel Hutton. On January 2, 1859, they conveyed to William M. Lyon "a certain House and lot lying and being in the Village of Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland, known by the name of the Red house containing about one-seventh of an acre more or less" (Land Records JHC 1/67).

On April 24, 1860, William Lyon conveyed that same "Red house" and one-seventh acre to the Commissioners, noting its location as follows: "on the west of the Church & on which the Public Jail is now situated" (Land Records JHC 1/356).

These two deeds clearly indicate that there was a house on the lot and that the house and lot were sold to the County for the construction of a new jail, which occurred in 1859/1860. The domestic refuse, including a number of pearlware sherds, therefore, come not from the jail, but from an earlier dwelling, some of the foundations of which we may have uncovered in June. Moreover, the earlier jail (1818) which remained standing when the new jail was completed, but which the Commissioners ordered dismantled, probably was on the courthouse lot and may be closer to the courthouse than we had anticipated.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Slogging through titles

Nothing much to report...the pile of Port Tobacco deeds that Pete and I have been printing is beginning to cover my desk. It will take a while to process all of this material. More news when there is news.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Incomplete Survey

The PTAP team has prided itself on its extensive survey coverage of Port Tobacco, having excavated well over 400 shovel tests and surface collected many acres to the south; however, there are holes in our coverage, one of which became clear this weekend while I was searching through the land records.

I found a series of six deeds dating between 1863 and 1881, all referencing the same two lots with essentially the same words:

"All of those two lots or parcels of ground situate, lying and being in the Village of Port Tobacco in the said County, running from the street in the rear of the Court House and the P.[rotestant] E. [piscopal] Church, back to Port Tobacco Run and lying between the lots of Mrs. Rose A. Stewart on the North, and the County jail and jail lot on the South."

The 1880 deed adds the following language:

"Together with the Improvements thereon, consisting of a Mill house, and the steam saw, grist, and bone mill."

In short, there was a road running behind the courthouse and Episcopal Church foundation that may be the level terrace that the crew constantly remarks upon, along the west side (stream side) of which there was a steam powered mill that ground grain, cut wood, and ground animal bones, probably for fertilizer. This area remains unsurveyed from the jailhouse lot northward, including Rose Stewart's lot which probably was the Smoot House or Hotel. Yep, we got lots to do.