Saturday, January 24, 2009

Being a Scot in the Chesapeake

Tomorrow marks the 250th birthday of Robert Burns. For the most part, that event will go unnoticed in the United States. Apart from Scotch whiskey, there is little about Scotland that crosses the mind of the average modern American. And yet the Chesapeake region teemed with Scots men and women during the 18th century. Many were merchants, physicians, and educators and they, more than any other European nationals, gave rise to urban life in the Colonial Chesapeake. In no place is that clearer than in the towns along the Potomac River, especially Alexandria, Virginia, and Port Tobacco, Maryland.

The land title research that Pete and I have been working on has turned up many Scots and a strong connection between those of Alexandria and Port Tobacco. Thanks to David Dobson's Scots on the Chesapeake, 1607-1830 (Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1992), we know a fair amount about the Alexandria Scots. Those of Port Tobacco, however, did not appear in many of the sources that Dobson used in his compilation. Local land and other legal records, however, have proven fruitful and we could easily add dozens of names to his list.

Lists of names, places of origin, occupations, and death dates are important data in developing a historical study of a select group of people; but those data have little to offer when we try to understand how those immigrants thought of their new lives in North America and how they felt about family and friends left in the Old World, perhaps never to be seen again.

Scotland's poet laureate had, at one time, considered emigrating to the New World. His short life may have been even shorter had he done so...disease and the hazards of sea travel took a heavy toll on immigrants of all ethnicities. He also would have been a late arrival, the majority of expatriate Scots having relocated to the Americas soon after the uprisings of 1715 and 1745, many in shackles and sold into indentured servitude. Robbie Burn's paeans to the land and people of Scotland did not yet exist when many Scots came to these shores, but I have no doubt that in the late 1700s many a Scot's eye would glisten upon hearing a recitation of Burns' My Heart's in the Highlands.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Quick Survey of Local Archives

Pete and I were in the Port Tobacco area today to move the traveling exhibit from the County administrative building in La Plata to the library at the College of Southern Maryland. While in the neighborhood, we stopped in at the Orphan's Court to look through probate records and then we went to the college library's Southern Maryland Research Room.

We picked up some interesting leads at the Orphans' Court, but it was going through the substantial notes of John and Roberta Wearmouth at the college library that we found lots of interesting leads. We'll pursue them over the next week or so and then return to mine the records. We only looked at one of ten boxes of notes that the Wearmouths donated to the library. We hope to build on that work.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Indian Pottery Workshop

The next meeting of the Charles County Archaeological Society will be held on Tuesday, February 10 at 7:30 PM, at the Port Tobacco Courthouse. I'll will lead a workshop on Indian pottery. Using pottery sherds recovered from Port Tobacco and other sites in the region, as well as slides, we will learn the fundamentals of identifying the various pottery types that occur in Southern Maryland. I will provide some supplementary materials for folks to take home.

If you have any pottery that you would like me to look at, bring it along.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Frederick Stone

As we have been going through the land records and abstracts from the newspapers many different names pop up. As well as many entries with the same names. The most common name that kept popping up (at least one which stuck in my mind more than others) was that of Frederick Stone.

At first it was just in the land records that he was acting as trustee for someone in a land deal. Then as I went through the newspaper abstracts I started to learn more about him.

Here's what I have found out so far (from the University of Maryland Library website), with more research to come: Frederick Stone was born February 7, 1820, in Charles County, Maryland. He was the only son of Frederick D. and Eliza Stone. His paternal grandfather was the Maryland judge and lawyer Michael Jenifer Stone. Frederick Stone began his career in Charles County as a lawyer; he was later elected to Congress in 1868 and reelected in 1870. He served as senior defense counsel in the trial of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who was convicted as a member of the John Wilkes Booth conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Stone was a member of the defense team of David E. Harold, another convicted co-conspirator. Stone also served in the Maryland State Legislature from 1864 to 1865 and from 1871 to 1873 as well as a judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals from 1881 to 1890. When not in a position of public service, he continued to practice law at Port Tobacco in Charles County. Maryland law in 1890 stated that judges could not serve past seventy years old, but Stone was a sufficiently well-respected judge that a number of people lobbied on his behalf in the Maryland legislature to have the law changed to allow him to continue to serve. This measure was defeated, and Stone was forced to retire.

The University of Maryland Library has a collection of papers belonging to Frederick Stone, mostly to his wife, Jennie, and his daughters.

There is also a copy of an oral history interview between John Wearmouth and Colonel Frederick Stone Matthews, the grandson of Frederick Stone and son of his daughter Jennie Stone Matthews. It contains information about Stone family genealogy and life in Charles County and Port Tobacco in the early nineteenth century. Also included is a discussion of Frederick Stone's involvement in the Lincoln assassination trials and race relations in Charles County.

At some point, we will be producing more detailed 'biographies' of the citizens of Port Tobacco, which will lead us to reading and sorting through collections of papers and oral histories such as this one and others.

- Peter

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Abstract Project Completed

Pete finished the Port Tobacco Times abstract project this afternoon. We have 576 distinct entries in the database...that is a large number of newspaper items and advertisements. We will check most if not all of them against the originals to confirm content and to determine what useful details may not have been included in the abstracts.

We continue to enlarge the land title database and Pete will start taking the entries and more rigorously establishing linkages.

These projects take a long time and they are tedious, but we expect to create a solid database on which to assemble and interpret our archaeological data. That's science for you.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Court House Fire

There has been plenty of published accounts of what happened to the Court House when it burned down in 1892. The records have been scoured for information and we all know the story pretty well.

I am now through the Port Tobacco Times abstracts up to 1894. There is quite a bit of information about the Court House fire in the papers too. Here are a couple of the more interesting tidbits about the fire that may not be so well known to everyone.

In 1881, a T.R. Farall, removed two bricks from the Court House to be used as part of the cornerstone of the new Court House in La Plata that he backs and states that he will be back for more later.

The fire was first discovered by James A. Mason, a colored barber.
Only one female helped in the removal of records from the Clerk's office during the fire, Lillian C. Schureman, teacher of the local colored school.

Back to Mr. Farall...he, along with J.B. Mattingly and other citizens who were "questioned" in the Court House fire, had a shop and lived in La Plata and also was a leading backer to the new democratic newspaper to be opened in La Plata.

J.B. Mattingly "finished" the job that Farrall started by purchasing the bricks from the destroyed Court House for $7.50 per thousand, substantially less than the $12.00 per thousand it was supposed to get!

Maybe its just coincidence but...I smell conspiracy!!!

- Peter

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Centennial Hotel

I was searching the Maryland State Archives online land records this afternoon to fill in some holes in our chains of title. In doing so I found several conveyances that form a solid chain for Lot 4 and the 'Long Tavern' (1809). By the middle of the 19th-century it had been acquired by David Middleton who called his establishment the Union Hotel. In 1876, George J. R. Huntt acquired the Union Hotel and renamed it the Centennial Hotel, presumably to commemorate the nation's 100th anniversary.

In 1880, Huntt conveyed the Centennial Hotel to his father, George A. Huntt. In subsequent conveyances the parcel, now owned by the Calvert family, has been called the 'old Centennial Hotel lot.'

While the original Long Tavern probably was demolished or heavily rebuilt, it seems likely that there was a hotel on the south side of the village square at least as early as ca. 1800. Much of the material recovered last June from this area may relate to the operation of a hotel or other hospitality provider.