Saturday, September 5, 2009

Duxul Lexer

Laurie, Jim, and I spent the day recovering markers at St. Nicholas again. We recovered another 10 markers and we are about 81% complete! After 7 years of this project, we are all eager for it to end.

We recovered two markers today that reminded me of some other markers I had seen at St. Ignatius Cemetery in St. Inigoes. These metal crosses have names and dates on the front and a curious inscription on the back. For years this inscription baffled me.

Duxul Lexer

It just didn't make sense. I contacted Fr. Rory Conley about what it meant. Fr. Conley did not have the quick answer, but consulted with Rev. Msgr. Joseph Ranieri of the Archdiocese of Washington and he has determined the following:

First off, "duxul" and "lexer" are not Latin words. However, with "X" as the center, you have four Latin words: "dux" meaning guide; "lex" meaning law; "lux" meaning light, and rex meaning king. An "X" of course is an ancient symbol for Christ. Thus, the inscription probably means "Christ is my guide, my law, my light, my king."

Brilliant! Those Catholics sure were crafty!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Carol Cowherd

Carol Cowherd has been more than a regular volunteer since the beginning of the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project...she has been an integral part of the team. This week's eye-on-the-team piece highlights Carol (photograph, right, working with Tom Forhan on initial town survey).

Carol trained as a chemist and brings the chemist's concern for detailed observation and recording to the archaeological enterprise. I don't know from where she gets her energy and commitment, both qualities that served her well as an early successful candidate in the Archeological Society of Maryland's Certified Archeological Technician program.

Readers may recall two recent blogs on town layout research, one of which was posted yesterday. Peter and I made significant progress in this effort early in the year, but Carol has been carrying the ball for the past few months and making measurable progress. She may be close to cracking the nut on how the town was lotted and where those lots are on the current landscape.

Apart from an interest in tropical fishes that Carol shares with her husband, she is a regular volunteer at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation laboratory and serves as vice-president of the newly formed Charles County Archaeological Society.

Hats off to Carol Cowherd!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Widow's Venture

About a week ago Carol sent me a reference to a pair of lots in Port Tobacco. It wasn't clear to me that they were in Port Tobacco. The recording clerk omitted reference to the town...they could, for example, be located in Benedict. But the patent certificate (N0. 508) does mention John Chandler and he is inextricably tied to the lots of Port Tobacco. The resurvey was undertaken for Jannette Kinswan who held a life estate in the property after her husband's death. After her death, the property was supposed to escheat (legally revert) to Lord Baltimore.

This document is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it establishes the relative positions of three lots: 46 (the northernmost), 45, and 38. The juxtaposition of Lots 38 and 45 has ramifications for locating the Indian King Hotel.

Second, the resurvey for which the patent certificate was issued provides details about what was on the lots when they were surveyed on January 22, 1763. That description reads as follows:

The above is very good ground and have on them the following Improvements; Vizt., on Lott No 38 part of an outhouse [unspecified heated building, not a privy] that is 22 ft long and 18 ft wide with a brick Chimney and 300 ft of very old rough pailing [picture a picket fence]--on Lott No 45 the remaining part of the above Out house, also one dwelling house 30 ft long and 28 ft wide with 2 brick chimneys, 4 rooms and a passage below (no Inside work done above stairs), two sash windows, a shed along one end of said house 14 ft wide with a small brick chimney the whole much out of repair; Kitchen 28 ft long and 16 ft wide with a brick Chimney and 2 12 ft square meat houses.

The description indicates an unfinished, but deteriorating dwelling with a heated outbuilding, kitchen building, and other outbuildings. The dwelling appears to have been a 1-1/2 Georgian style house with a central door and passage and symmetrically paired rooms on each side of that passage. The "Outhouse" straddled the lot line indicating that lots 38 and 45 had been paired for some years. We haven't yet integrated this new information into our graphical model of the town, although Carol certainly has been working on it.

Archaeologists often undertake sophisticated analyses to determine the functions of the buildings that they find. If a document like Patent Certificate 508 can be accurately placed on the ground, we should be able to determine with greater confidence the functions and dates of the buildings we find.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What's it?

I think it was Kelley who brought this to me the other day while cataloging Port Tobacco material with Anne. She asked me what it was. I had an immediate and authoritative answer: I do not know.

About an inch and a half long and stamped out of a copper alloy, this piece appears to be some sort of clasp or brooch. Figured on the obverse side (left in the image) is a woman's head in profile view. The style is unmistakeably Classical Revival.

There have been several revivals of classical motifs in Western history...the mid- to late 18th century, 1820s through 1850s, and early 20th dating this piece on strictly stylistic grounds would be dodgy. The stamping technology, however, suggests a mid-19th-century vintage or later. Any comments or insights would be appreciated. We are unlikely to conduct our own detailed research into it for some time...we need to finish cataloging the remainder of the collection first.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat

Archaeologists need to know a great deal about a wide array of often unrelated topics. There are four ways to keep up: attend conferences, read, read, and read. From time to time team members will write about what they have been reading. I have been catching up on a long-neglected part of my education: the American Civil War, particularly tactics and artifacts.

I've just completed The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat by Earl J. Hess (University Press of Kansas, 2008). Hess examined the oft-claimed assertion that the newly created rifle musket was at the core of the high casualty rates and often indecisive battles that prolonged the war. Rifling, or scoring of the interior, of the muzzle-loaded, single shot musket increased accuracy and distance over the unrifled weapons that characterized earlier military arsenals.

Hess has written a very readable book and clearly makes the case that the vast majority of soldiers on both sides of the conflict were not trained in the use of this weapon, particularly in the difficult task of estimating target distances to accommodate the peculiar trajectory of a projectile fired from a rifled gun. He also demonstrates that battles prior to, during, and after the Civil War typically were fought at close quarters, with combatants firing at ranges of less than 150 yards. Sharpshooters could hit targets a half mile or more distant, but their efforts did not materially alter the course of any battle. Skirmishers, fighting in open order instead of massed battle lines, picked their targets, but they did so at close quarter. (Massed battle lines tended to fire in unison with little concern for picking individual targets.)

It remains to be seen whether archaeology can contribute to the discussion of the role of rifle muskets or other technological innovations in the prosecution of war. Certainly we recover spent ordnance, dropped and discarded projectiles, and battle lines through archaeological investigations of battlefields and encampments. I suspect, however, that the intensity of sampling...the amount of digging...necessary to recover detailed information on the use of various weapons in a battle is far beyond what most archaeological investigations entail. That level of study might require more resources (read money) than can be mustered for any one project, and the result would be the complete, or nearly complete excavation of a battlefield, leaving nothing for future generations to excavate.

Be that as it may, greater understanding of a process or event will make us better at studying related sites and assemblages of artifacts. And so, we all continue to read, take notes, question, and read some more.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Connecticut Copper Cent

While cataloging material from Stratum 1 of Unit 76 (Jamieson field) on Friday, Kelley and Anne found what appeared to them to be a coin. It had been broken in half and it was well-worn.

I looked at it today and noticed the letters CONN on the obverse of the piece. If that meant Connecticut, it would be easy to identify, placing its mint date between the end of the Revolutionary War and the signing of the US Constitution (1790), which vested the right to mint coinage with the Congress (Article I, Section 8).

Indeed, I found an image of the complete coin on the site of the American Numismatics Society ( While the newly erected state of Connecticut minted several versions of this same copper cent between 1785 and 1789, the one pictured below our find is close enough for present purposes. It shows on the obverse the head of a Roman soldier or statesman and the words AUCTORI CONNECT (which I translate as "under the authority of Connecticut"). The reverse depicts Britannia encircled with the words INDE ET LIB, abbreviations for what I translate as Independence and Liberty. The date should appear on our find, but the piece is too badly worn to see it.

I do not know how long these coins remained in circulation as quasi-tender. Prior to the middle of the 19th century, coins from the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands frequently were used in commerce because of the scarcity of American coins. Copper coins, and other base metal coins, often were viewed with suspicion because their value was based on tacit consent and trust. Gold and silver coins had intrinsic value and were always welcome, whereas the copper in a copper cent was worth less than the face value of the coin. Paper currency was similarly distrusted.