Monday, September 6, 2010

Atzerodt Carriage Shop Site Suspected!

Readers will note from previous postings that we have looked for the carriage shop and house of Lincoln conspirator George A. Atzerodt. Previously the team focused on the land immediately behind the Barnes-Compton, or Chimney, House. The reason for doing so was a sketch and remark made by George Townsend in his 1865 book on the assassination of President Lincoln. We had reason to question the veracity of the sketch, April having pointed out several inconsistencies.

Today, while working on our final report for the Preserve America grant, which funded our exploration of Civil War era Port Tobacco, I put together several bits of information that resulted in the formulation of a hypothesis: the Atzerodt carriage shop and the house in which George Atzerodt lived with Mrs. Elizabeth Wheeler might have been leased from wheelwright Griffin Carter, and that property lies on the east side of Chapel Point Road, where we have not undertaken any archaeological investigations, directly across from the road that runs west to the courthouse.

There were three individuals listed for Port Tobacco in the 1860 census engaged in the horse-drawn vehicle trade, and three others in the 1870 census. Only two (Griffin Carter and Charles E. Wade) owned land and their holdings included the Hamilton lot (a portion of the subsequently named Dr. Neale lot) from as early as 1842 until 1895. It is possible, and even likely, that Rufus Vincent, John E. Daily, and Charles E. Wade worked for Carter, and subsequently (by 1870) Washington Pye and Ralph H. Way worked for Wade, Carter having died by 1866. If true, the Atzerodts may have leased the carriage and wheelwright shop in 1857 from the then 52-year-old Carter. All of the deeds from 1852 onward note that the lot was situated on the east side of the road that runs south to north through the village, with the lot of the late William Boswell on the north and most of the east side, and the lot of John Hamilton on the south and part of the east side. The 1852 deed also places the lot “under the hill at the head of the street running east from the courthouse” (Land Records RHM 1/401, May 4, 1852).

This chain of title is partial and may include errors, especially because Lot 59 was divided and conveyed in small portions; e.g. Land Record JHC1/450, dated October 1, 1860, wherein Griffin Carter conveyed a northern strip of his houselot to Dr. Bennett Neale whose houselot bordered the north line of Carter’s houselot. The chain of title is integral to the proposition that Griffin Carter’s house and shop were on the east side of Chapel Point Road opposite the road that leads directly east of the courthouse (shifted slightly since the 1970s). Other archival data might be sought to determine whether the Atzerodts had leased Carter’s shop between 1857 and 1859.
, and, of course, archaeological survey should uncover the remains of 19th-century vehicle making and repair.

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