Friday, June 11, 2010

The Adventures of Valerie, A Former Port Tobacco Volunteer

Some of you may have met Valerie or seen her in some of our excavation photos. Well Valerie is digging at Jamestown this summer as a field school student. Below is a link to her dig blog. Valerie is off to graduate school in the fall. That makes at least 3 Port Tobacco archaeologists starting grad school for archaeology in 2010.


Valerie's Jamestown Blog

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Some Burch News

Thought I'd update everyone on the excavations at the Burch House with some information.

We have been working on the west side of the house uncovering the addition that was put on sometime in the 19th century. Almost all of the foundation has been exposed including some brick paving around the foundation and in between the house and the addition.

There are a few interesting tidbits about the foundation and its construction and use. There aren't any really good photographs of the house with the addition. However, there is one (see below) where we can see the addition (circled in red) on the house. This picture shows a chimney (circled in green) on the addition as well. This would be on the west side of the house in the center of the wall. Ironically, this is also the only part of the foundation wall yet to be exposed or investigated. The northwest corner has been exposed and there is an area of "brick fall" that may or may not be associated with the chimney.We know that the addition was built sometime in the second half of the 19th century. We also know that pictures of the Burch House taken in the 1940's show no addition. One of our wonderful volunteers, Elsie, talked with local resident Jim Barbour who says he doesn't remember an addition going back to the 1930's. So, the addition likely stood for less than 100 years, probably less than 75 years.

A second interesting thing I had noticed is the different use of brick in "solider" courses. Soldier course basically means the bricks are laid on their sides to create a more sturdy course of brick. The two areas I noticed them were on the north and south walls, almost directly across from each other. So my question is, were they used as the doorway entrances to the addition? It would make sense that an area where the most foot traffic would occur would need a sturdier foundation. Of course, the soldier coursing could also have been done to "shore up" a foundation that was faulty or one that was in need of repair. I don't have the answer right now but hopefully by the time our investigations at the Burch House are complete we will have it, along with many other answers.
Yesterday we uncovered a larger portion of the south wall. We found the usual artifacts that have become so numerous in the upper strata of the units: American blue and gray stoneware, pearlwares, whitewares, wine bottles, tobacco pipes, etc. The really neat thing with these is that we found, not just a few...but many intact or mostly intact pieces! Huge pieces of gray stoneware crockery, an intact wine bottle (hand finished), almost complete transfer-printed whitewares, and most had maker-marks as well!! Needless to say, we were all very excited. If you've dug with us at Port Tobacco you know that we find lots of little shards of ceramics and glass, yet rarely do we find any large pieces let alone any intact vessels!

Here's a shot of Kelley cleaning around the large stoneware crock. And to leave you wanting more, here's a little tidbit about that had a name engraved on it!!! Of course, you'll have to stay tuned to find out the name and what we learned about the individual!

Enjoy and hope we see you all again...tomorrow!

- Peter

Monday, June 7, 2010

Come Sail Away...

Today’s blog will review a book about Port Tobacco I read last week:

Tobacco Styx Bridge by Enis St.John is a tragic murder mystery set in post-Civil War Chandlers’ Town. The point of view switches back and forth between Charles Abell, dean of the financially ailing Southern Maryland College in 1987, and his ancestors living at Elysium farm in the 1890’s.

The two parallel stories are based on actual events, but the author plainly states that this is fiction. Those who are part of the Port Tobacco community in one way or another will recognize names and places in the story. For those not familiar with the area the book gives a great a taste of what life was like in late 1800s southern Maryland. As an ignorant, city-dwelling northerner I enjoyed reading about the jousting Tournaments where local farmers and skilled ‘knights’ alike would compete to spear a series in shrinking rings on a sharpened staff. I’d never heard of such a thing in Maryland outside the Renaissance Fair, but Kelley assures me they still occur and is fact the state sport of Maryland.

More overarching themes include family legacy. Is the son responsible for the transgressions of the forefathers? What does one do with unsavory family history?

The historian in me wishes the division between facts and fiction was a bit clearer, but I will most likely just take what I’ve read to the library and look it up. Overall, Tobacco Styx Bridge was an entertaining book that lent some color to my minds-eye sketch of Port Tobacco.

Hope to see you all at Port Tobacco tomorrow!