Saturday, February 23, 2008

More on April's Hypothesis

This photograph is one example of what April wrote about yesterday. It purportedly shows the Owen House in 1925. The young African American woman walking by may have been a resident; we do not know. We do know that there was a large African American population in the vicinity after the Civil War and, likely, before as well. Carol Cowherd has been collecting census data for Port Tobacco and its immediate environs...she should have a thing or two to say on the matter soon.

Last December, I came before the Charles County Commissioners to ask them to support a federal grant application that I had put together, which they did. After my presentation, one of the commissioners, Dr. Edith Patterson, asked me to be sure that we addressed African American history in the course of our research, especially the matter of slavery. I did not have a response for her.

In part, as an anthroplogically trained archaeologist I take for granted that we will explore all facets of a community...that is what we do and it is one of archaeology's principal strengths that it examines the lives of the general populace, including those of the poor and disenfranchised, and not just the wealthy and politically powerful. I've got to admit, as well, that I'm not sure what we can contribute to the understanding of slavery that has not already been discovered by a host of very able archaeologists specializing in the subject and period of slavery. No doubt that opinion will change with immersion in the subject.

But I have another interest and one, I suspect will be shared by others: African American life after Emancipation, and specifically the formation of African American communities through development of African American institutions. This is the story of groups that, in the face of Jim Crow laws, general racial bigotry, poverty, and highly circumscribed economic opportunity created bonds of community, political systems, schools, churches, and businesses. It is a story that brings the researcher and reader much closer to the realities of the early 21st century. And it is a story that can be explored and told largely through the study of African American institutions.

Happily, half the team (April and I) have been part of a growing movement in archaeology to study local institutions; first in our research and publication on rural one-room schoolhouses, and currently in editing a book on the archaeology of institutional life, a book filled with contributions from scholars in the USA, the United Kingdom, and Australia (anticipated publication in December 2008, University of Alabama Press). We will study African American life in Port Tobacco, looking at the formation and growth of African American institutions alongside those of their European American neighbors, and the persistence of those institutions after many of the European American institutions left town...along with much of the European American population...with the county seat.

As in all things related to the history and archaeology of Port Tobacco, we welcome collaborators, professional and avocational.


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Birth of a Research Idea

Some archaeologists love the field, some love the lab. I love the lab because to me the artifacts tell us more as a collection then they do at the time of discovery. My research ideas usually hit me in a moment of quiet reflection, bubbling to the surface usually at inopportune while driving or swimming. I describe this idea fermentation process as "becoming one with my assemblage".

Here is what bubbled to the surface this morning.

In the 1860s, Port Tobacco had obvious Southern sympathies despite its location in the North. So, it has always struck me that most of the photographs of people that I have seen within the collection of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco are images of proud African Americans, two in particular standing in front of houses that they presumably resided in. I find this quick transition to be quite interesting.

Here is the idea.

Could it be that when the North won the Civil War the Southern whites left Port Tobacco?
Further, with the bad publicity that Port Tobacco received after the Lincoln Assassination it is possible that some Northern whites left the town too. A Port Tobacco exodus, along with the silting of the port, would have dropped the price of property in the town and, in doing so, created a unique opportunity for African Americans to take up residence in the once proud town. Given the political climate of the time, this may have been a factor in the movement of the County courthouse to La Plata. The aggressive act of burning the courthouse is evidence that this relocation was an emotional issue.

What do you think?


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Frider Coin

Well, this isn't directly related to Port Tobacco, but a friend directed a question from New York to me, and what we all learned was, I think, interesting. It is also the sort of thing we are likely to run into time and again at Port Tobacco.
This woman from New York had acquired the piece that you see above while living in of several things that someone had collected but left no detailed record of. She thought that it was a medallion and, based on our telephone conversation, that sounded correct. By no means an authority on religious medals (or anything else if you ask the other folks on the team), I said I would post it and let colleagues from around the world know that it could be viewed on this blog. When I received the images of the front and back, I was certain that it was a coin from one of the German states (long before a unified Germany emerged in the late 19th century) and that had been modified to be worn as a charm or medallion.
Not being an authority on coins either, I passed the images onto Will Mumford, a numismatist and avocational archaeologist in Annapolis. Not being able to improve on his findings, and somewhat in awe at his meteoric response, I quote Will:
"This is a coin from the German State of Brunswick-Luneburg-Calenberg issued by Johann Friedrich (1625-1679). The denomination is 2 Mariengroschen, which is equal to 16 pfennigs or 1 1/2 groschens. (24 groschen = 1 thaler). The coin is described as "wildman, tree in right hand" (KM # 105). If you google on Johann Friedrich Duke of Brunswick, you can find out about him."
So there it is.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wade Smithy

And here, the last bit from the 1880 Manufacturing Schedules of the US least for now.

The census marshal recorded C.Edward Wade in the Population Schedule as a wheelwright...a craftsman who makes and repairs vehicle wheels. (Having written my master's thesis on these guys, and a wheelwright shop in New York in particular, I might regale our readers with wagon and wheelmaking trivia in a future post.) In the Manufacturing schedules, however, wheelwright is struck and blacksmithing inserted. The two crafts are closely related.

Wade's shop operated full time 10 months of the year, part-time the remaining two months. He was assisted by one man, whom he paid at either skilled ($1.35/day) or unskilled (.75) rates.

We don't know where his shop was located. We do know that Mr. Barbour identified Coombs blacksmith shop directly across the drive from the Burch House. We don't know if Coombs occupied an earlier shop used by Wade. We are fairly certain that we found traces of a blacksmith shop at that location and hope to explore it further.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Courthouse Records Sent Home

Don from the Crossed Sabers blog posted a letter written by a Union Calvary officer, Charles Bates, stationed in Port Tobacco, to his parents in New Haven, Connecticut. It was February 1863, and the soldiers had taken up residence in the courthouse. An excerpt from the letter is below

"I spent the forenoon in exploring the garret of the courthouse, and truly it was “a pursuit of knowledge under difficulties,” for my head would afford a fine study for a phrenologist to feel the “bumps,” but I have my reward in about nine cartloads of old records and papers, a sample of which I will send you. Ask Johnson to read the writing on the old plan of the courthouse I enclosed."

So, it looks like some of the more interesting records of Port Tobacco left Maryland about 150 years ago. Since Charles' letter to his parents made its way into the historical record instead of being discarded, we hope that the courthouse documents did the same and that it is just a matter of time before they are found. I sent an email to the New Haven Historical Society, asking if they can be of any assistance. I'll let you know when I hear back from them.

P.S. Scott will be back next week!

Monday, February 18, 2008

More about Milling

Last week I wrote about Andrew Chapman's grist and sawmill on Kennicks Branch of the Wicomico River, and more particularly about some details of the complex as recorded by the census marshal in 1880. Well, Chapman had a competitor in the Port Tobacco district; a competitor that did not depend on the vicissitudes of rainfall and available water, and who did not need a mill seat. James S. Ammon owned a mill with a steam engine that generated 28 horsepower, 75% more than Chapman's overshot water wheel.

Ammon had only one run of stones, as opposed to Chapman, but he ran his mill full time 6 months a year, and half-time the remaining 6 months. Chapman's gristmill was idle 9 months of the year. Ammon ground a little more livestock feed (36,000 pounds), and less than a quarter of the corn meal that Chapman's mill produced; but he ground 18,000 bushels on corn and rye (no wheat, apparently) to Chapman's 9200. Both mills custom milled only, and both millers produced comparable amounts of board feet of lumber in their respective sawmills.

Whether powered by steam or water, both millers provided critical services and products to the community. Identification and archaeological study of both mill sites would offer insights into their sizes and configurations. More importantly, we would have the opportunity to identify engineering solutions to problems in staffing the complexes and meeting market demand, as well as determine whether Chapman and Ammon expanded their respective mill complexes to garner larger market shares from one another or from competing millers in neighboring districts.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Port Tobacco News from Around the Web

Public Meeting Scheduled for Religious Freedom Byway Corridor
From Southern Maryland Online - MD,USA

"Local County governments will be holding a public meeting on Wednesday, February 27, to discuss the Religious Freedom Tour Byway that will traverse southern Maryland.

The Religious Freedom Byway incorporates many of the nation’s oldest churches, the site of the first Roman Catholic Mass held in English-speaking America, and Maryland’s colonial capital, Historic St. Mary’s City.

The byway generally follows along the Maryland shore of the Potomac River from Port Tobacco to Point Lookout along State Routes 225, 301, 234 and 5. "

Our logo contest was announced on the Charles County Cafe.

Crossed Sabers posted two additional Charles Bates letters written from Port Tobacco in 1863. Both contain interesting information about the Union Calvary's operations in the town.