Saturday, March 8, 2008

And the winner is....

Thanks to everyone who took the time to design logos and to vote in our logo contest.

We will be featuring a blog post from the designer of our winning logo in the near future.


Friday, March 7, 2008

More on Carriage Wheels

Some days ago I wrote about what kinds of artifacts we might find in connection with a carriage shop, specifically cast-iron wagon boxes, also called skeins. These are bearings that were inserted into the hub and through which the axle extended. Packed in grease, they allowed horse-drawn vehicles to move smoothly.

This picture, taken by me years ago at the Museums at Stony Brook on Long Island (they have a world class collection of carriages), shows a partly disassembled carriage wheel in a shop. In the wooden box below, just to the left of the leftmost spoke, is a wagon box. Obviously, it is for a wagon wheel hub and could not possibly have fit into the small wheel hub of a carriage.

The picture to the right shows a wagon wheel with a new-fangled patent wheel. These machine-made hubs eliminated the very specialized skill necessary in turning a wooden hub on a lathe and then cutting the mortises for the spokes. Machine-made hubs and wheels made the appearance in the marketplace as early as the late 1860s and by the 1880s dominated the market. Sarven and Palmer were among the most popular types. Their introduction was part of a general de-skilling of the American workforce. When they appear on carriage, wagon, and wheelwright shops, they indicate a postbellum date for the deposit in which they are found and a craftsman who by choice or the demands of his customers is part of a larger market system through which he purchases parts for repair work rather than making new parts.

The Atzerodt shop probably will not have these artifacts unless it continued in operation after George Atzerodt's execution for his part in the Lincoln conspiracy. We know from the census work that Carol is doing that wheelwrights and blacksmiths continued to work in Port Tobacco at least into the 1880s, so we can expect to find old-style wagon boxes and new-style patent wheel hub parts in town.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Port Tobacco in the News

April once again is winging her way home after a brief sojourn in Maryland. Safe journey.

We have been very fortunate in getting excellent press coverage--both conventional and electronic--since the project began. Here are links to three new articles that deal with our work, either directly or indirectly.

Silt Buries Town, Excavation Begins -

To reiterate three previous announcements:
  1. The Maryland Historical Trust annual workshop will be held this Saturday at 100 Community Place in Crownsville. It will include presentations and demonstrations. Here's the link for fuller information: There is a small registration fee.
  2. The inaugural meeting of the Charles County Archaeological Society will be at the Train Station in La Plata, 7:30 to 9PM, Tuesday, March 11. Scott Lawrence will talk about cemetery research and restoration. Contact me if you have questions:
  3. The Archeological Society of Maryland will hold it annual spring symposium at the First Presbyterian Church on Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, April 12 from 9AM to 3PM. There is a small registration fee.

See you at one or more of these events.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Sometimes Shovel Testing Just Doesn't Work

Maybe we were cursed by the Blue Dog or maybe Scott put a hex on us for having fun without him, either way yesterday's fieldwork did not turn out as planned.

You may recall that our last day of fieldwork was during a wet and cold day in December. We were anxious to get to the rear yard of Chimney House where Atzerodt's carriage shop is reputed to have been located. While laying in the transects along which we were to shovel test, I thought I could pick up the faint depressions that often mark the locations of buried foundation. The crew was cold and wet but focused on the mission. The wet snow picked up and the ground became too muddy to continue and we left the field before completing our mission.

Yesterday we set out to finish what we had started. It was warm and sunny so the conditions seemed right. But it did not take us long to realize that the rear yard of the Chimney House is just too marshy for shovel testing to work. Determined, we excvated a few STPs but soon hit wet clays and sands with little soil development above them. The digging was difficult, the screening was difficult, and there just was not enough artifact content to draw any conclusions.

We stopped digging and spent a bit of time wondering why anyone would build in this marshy area. We considered the possibility that we were being too literal with the "behind the Chimney House" supposed location of the carriage shop. We came up with some alternate plans to test the area, none of which we could attempt with the equipment we had brought that day, and called it a day.

We will do some archival research to help us pin down the carriage shop location and utilize some remote sensing techniques to evaluate the potential for archaeological deposits to exist in the marshy northwest portion of Port Tobacco. We will find Atzerodt's shop, eventually.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Blue Dog

I am sad today. Very sad. Think about how you would feel if your family went to the beach for a weekend of fun and frolic and you couldn’t go. Then they return home and decide they are going on an archaeological dig at Port Tobacco on a warm March day. Again, you cannot go. I am crying right now.

Since I am so depressed right now, I thought I’d share a good ghost story! Now, understand, I was never a believer in the paranormal and certainly did not believe in ghostly apparitions, but the following tale may be grounded into some historic truth. Here is how the legend goes:

After the American Revolution, Charles Thomas Simms was returning from Port Tobacco after a night of drinking in one of the taverns to his home on Rose Hill Road with his faithful blue dog. It seems that Simms had a substantial amount of gold that he kept buried under a large rock on his property. On that fateful night, Henry Hanos decided that he would kill Simms and his dog and steal the gold. After committing the murder, Hanos reburied his ill-gotten booty near a Holly tree. When he went to recover the gold, the faithful, yet ghostly blue dog appeared, scaring Hanos away. The story says Hanos quickly became ill and died.

The legend also says that on February 8th, one can see this deceased doggy appear near the rock where the gold was originally buried. Being one that was skeptical, I decided to find this stone in the wee hours of last February 8th. Imagine my shock and horror when the dog appeared! I managed to contain my fear long enough to take the picture below:

I ran away really fast after I snapped the picture. I was scared.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Back to Port Tobacco Tomorrow

The team (minus the healing Scott) will be out at Port Tobacco on Tuesday. We are going to complete our shovel test survey of the Chimney House and Stagg Hall properties. As always, volunteers are welcome.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

MAAC Conference, Part Deux

Today was the final day of the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference. Jim and Peter presented papers on research in Prince George's County, Maryland (north of Port Tobacco's Charles County).

Jim's paper was entitled "A Burned Earthfast House in Prince George's County, Maryland". The house is part of a site called Garrett's Chance #2 (18PR703 is the official site number). Evidence recovered during excavations at the site suggest that a Dutch-style jambless hearth heated the house and may have been the source of the fire that destroyed the structure in the 1730s or 1740s.

Peter's paper was entitled "Single Component Late Archaic Sites in Prince George's and Cecil Counties, Maryland". The sites, Octoraro Farm (18CE16) and Accokeek Point (18CE16), were small, under 100 feet in diameter, and located along relict stream channels. Despite their similarities, one site was rich in artifacts and the other had small artifact yields. Peter disucced the need for proper sampling intervals in order to identify these low-density sites to gain an increased understanding of Maryland's Late Archaic time period.

Both Jim and Peter did an excellent job with their presentations and were worth getting up early on a Sunday morning...after a night of dancing. I wont say who was dancing, just that some of were alseep way too early in the evening for the last night of a conference...and it probably wasn't who you thought it may be.