The Port of Baltimore


Figure 1.  Coconut shell from the Federal Reserve Site.

Figure 1. Coconut shell from the Federal Reserve Site.

So, I have to admit that this week’s artifact is not the most attractive object I have used on the blog. In fact, since you probably can’t even identify it, I will tell you that it is a fragmented coconut shell. This coconut was enjoyed by a family living in the Otterbein neighborhood of Baltimore in the late nineteenth century and recovered from a cellar at the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27). Coconuts are obviously not native to Baltimore, preferring instead to grow in more tropical climes. Thus, this coconut shell can be used to launch a brief history of the Baltimore harbor, since it almost certainly arrived in the city via the port. I was inspired to write on this topic when I heard a story on the radio last week about the longshoremen strike at the Port of Baltimore.

Maryland’s General Assembly authorized the Port of Baltimore in 1706, twenty three years before the town itself was officially established (Brugger 1988). Named for Lord Baltimore, the original port was located at the head of the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River, in what is today the popular visitor destination known as the Inner Harbor. Baltimore’s Mid-Atlantic location meant that the port remained relatively ice-free throughout the winter, allowing trade to be conducted throughout the year. The port was later expanded to include Fell’s Point to the east and southeast. In the nineteenth century it added Canton, located south and east of Fell’s Point. Continue reading

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Slavery In Maryland


Figure 1.   Leather shoe found at Birely Tannery in Frederick, Maryland.  Researchers at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation concluded that it was a slave shoe.

Figure 1. Leather shoe found at Birely Tannery in Frederick, Maryland. Researchers at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation concluded that it was a slave shoe.

Looking back at my blogs over the last three months, I have quite unintentionally fallen into theme-based posts. During the summer, I tended towards sports-related topics and in September and early October, it seemed my posts all had to do with education, as students made their way back to classes. I’m going to break out of that mold and explore a variety of topics over the next few months. This week’s post begins with a leather shoe, deemed to have been made for a slave and found at the Birely Tannery site (18FR575) in Frederick County. This modest footwear will serve as a vehicle for examining the institution of slavery in our state.

The first people of African descent arrived early in the Maryland colony’s history. Mathias de Sousa, a mulatto servant who accompanied Father Andrew White to the colony in 1634, was among the first (Brugger 1988:43). As in the neighboring Virginia colony, some of Maryland’s African population during parts of the seventeenth century appeared to have been employed as servants, working a set period of indenture before gaining their freedom. But as the century wore on and English sources of indentured labor started to evaporate, Maryland’s African population began, as in Virginia, to experience greater levels of discrimination, eventually facing lifetime bondage. Changes in British trading laws with Africa, as well as an increase in the price of tobacco at the beginning of the eighteenth century, allowed more planters the ability to purchase African labor (Brugger 1988:46), thus setting the scene for Maryland to become a slave colony. A law passed in 1664 enslaved all African-Americans brought into the Maryland colony (Proceedings and Acts). Continue reading

The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery—The World’s First Dental College


One of the creepier artifacts that we curate at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab has got to be this set of dentures from a residential neighborhood in the Fell’s Point section of Baltimore. Curatorial assistant Erin Wingfield came across this unusual artifact several years ago while re-housing a collection of artifacts from the Queen Street Lot (18BC52) and she made it the focus of one of her Curator’s Choice essays:(http://www.jefpat.org/CuratorsChoiceArchive/2012CuratorsChoice/Oct2012-TheDisturbingHistoryOfDentures.html). The porcelain teeth are attached with metal pins to the vulcanized rubber (vulcanite) gums and palate.

Figure 1.  Vulcanite and porcelain denture fragments from the Queen Street Lot site (18BC52).

Figure 1. Vulcanite and porcelain denture fragments from the Queen Street Lot site (18BC52).

When I discovered that Maryland was home to the world’s first dental college, I couldn’t resist hauling out the dentures for an encore performance! The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery was chartered in 1840 by the Maryland General Assembly. The mission of this college, founded by Drs. Chapin A. Harris and Horace H. Hayden, was to provide a systematic formal education for dental practitioners (UMSD 2013).

The Baltimore College of Dental Surgery was the birthplace of the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree and served as a prototype for other dental colleges established throughout the United States. Its establishment is considered one of three crucial steps that laid the groundwork of the dental profession in the United States (BCDS 2013); the other two steps were the formation of the American Society of Dental Surgeons and the creation of the first dental journal, the American Journal of Dental Science. All three of these important steps occurred between 1839 and 1840 (Ring 2005). Continue reading