Maryland’s Wine Industry: A Long History

Figure 1.  Complete wine bottle from the King’s Reach site.

Figure 1. Complete wine bottle from the King’s Reach site.

As the days grow longer and the weather warmer (finally!), my thoughts begin to turn to a nice glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. And how lucky we are to have Perigeaux Vineyards and Winery right up the road from us at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum-a nice Friday happy hour venue!

Sales of Maryland wines totaled over 24 million dollars in fiscal year 2011 (Maryland Wine 2014) and the industry continues to grow. The late 17th-century wine bottle shown here was recovered at the King’s Reach plantation site (18CV83) in Calvert County, today home to at least five wineries. The modern production of wine in Maryland can be dated back to 1945, when Philip Wagner opened Maryland’s first winery, Boordy Vineyards, in Baltimore County (Appellation America 2014).

But winemaking has a long history in our state, dating back as far as the early days of the colony. In February of 1638, Father Andrew White wrote to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore to urge him to consider viticulture as a viable source of income for the colony. Father White had apparently tasted wine made from the local muscadine grape the previous year and pronounced it “not inferior in its age to any wine of Spaigne” (Lee 1889). Continue reading

Waterfront Amusement Parks in Maryland

Figure 1.  A sample of beads from Brownie Beach.

Figure 1. A sample of beads from Brownie Beach.

Two or three times a year, staff at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab will get a call from a local citizen who has been beachcombing along the Chesapeake Bay at Brownie’s Beach.  While better known as a place for hunting fossils from the Miocene, the calls we get are about the small, colorful glass beads that are also a common find there.   Many people think they have discovered Indian trade beads, while in actuality the beads are of a more recent vintage.  Two likely explanations for why the beads are present at Brownie Beach have been posited:  that they are washing up from a 20th-century ship that wrecked nearby or that they were souvenirs from the now-defunct amusement park once located just to the north, in Chesapeake Beach.

Today’s thrill seekers flock to Six Flags, Disney World or Busch Gardens in search of lightning-fast roller coasters and laser light shows.  The precursors of these modern attractions were outdoor amusement parks, often located in waterfront resorts.  Here, the double attractions of sea bathing and carnival-type rides and games drew large crowds in the summers. Continue reading

African-American Education in Postbellum Maryland

Fragments of the alphabet plate found at Sukeek’s Cabin.

This blog post has its origins right here at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. In the summer of 2000, excavations got underway at the site of a small stone foundation that had been built on a small ridge of land behind the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab. A combination of oral history and documentary research revealed that the site, which came to be known as Sukeek’s Cabin (18CV426), had been occupied in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by several generations of an African American family who were tenants on the Peterson farm. The family can be traced back to an enslaved woman named Sukeek, who arrived on the property in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Some of the volunteers who worked on the excavation under the direction of Kirsti Uunila were Sukeek’s descendants. This blog post was very much influenced by conclusions Kirsti reached during this project (Uunila 2002).

Among the most interesting artifacts recovered during the excavation were fragments of a child’s alphabet plate. Alphabet wares, also called ABC wares, are tableware characterized by the inclusion of the alphabet as a component of their decoration. The full alphabet was molded or printed clockwise around the rim and child-friendly scenes decorated plate centers. First manufactured in the Staffordshire district of England in the late eighteenth century (Kovels 2011), these wares appear to have been created as educational tools, primarily for children. Continue reading

Oyster Wars


A sample of oyster shell recovered at the Cumberland site (18CV171), a Native American palisaded village in Calvert County.

When most people think of Maryland seafood, probably the first thing that comes to mind is the blue crab, steamed to a bright red and fragrant with Old Bay seasoning. But the “lowly” oyster played just as significant a role in Maryland’s maritime history and economy. Although it may have been a “bold man that first ate an oyster” (Swift 1738), any initial squeamishness toward the bivalve was quickly overcome by humans, who have dreamed up more ways to serve an oyster than Forrest Gump’s business partner envisioned for shrimp. And it also happens that the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries have historically provided the appropriate water temperatures and salinity levels that allowed Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) to thrive (NOAA 2013). Continue reading