Thomas Dyott’s Selfie, 1826-Style


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Benjamin Franklin

In  April 2015, this blog featured a tea cup decorated with a motif that supported the nineteenth-century temperance movement in the United States. To read go to Maryland History by the Objects Archives. The object that is the subject of this current post had a decidedly more complex message with regards to alcohol.

The pale green pint flask was found in a privy filled sometime between 1830 and 1860 at the Schifferstadt Site (18FR134) in Frederick County, Maryland. Molded in a horseshoe shape, the flask was manufactured around 1826 by the Kensington Glass Works of Philadelphia.  One side of the bottle features the bust of one of Philadelphia’s most famous residents, Benjamin Franklin, with the inscription “WHERE LIBERTY DWELLS THERE IS MY COUNTRY”.  The reverse side shows a likeness of Thomas W. Dyott, encircled by his name.  Figural flasks like this one were produced in great numbers in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century and often honor historical heroes and contemporary celebrities (Palmer 1993:385). Continue reading

Maryland’s Fishing Industry


Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Returning home by air from a recent trip to Michigan, I was once again struck by the abundant waterways that bisect our little state. The Susquehanna, Potomac, Choptank, Patapsco and Patuxent are the major state rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Overall, between Virginia and Maryland, more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers wind through the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Chesapeake Bay Program 2014). These waterways are the source of the fish and shellfish that have made the words “Maryland” and “seafood” all but synonymous.

The thought of Maryland’s fishing industry is likely to bring up images of commercial vessels with trawl nets or sports fishermen hauling in citation weight rockfish from the back of a charter boat. But this week’s artifact, a diminutive carved bone fish hook from the Everhart Rockshelter (18FR4) in Frederick County, reminds us that fishing has long been an important part of Maryland’s past (Figure 1). This rockshelter, which was excavated by Spencer Geasey in the early 1950s (Geasey 1993), was occupied for thousands of years, all through the Archaic (7500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.) and Woodland periods (1000 B.C. – A.D. 1600). One of the rockshelter residents must have used this fish hook to catch dinner from nearby Catoctin Creek. Continue reading

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 Rosenstock Pot and the Development of Agriculture in Maryland


This week’s blog post features a spectacular pre-Columbian pottery vessel known at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab as the Rosenstock Pot. I have chosen this vessel to frame an essay about the development of agriculture by Maryland’s indigenous population and the consequences of agriculture on native life during a time archaeologists call the Late Woodland period (AD900 to AD1650).

The Rosenstock Site (18FR18) is a Late Woodland period village on the Monocacy River in Frederick County. Excavations there by the Archeological Society of Maryland and the Maryland Historical Trust revealed remains of trash-filled pits, hearths, human burials and two buildings believed to have functioned as sweat lodges. Radiocarbon dating of charred plant remains from hearth features showed the site was occupied from AD1335 to around AD1400 (Curry and Kavanagh 2004). Continue reading

The Birely Tannery Fleshing Knife-An Artifact of Frederick County’s Industrial Past


Most people are aware of the roles tobacco and other agricultural crops played in Maryland’s history. But I would wager that not nearly as many Marylanders know that the tanning of leather was second only to agriculture in economic importance in some parts of the state during the 18th and 19th centuries. In honor of that key role, I have chosen a tool used in the tanning industry as the starting point for this week’s blog on a trade that has all but disappeared from Maryland’s economy.

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Wooden handled fleshing knife found during excavations at Birely Tannery.

Continue reading