The Battle of the Scissors – Union Strife in Baltimore’s Garment Industry

Archaeological work done in advance of the Federal Reserve Bank construction in Baltimore in 1980 yielded the usual array of filled privies, wells and cellar holes. But under Barre Street, archaeologists discovered a twenty-foot long section of drainpipe containing thousands of early twentieth-century artifacts concreted into a solid mass filling the bottom half the pipe (McCarthy and Basalik 1980). A little documentary research revealed that the contents of the pipe were associated with a Chinese-owned commercial laundry located nearby.

Figure 1.  Tool check or worker identification tag from the Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company.

Figure 1. Tool check or worker identification tag from the Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company.

In addition to thousands of straight pins, buttons, safety pins, coins, pieces of jewelry and other clothing-related items from the pipe, the pipe contained an oval copper alloy disk stamped “B.C. & F. Co. 2050”. This item served as a worker identification tag or as a tool check tag. Tool checks were used by factory workers to requisition tools; each tag bore the worker’s identification number. If the tool had not been returned at the end of the day, the number would be used to track down the missing tool to the employee who had checked it out. A New Jersey newspaper advertisement from 1908 revealed that “B. C. & F.” were the initials of The Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company (Red Bank Register 1908), a firm that, in accordance with garment trade industry standards, produced men’s suits, trousers, sport coats, and overcoats, as well as men’s pajamas, hosiery, ties, underwear and shirts (Kahn 1989:xiii). Continue reading

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

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

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

The Role of Tobacco Agriculture in Maryland

18CV83 pipe

Tobacco pipe from the late seventeenth- to early eighteenth-century King’s Reach Site (18CV83).

Drive along any country road in southern Maryland and you are sure to see examples of this region’s distinctive agricultural architecture.  These large vertical sided barns, constructed for the air curing of tobacco, are important reminders of Maryland’s agricultural history.  A less iconic type of reminder—the humble white clay tobacco pipe—does not have the visual impact of the barns, but is present on virtually all archaeological sites dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries.  The Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab has tens of thousands of pipe fragments in its collections.  This pipe, from the late seventeenth-century King’s Reach Site (18CV83), is one of our more complete examples; the very fragility of the unglazed, low-fired clay means that they are often found broken into numerous fragments.  I have chosen this simple clay pipe to represent the role that tobacco cultivation played in Maryland’s history. Continue reading

Rockingham Hunt Pitcher and the Baltimore Pottery Industry

18BC27 (side 1)

Skillful application of the mottled Rockingham glaze serves to highlight the stag hunt motif on this Bennett pitcher.

During the 1980 excavation done prior to the construction of Baltimore’s Federal Reserve Bank, archaeologists removed the contents of numerous mid- to late nineteenth-century wells and privies from a neighborhood that served as home to first and second generation European immigrants. One of these privies had become the final resting place for a magnificent example of Baltimore’s nineteenth-century pottery industry. This Rockingham pitcher, molded in a detailed hunting scene depicting hounds attacking a stag and a boar, was manufactured around 1855 by E. and W. Bennett of Baltimore (Claney 2004). The Bennett firm, in production between 1846 and 1936, was one of the best known North American manufacturers of Rockingham glazed wares (Ketchum 1987:21). This firm’s wares are prized by collectors today for their finely detailed molded patterns, as well as quality of their mottled glazing (Brooks 2005). Continue reading

The War of 1812 in Southern Maryland

Over the last several years, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War has been garnering a lot of attention. But the years 2012 to 2014 also mark the commemoration of another of our nation’s wars—albeit one that has not received nearly as much notice as the more famous War Between the States. Two cannonballs from the lab collections, recovered from military sites related to the War of 1812, are our window into this war in Southern Maryland.

benedict and st leonard creek cannonballs

The larger cannonball was recovered at Benedict and the other from St. Leonard Creek.

Despite a name suggesting otherwise, the War of 1812 was a conflict between the United States and the British Empire that actually spanned 32 months between 1812 and 1815. Trade restrictions imposed by Britain due to their war with France, the forced recruitment of American sailors into Britain’s Royal Navy and British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion were some of the provocations that led President James Madison to declare war in June of 1812 (Stagg 1983). 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.

fleshing knife2

Wooden handled fleshing knife found during excavations at Birely Tannery.

Continue reading

Bald Friar Petroglyphs

In this photograph, some of the petroglyphs can be clearly seen outlined in white (probably chalk).

Among the more enigmatic artifacts curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab are fragments of prehistoric rock art. Archaeological evidence of art dates back tens of thousands of years and has been an endless source of fascination for scholars, as well as the general public. The carved Venus of Willendorf figures, the painted bison at Lascaux, Chinese bronzeworks and other early artistic endeavors captivate and excite the human imagination. The recent discovery of 40,800 year old stenciled hands and painted dots in a Spanish cave is evidence that Neandertals may have been the first cave painters (Than 2012); it is almost certainly only a matter of time before future discoveries push the limits of early art even farther into the past. Continue reading