Tours of Port Tobacco ongoing through summer
Now a township of about a dozen residents, one might be surprised to learn that Port Tobacco was once a bustling hub of commerce and the seat of Charles County for more than a century. Mapped by Capt. John Smith in the early 17th century, the port town known for its tobacco trade was home to five signers of the Declaration of Independence, a conspirator against President Abraham Lincoln and, originally, the Potobac Indians from which the fitting name was derived.
For those wishing to travel back in time, the historic village is open to the public and guided tours are offered Friday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Mondays by appointment.
“In Southern Maryland … people are very proud of their history here,” said tour guide Charlotte Weirich, a member of the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco. “Whether it was the positives or the negatives, people really are interested in history and heritage and want to make sure that the younger generation especially really appreciates the roots, the foundation of what the community has been built on.”
A tour through Port Tobacco is filled with fascinating anecdotal stories of the inhabitants and how the county took shape from pre-colonial times to post-antebellum.
For instance, a muddy marsh has replaced where a river once flowed behind the courthouse. “The idea of growing tobacco which made people so wealthy was also the demise of the town,” she told tourists last Saturday, explaining that poor farming practices when growing tobacco had caused the silting in the river.
“When you look at what we have now to what we had then, it’s just unbelievable how vital a town this was.” Weirich said. “At one point in the late 1700s, it was a one of the three largest ports on the East Coast. So, it was really a great place to live. People were making a lot of money and were very profitable, but also keeping in mind now that half the population was African-American slaves; that slavery did exist in this area.”
The town is filled with history, literally. Historians continue to excavate the grounds of Port Tobacco in hopes of adding another link to the past.
In the late 19th century, Port Tobacco fell into decline after a railroad station was built in Chapman’s Town, now La Plata, instead.
Now, visitors can walk the grounds of the public square and get a sense of what life was like for Port Tobacco planters.
Charlotte Weirich guides a tour Saturday through the historic Port Tobacco courthouse, which has burned to the ground on three occasions.
Above, the grounds of historic Port Tobacco leading up to the courthouse. Below, A picture of the Village of Port Tobacco circa 1870 on display at the town’s courthouse.