Tours of Port Tobacco on­go­ing through sum­mer

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­news.com Twitter: @An­drew_IndyNews

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.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON

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.

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