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Port Tobacco, Maryland

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Title: Port Tobacco, Maryland  
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Subject: La Plata, Maryland, Restoration Movement, Rose O'Neal Greenhow, George Atzerodt, Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin, Port Tobacco River, Daniel Jenifer, William Duhurst Merrick, Barton W. Stone, James Craik
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Port Tobacco, Maryland

Port Tobacco Village, Maryland
Charles County historical marker

Coordinates: 38°30′41″N 77°1′12″W / 38.51139°N 77.02000°W / 38.51139; -77.02000Coordinates: 38°30′41″N 77°1′12″W / 38.51139°N 77.02000°W / 38.51139; -77.02000

Country United States
State Maryland
County Charles
 • Total 0.16 sq mi (0.41 km2)
 • Land 0.16 sq mi (0.41 km2)
 • Water 0 sq mi (0 km2)
Population (2010)[2]
 • Total 13
 • Estimate (2012[3]) 13
 • Density 81.3/sq mi (31.4/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
FIPS code 24-63225

Port Tobacco, officially Port Tobacco Village, is a town in Charles County, Maryland, United States. The population was 13 at the 2010 census,[4] making Port Tobacco the smallest incorporated town in Maryland.[5]


This was historically the territory of Algonquian-speaking peoples, especially the Potapoco and the more dominant Piscataway. Settled by the English in the 17th century and established in 1727, the town on the Port Tobacco River soon became the second largest in Maryland. The first county seat of Charles County, it was a seaport with access to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. It declined rapidly after river traffic was cut off by silting and the town was bypassed by the railroad. Moving the county seat to La Plata in 1895 drew population away but left the town with its historic significance intact.[6]

In recent years, the former courthouse has been renovated for use as a historical museum. In 2007 a consortium started the Port Tobacco Archeology Project, devoted to revealing the history of Native Americans and colonial Europeans and Africans. Because of its unique history, the area is "one of the richest archeological sites in Southern Maryland."[7]

A few miles south, St. Ignatius Church and cemetery at St. Thomas Manor comprise a complex designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is notable as a Jesuit mission center of the 17th century and is possibly the oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish founded in the Thirteen Colonies. The complex at Chapel Point has scenic views overlooking the Potomac River. John Hanson, President of the U.S. Continental Congress, was born nearby.[8]


Areas along the waterways of present-day Maryland were inhabited for thousands of years by various cultures of distinct indigenous peoples. At the time of European exploration, this coastal area along the Port Tobacco River was the territory of the Potopaco, an Algonquian-speaking tribe. They called their settlement Potopaco. Overall, the dominant tribe on the north side of the Potomac River was the Algonquian Piscataway tribe, which later absorbed some of the smaller tribes' survivors.

Within a generation of the first Maryland settlers' landing at St. Clement's Island, they pushed the frontiers of the colony north and west toward the Potomac and Port Tobacco rivers. The English developed a small village about 1634 on the east side of the Port Tobacco tributary. It became the nucleus for trade and government. It was first called Chandlers Town. The town was one of the oldest English-speaking communities on the East Coast of the United States.

Later the English adapted the Native American name as Port Tobacco. Its name also referred to what became the colony's chief export commodity crop. The town grew as it became a major port for the tobacco trade, with export product transported by ocean-going sailing ships. During the late 17th century, Port Tobacco became the second largest river port in Maryland. In 1658, it was designated the first county seat of Charles County.

The early immigrants to Port Tobacco were products of the religious turmoil in England. Their deeply felt convictions were powerful influences in Maryland's history. The area had both Catholic and Church of England congregations. The Jesuits established a mission in 1641 and later a church at what became St. Thomas Manor at Chapel Point. The manor's chapel was expanded to what is called St. Ignatius Church, a center for local Native Americans converted to Christianity. The oldest continuously operating Catholic parish in the United States, the complex is now a National Historic Landmark.

Freed from restraints by the Toleration Act of 1649 and feeling a need for spiritual guidance, some settlers gathered their first Anglican church in a log building at the head of the Port Tobacco Creek. The year was 1683, nine years before the Establishment Act.[9] Supported by the tobacco poll tax of 40 pounds per head from 1692–1776, Christ Church prospered. The community built a second structure in 1709. After the American Revolution, the Anglican Church was disestablished in the US. Parishioners rallied to contribute directly to Christ Church. After the building was destroyed by a tornado in 1808, they financed a new brick structure by a lottery. The new Christ Church was first occupied in 1827. Falling into disrepair after 60 years of use, it was demolished and replaced with a stone edifice in 1884.

For two centuries, Port Tobacco area residents had central roles in state and national history. John Hanson was elected first President by the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation; Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer was a signer of the United States Constitution; and Thomas Stone was one of four of the Maryland delegation who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow (1814-1864) was born here and became renowned as a Confederate spy operating in Washington, DC. Recruited by US Army captain Thomas Jordan, later promoted to Confederate general, she took over his network in early 1861.[10] Due to military plans she passed to the Confederates that summer, she was credited with ensuring their victory at the First Battle of Bull Run in July 1861.[11] In 1833 her sister Ellen O'Neal married James Madison Cutts, the nephew of Dolley Madison. Their daughter Adele Cutts in 1856 married the widower Stephen Douglas, senator from Illinois.

The town started declining as it became cut off from access to Chesapeake Bay and ocean as silt and tidal action changed the Port Tobacco River. At the same time, coastal ships became larger and were unable to use the river. When the former seaport was bypassed during construction of railroad lines in the late 19th century, its decline continued. In 1895 the county seat was moved to La Plata, which further contributed to the decline of the town.

Its remains today are identified as Port Tobacco Village. Because of the town's abrupt decline and silting of the river, many archeological sites have been preserved, making it one of the richest areas for studying the mixed history of Native and colonial cultures, including that of enslaved Africans.[7]

During the Civil War, the town was occupied by Union troops, leading to the emancipation of many local slaves after 1863. When the railroad built a stop at La Plata, it began to lobby the legislature to move the county seat there, which was accomplished in 1895.

Visitors may see the reconstructed Port Tobacco Courthouse, furnished as a 19th-century courtroom. The second floor has exhibits on the important tobacco culture and archaeological finds, which reveal early colonial and Native American life. This work was sponsored by the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco, which is helping a public archeology project on the entire town. Other notable historic sites are:

  • Catslide House, one of the four surviving 18th-century homes in the area
  • the restored one-room schoolhouse, used from 1876–1953
  • Thomas Stone National Historic Site, the plantation home of one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The St. Thomas Manor and Cemetery at Chapel Point provide insight into early Catholic history and Jesuit missionary activity in the colony; it is the oldest continuously operating Catholic parish among the Thirteen Colonies.

In 2007 the Port Tobacco Archeological Project was begun by a partnership among the Archeological Society of Maryland, the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco, the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium, Preservation Maryland, and Preserve America.[12] It has encouraged participation by the community, with an Internet blog and regular chances for volunteer participation at many levels.

Port Tobacco folklore

Legend of the Blue Dog

Halloween reminds local residents of Charles County's "Blue Dog" legend, which is taught in local schools. It has been told in the county for more than 100 years. By most accounts, the spirit of a large blue dog protects his murdered master's treasure, buried somewhere on Rose Hill Road outside Port Tobacco. According to resident Charles Stuart, whose property contains the fabled rock where Blue Dog and his master were killed, the first written account of the Blue Dog legend dates back to 1897. His house's former owner, Olivia Floyd, told the Port Tobacco Times that she had seen the ghost of the Blue Dog.[13]

Although Stuart has not seen the ghost of Blue Dog in his 20 years of residence, he does not doubt the accuracy of accounts telling that Charles Thomas Sims, a soldier, and his dog were killed on February 8 on Rose Hill Road while returning from a Port Tobacco Tavern. This was following the American Revolutionary War.[14]

Local myth tells that Henry Hanos of Port Tobacco killed Sims and his dog for Sim's gold and a deed to an estate. Hanos buried the gold and deed under a holly tree along Rose Hill Road. When Hanos returned to recover the treasure, he was scared away by the ghost of Blue Dog. He fell ill and died suddenly. To this day, Blue Dog reportedly continues to watch over his slain master's treasure.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.16 square miles (0.41 km2), all of it land.[1]


2010 census

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 13 people, 7 households, and 5 families residing in the town. The population density was 81.3 inhabitants per square mile (31.4 /km2). There were 7 housing units at an average density of 43.8 per square mile (16.9 /km2). The racial makeup of the town was 84.6% White, 7.7% African American, and 7.7% from two or more races.

There were 7 households of which 14.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 71.4% were married couples living together, and 28.6% were non-families. 28.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.86 and the average family size was 2.20.

The median age in the town was 64.5 years. 7.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 15.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 0.0% were from 25 to 44; 30.8% were from 45 to 64; and 46.2% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the town was 46.2% male and 53.8% female.

2000 census

As of the census[15] of 2000, there were 15 people, 5 households, and 5 families residing in the town. The population density was 94.0 people per square mile (36.2/km²). There were 6 housing units at an average density of 37.6 per square mile (14.5/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 60.00% White, 26.67% Black or African American, 6.67% Asian, and 6.67% from two or more races.

There were 5 households out of which 40.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.0% were married couples living together, 60.0% have a female householder with no husband present. The average household size was 3.00 and the average family size was 2.80.

In the town the population was spread out with 20.0% under the age of 18, 13.3% from 18 to 24, 26.7% from 25 to 44, 20.0% from 45 to 64, and 20.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 87.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 71.4 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $100,992, and the median income for a family was $102,264. The per capita income for the town was $43,017. There are no families below the poverty line.

Notable residents

  • David Posey, real estate development
  • Barnes Compton (1830–1889), planter, state legislator, State Treasurer, and US congressman
  • Timmy Hill (1993- ), NASCAR driver
  • Samuel Luckett (ca 1650 - 1705), an early resident and planter in Port Tobacco[16]


External links

  • Web page of Port Tobacco Village, Maryland
  • Port Tobacco Archaeological Project
  • Port Tobacco at Historical Marker Database
  • Contact Information for Port Tobacco Village, Maryland
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