On our way home from Washington DC this past weekend, we decided to take a side trip to Charles County, Maryland. Not only were we able to escape the hectic I-95 "raceway" and enjoy a more relaxed ride, the trip would allow the opportunity to see the landscape my fifth great-grandfather, William Gates, might have seen.
William lived in Port Tobacco, Maryland during the late 1700's. During his time, it was a bustling seaport and future county seat, but is now a mere ghost of a town. The early tobacco farmers were unaware that continuous planting would ruin the soil so they just moved their rows of tobacco up the side of the hills. The erosion from the exposed ground caused silt to fill the river ceasing the traffic of large ships which carried the cargo in and out of the harbor. Another of the town's downfalls was the railroad's choice of track location. By the 1890's, the nearby town of LaPlata was prospering simply because it had the fortune of sitting on the railroad line. It would take several decades, but eventually LaPlata would become the new county seat, leaving Port Tobacco with little to count on.
The area is beautiful with its rolling hills and many trees. While the loss of economical growth kept Port Tobacco from growing, it is an advantage from a family historian's point of view. The lack of businesses, neighborhoods, and new streets afforded a greater ability to imagine what the past was like than if McDonald's, banks, and grocery stores were crowding the scenery.
The day we visited, there were three people sitting at a picnic table in the shade of a large tree washing off pieces of pottery, glass, and metal. They are volunteers with the Port Tobacco Archaeological Project and are hard at work finding bits and pieces of the past. They were so helpful to us, and I would like to thank them for explaining Port Tobacco's history and giving us a tour of the courthouse. The project keeps a very interesting blog, the address of which is http://porttobacco.blogspot.com/ . I encourage you to take a look at it, and I'm sure you'll find something of interest.
William is my first found Revolutionary War ancestor and is the man responsible for many of my Ohio connections. I'll tell more of his story in future postings.