Port Tobacco was colonized by the English in 1634 and became a major port. When Charles County was created, Port Tobacco became the original county seat in 1658. The original courthouse was built around 1729, but was destroyed in 1808 by a windstorm. The rebuilt courthouse was burned in 1892, and the county seat moved to nearby La Plata in 1895. Then the Baptist Church of Port Tobacco took over the site and built a chapel in one of the wings that survived the fire. The building's remains were acquired in 1949 by a local group called the Society for the Preservation of Port Tobacco.
Since then the town has been all but abandoned, with recent census data showing just 15 people still living here. In 1973 the Port Tobacco Courthouse was reconstructed with some $270,000 funded by the state and county, and it is furnished as a 19th century courtroom. Upstairs it has exhibits on local history and archaeological finds. The courthouse building is open to the public on weekends and during town meetings.
The Catslide House was constructed in 1720. It is named for the roof, which is slanted in the back to accommodate an addition that was incorporated into the structure sometime in the past. It was so steep, a cat would slide off.
The house is owned by the Society for the Preservation of Port Tobacco, and once held a museum, but is now used by the society to house archeology students who are researching the town's past. The building has power and air conditioning, but the restroom is located around back. Sucks to be one of the students who gets stuck sleeping here while doing archeological digs on the site!
St. Ignatius Catholic Church stands in the middle of Church Point State Park on a high knoll offering a scenic vista over part of the Potomac River. The slope below the church is occupied by a historic cemetery, while attached to the rear of the church is St. Thomas Manor.
St. Ignatius Catholic Church was established in 1641, and has been in continuous operation since 1662, making it the oldest continually active church in the United States. The early church was an "olde wooden chapelle" that served local natives, slaves and English settlers.
The current church building was constructed in 1798. the site was occupied by Union soldiers during the Civil War, then in 1866 the interior was scorched by fire. By 1868 the church was completely restored.
There are numerous plaques and historical markers on the site. The main marker near the front of the church reads:
St. Ignatius Catholic Church
St. Thomas Manor
Chapel Point, Maryland
Dating from 1662 the oldest continuously
active parish in the United States. Founded
1641 by Father Andrew White, S.J., who named
Chapel Point. Present church built 1798.
St. Thomas Manor has been a Jesuit residence
since its erection in 1741.
Archbishop Neale Council, Knights of Columbus No. 2279
Bryantown Council, K. of C. No. 2293
St. Thomas Manor General Assembly
Fourth Degree, K. of C.
Another small plaque just inside the church informs visitors that:
Here "in Templo Sti. Ignatii"
on August 18, 1805
Fr. Robert Molyneux
Fr. Charles Sewall and
Fr. Charles Neale pronounced
their vows to become the first
Jusuits of the United States.
John Hanson was the first President of the United States of America under the Articles of Confederation (1781-1782), before the adoption of the US Constitution and the presidency of George Washington. Because of this, many people claim he is the true first President of the county, though under the Articles of Confederation, the "president" was part of the congress in more of a prime minister's role, rather than the head of the executive branch.
He was born at this Port Tobacco plantation called Mulberry Grove in 1721 (though some sources say 1715). At the time of his birth, his father owned about 1,000 acres around Port Tobacco and he had also served two terms in the Maryland General Assembly.
Hanson married in 1744 and had eight children. In 1750 he was elected to his first public office, the Charles County Sheriff, then he served 12 years in the Maryland General Assembly representing Charles County. In 1769 he moved to Frederick, Maryland where he continued in public service. In 1777 Hanson was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, and in 1779 he was selected to represent the state in the Second Continental Congress. In November 1781, Hanson became the first President of Congress elected under the Articles of Confederation.
Though he still maintained his home in Frederick, Hanson was at his nephew's house in Oxon Hill, Maryland when he died in 1783. His grave site is lost, but his wife Jane was buried at Mulberry Grove upon her death in 1812, as are two of their children. Archeological investigations continue at Mulberry Grove to determine if he was buried here.
John Hanson is one of two people chosen by Maryland to represent the state in the United States Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.
The historic marker at Mulberry Grove reads:
April 14, 1715
President of the United States
in Congress Assembled 1781-1782
Died Oxon Hill, Maryland
November 22, 1783
Maryland Society – Sons of the American Revolution.
John Wilkes Booth was born in Bel Air Maryland, outside of Baltimore, in 1838 to parents that had immigrated to the US from Britain just 17 years earlier. The Booth's Bel Aire farm had a number of slaves, and Booth's father was an actor. Booth, too, became an actor, becoming established in the Richmond theaters in the later 1850s. In 1859 Booth was on hand to witness the execution of John Brown, who had tried to start an uprising of slaves. In the 1860s Booth became one of America's favorite young actors, appearing in various starring roles at theaters in all the biggest cities. Twice he performed in front of President Lincoln.
In 1864 Booth, who had developed sympathies for the southern cause in the Civil War, began planning to kidnap Lincoln and hold him in exchange for Confederate military men in Northern POW camps. Several plans were hatched before the end of the war, but these all fell through. However, when the war ended, Booth's dislike for the President only continued to grow.
On 14 April 1865, Booth stopped by Ford's Theater in Washington to get his mail, and he discovered the President was to be at the theater that very night. Since Booth was an actor there, he had access to the building to plan his attack. Booth conspired with several other people that day; one of them was George Atzerodt from Port Tobacco who was supposed to assassinate the Vice President. Around 10:15pm, after making plans for a swift getaway, Booth entered Ford's theater and was allowed into the President's box, probably due to his fame as an actor. He soon pulled out his Derringer and shot Lincoln one time in the back of the head. Booth then climbed over the railing of the President's box onto the stage, where his spur caught, causing him to fall and break his left leg. By 10:45 pm he was across the Navy Yard Bridge and on his way out of the city.
His first stop in Maryland was Mary Surratt's tavern (in Clinton, MD) for weapons and ammo, then he went ot Doctor Mudd's house at Bryantown, Maryland, just a few miles from Port Tobacco, to have his broken leg set. Later he spent time just outside of Port Tobacco as federal agents searched the area, then Booth crossed the Potomac into Virginia near the location where US 301 crosses the river today. Twelve days after Lincoln's assassination, Booth was killed in a shootout at Garrett's Farm in Virginia.
At the Port Tobacco town square, in front of the restored courthouse is a marker that discussed John Wilkes Booth in Port Tobacco; it reads:
In this center of Confederate
activity, at the Brawner
Hotel, Detective Captain
William Williams unsuccessfully
offered Thomas Jones $100,000
reward for information that
would lead to the capture
of John Wilkes Booth.
Civil War Centennial Commission.
There is another interpretive markerthat stands here and a few miles away at the Maryland Welcome Center that says:
John Wilkes Booth
Escape of an Assassin
War on the Chesapeake Bay
Divided loyalties and ironies tore at Marylander’s hearts throughout the Civil War: enslaved African-Americans and free United States Colored Troops; spies and smugglers; civilians imprisoned without trial to protect freedom; neighbors and families at odds in Maryland and faraway battlefields. From the Eastern Shore to the suburbs of Washington, eastern Maryland endured those strains of civil war in ways difficult to imagine today.
Those strains continued even after Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. John Wilkes Booth used the help of Southern Maryland’s Confederate underground during his flight from Washington, D.C. after shooting President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.
Discover the story of Booth’s escape and other fascinating history for yourself as you drive through some of Maryland’s prettiest countryside and most charming small towns. Follow the sign of the bugle to learn about the war on the Chesapeake, visit the site of the war’s largest prison camp and follow Booth to his eventual capture south of the Potomac River.
Rose Hill is a historic plantation just north of Port Tobacco that dates from 1715. The plantation called Rose Hill was created around 1780 by Dr. Gustavus Brown, who purchased and combined four neighboring tracts of land. Brown built the main home on the property around 1783. The house has been restored twice since the early 1900s.
Two plaques have been erected at Rose Hill's driveway entrance.
The first reads:
Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown
who lies buried here. He
was a close friend of
and was one of the physicians
in attendance at his death.
The other states:
Home of Miss Olivia Floyd,
Confederate agent, and her
brother Robert Semmes Floyd,
C.S.A. killed in action. Both
are buried in St. Ignatius
Church Yard two miles south.
The site at Saint Thomas Manor served as the burial-place of many Jesuit priests, the elder and younger Samuel Mudd, and several soldiers laid to rest here during the American Revolution.
A brass plaque near the cemetery tells the story of the church and the attached manor house:
Saint Ignatius Church
Saint Thomas Manor
The manor land was acquired
in 1649 under Lord Baltimore's
"conditions of plantation." The
chapel was built probably in 1662,
the manor house in 1741. Bishop
Carroll laid the cornerstone
of the present church in 1798.
Here occurred in 1805 the Viva Voce
Restoration of the Jesuit Order
in the United States.
Erected 1948 by
Alcala Caravan No. 16
Order of the Alhambra
Saint Thomas Manor as built in 1741 alongside Saint Ignatius Church as the home of the leader of the Maryland Jesuit Mission. The manor was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, and the interior of the manor and church were destroyed by fire in 1866. In 1868, the interiors of both were rebuilt and are still in use today.
A historical marker with brass plates on a large boulder in front of the manor house reads:
Saint Thomas Manor
4000 acres in Portobacco Hundred
surveyed 25 October 1649
for Thomas Matthews, Esq.,
“to have hold use and enjoy within
the said mannor a court leet and
court baron with all things to the
said courts or either of them belonging
by the law or custome of England.”
Erected by the descendants of lords
of the Maryland manors
This manor granted under
“conditions of plantation”
to (Fr.) Thomas Copley, Esq. (S.J.)
on August 15, 1649,
was held by Thomas Matthews
for the Jesuits until 1662.
In June of 2009 students from Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio conducted an archeological dig in the historic village of Port Tobacco, Maryland. During this month or two-long dig, the archeologists, students, local historians, and volunteers discovered the ruins of an old blacksmiths shop, what they hope is part of the Indian King Hotel, and artifacts and ruins from Civil War-era sites.
One of the ladies there, I assume a local, filled us in on the history of the town, the rebuilding of the courthouse, and the archeology project. She let us know this town was one of the earliest towns in Maryland and it was once the second largest town in Maryland. Later the Tobacco Creek filled with silt and as the business drifted away so did the people and the government. In the late 1800s it was proposed that the government, including the historic courthouse in Port Tobacco, be moved to nearby La Plata, but the people voted it down. Shortly thereafter, the courthouse burned to the ground and was moved to the town a few miles distant; this was the end of Port Tobacco's heyday.
Today only about four original buildings remain, but the burned courthouse was rebuilt in its place. These archeological digs are ongoing to discover the foundations and artifacts of the other buildings in the town.
The Chimney House was built in 1750 and is notable for its two tall brick smokestacks. According to legend, behind Chimney House was a carriage shop that belonged to George Atzerodt. Atzerodt was not only a town resident, but also a conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and was one of four people executed after the President's death. George Atzerodt was assigned to kill the Vice President, but got drunk at the Kirkwood House hotel in Washington, and failed to carry out his task.
The Chimney House is side by side and shares a driveway with Stagg Hall, another historic home of Port Tobacco.
Stagg Hall was built about 1732 or 1740 depending on the source. In older photos, the building has a front porch, but that has since been removed. It was built for John Parnham, a local Port Tobacco merchant, but may have had a different use later as the name is ambiguous. The Maryland Historic Trust notes that the interior of Stagg Hall is exceptionally well preserved, with original stairs, paneling and cupboards in some rooms.
Thomas Stone was one of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1976, and one of just four signatories from the state of Maryland. He later worked on the committee that formed the Articles of Confederation in 1777, and he was a temporary, acting "President of the United States in Congress" under the Articles of Confederation in 1784.
Stone was born in 1743 in Charles County, Maryland, just a few miles southeast of Port Tobacco. As a young man he moved to Annapolis and became a lawyer. After a few years practicing in Frederick, Maryland, Stone returned to Charles County, married, and in 1771 he bought land and built his estate called Habre-de-Venture. Stone served in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778, where, despite his desire for reconciliation with Britain, he signed the Declaration of Independence. Later he served in the Maryland state Senate from 1779 to 1785, and was elected to another Constitutional Convention.
Stone's wife died at the young age of 34 in 1787, and Thomas Stone himself died just a few months later in Alexandria, Virginia, while awaiting a ship to England. Stone and his wife, along with other family members, are buried at the family cemetery at Habre-de-Venture near Port Tobacco.
The Stone estate remained in the family until 1936, and one of the main buildings was burned to the ground in 1977. In 1981 the National Park Service acquired the land and rebuilt the destroyed building to the original specifications. The park finally opened after years of restoration in 1997, and is visited by just 4,500 people a year.