Visit Early Southern Maryland History at Port Tobacco Village

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on July 5, 2018

Port Tobacco sits not far from the hustle and bustle of La Plata, just off of Maryland Route 6 on Chapel Point Road. The town is the smallest incorporated town in Maryland, with a population of 13 at the 2010 U.S. Census.

A few houses surround the town square, at the back of which sits the reconstructed Port Tobacco Courthouse. It’s so quiet and serene that you’d never guess at the town’s history.

Would you believe that Port Tobacco was once the second-largest river port in Maryland? Its spot on the Port Tobacco River gave the town access to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean so that the port’s biggest export – tobacco – could be shipped out. In fact, Charles County reports, Port Tobacco was big enough to be included on early maps of the world!

Port Tobacco Courthouse

And, from 1658 to 1895, it was the first seat of Charles County.

Port Tobacco was settled by the English in the 17th century, but it was inhabited by Algonquin-speaking people long before that. In 2007, the Port Tobacco Archaeology Project began searching for clues to the town’s Native American and colonial history. (Learn more about current archaeological work in Port Tobacco at the Charles County Archaeological Society of Maryland’s website.)

The town’s fortunes changed as silting in the river slowed port traffic and the railroad bypassed the town. The county seat was moved to La Plata, and Port Tobacco became the quiet town you know today.

You can learn about the town’s rich history by taking a guided tour of the square and three buildings: The Port Tobacco Courthouse, Stagg Hall, and Burch House. The courthouse is a reconstruction of the 1819 courthouse. It is furnished as it would have been in the 19th century.

Stagg Hall

Today, the Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco leads seasonal tours of the village. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated for the society’s work. Tours are available from early April until Dec. 31 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last tour at 3:30 p.m.) Wednesday through Sunday. Tours are available on Mondays by appointment. The courthouse grounds are also available for rent for events like weddings and fundraisers.

On your tour, be sure to ask about some of the town’s well-known residents:

  • John Hanson, president of the first Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation
  • Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, a signer of the U.S. Constitution
  • Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and whose home is nearby
  • George Atzerodt, one of John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators in the Lincoln assassination

Burch House

The society also hosts several events throughout the year, including First Fridays, historic programs, educational programs, and annual events. Learn more at the society’s website and Facebook page.

(Courthouse images via Society for the Restoration of Port Tobacco on Facebook. Stagg Hall image via Wikipedia. Burch House image via Charles County Government website.)

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