Yesterday was the first volunteer field trip, well, not EVER but definitely ever since I started working at the Museum, which is almost 4 years now. We visited Londontown, an historic site in Edgewater, Maryland, that was once a town established to service (and later abandoned by) the tobacco trade in the 17th century. It’s an interesting hodge-podge of new, old, reconstructed and restored buildings, all on a little spot overlooking the South River that now is crowded with (mc)mansions, but once bristled with the masts of vessels from transatlantic ports.
Our inimitable guide, Rod Cofield, talking about Londontown’s kitchen gardens.
Our day was guided by Londontown’s director of interpretation, Rod Cofield, who explored the site with us and helped raise the ghosts of Londontown’s past through fascinating stories pulled right out of primary documents and first person-accounts of life in the community. Some of the history was sad, like the 18th century obituary of a baby that had been scalded to death by a boiling kettle as it was sleeping next to a hearth. Others were intriguing and mysterious, like the gravesite that was discovered by archaeologists while digging around the foundations of an 18th century workshop. Hidden beneath what was then the floorboards (but now is a square of earth under the reconstructed building above) was the grave of a small child, intentionally interred so, Cofield believes, as to be close to its living relatives- an African tradition perhaps honored in this new colony by a slave. All of Rod’s accounts were engrossing, and really made the site’s history seem viscerally alive.
There were little details everywhere, like these kitchen sauces and spices and cooking implements, that Londontown uses in their living history programs. The fact that many of their exhibits are in day-to-day use, especially during the school tour season, made some of the spaces feel like the original inhabitants had just stepped outside for a breath of sorta-fresh air. Not too fresh, since household trash and night soil piles, according to Rod, were generally collected under the windows and next to the doors. Many of their buildings are reproductions, and were constructed with the intent to have them be working examples of the past, but their attention to authenticity was rigorous- right down to the chamber pots, which were based on actual examples exhumed by archaeologists on the Londontown property (Rod said: “They’ve never been used, I swear!”). You could ask questions and learn a little something about every object in each room- even the most mundane pieces, like the chamberpots, had a story and research to back it up.
Rod discussing the reconstructed workshop. There be a baby grave inside.
It was a beyond-cool experience, and the volunteers and I found ourselves lingering after it was obvious from rumblings in the general midsections of the group that we’d gone way past our lunchtime. We all left with promises to come back, maybe by water, maybe with friends, to check out more of the buildings or to explore the rest of the gorgeously-gardened property. Interested in visiting yourself after reading that glowing review? You can check out their website and plan an excursion: http://bit.ly/pb4xK
Also, a neat opportunity is coming up to hear Rod speak here, at CBMM, as part of our winter lecture series! He’s giving a talk on 18th century tavern culture in the Chesapeake tidewater, and not to spoil it, but one of his stories includes the following gem: “On February 18, 1697, in Virginia’s Elizabeth City County Court, Ann Combs complained to the justices that Jacob Walker and his wife Rebeccah gave her a drink of ‘wine and piss mixed together.’”
Come on- how can you miss it now? Plus, there will be tasting of rum shrub, an 18th century mixed drink WITH THE RUM IN IT.
Here’s the skinny on Rod’s talk:
If the text is too tiny, you can also see more about the talk and how to register on our website, here: http://www.cbmm.org/index.htm
It was one of those days where your brain is a hive of new information, and you can’t stop looking at your volunteers and saying, “Isn’t this fun? This is so GREAT.” Or, at least, I couldn’t. Many thanks to Rod and Londontown for providing us with such a fantastic experience. I’m looking forward to hearing more of Rod’s historical anecdotes going forward, and learning, through Londontown and even more sites as we venture out on these volunteer trips, to appreciate this great old Bay I get to call my home AND my profession.