Negotiating Public Landscapes: History, Archaeology, and the Material Culture of Colonial Chesapeake Towns, 1680 to 1720
Lucas, Michael Thomas
Sies, Mary C
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Many studies over the past several decades have contributed to our understanding of colonial Chesapeake town development, but several key elements including material culture, multiple agencies, and the role of towns in the construction of race relations and chattel slavery are underrepresented or entirely missing. An understanding of how these elements relate to the construction and use of the many small towns that lined the shores of the Chesapeake Bay is especially lacking. This problem is addressed by focusing on the social, political, and economic histories of a small courthouse hamlet called Charles Town in Prince George's County, Maryland from 1684 to 1721. The dissertation argues that the meaning of early towns like Charles Town were generated through material culture and human agency enacted on the local level. The actions of those who used and sustained the town are examined to create a model for understanding the precise ways that small hamlets served local communities. Court cases, land deeds, archaeological data and other records are used to show the central role material culture played in the interaction between people at Charles Town during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The primary forms of material culture used in this exchange were alcohol, food, and lodging purchased at the ordinaries, land patented, purchased, and sold in and around the town, and a variety of manufactured goods purchased from merchant stores. This investigation makes four contributions to the study of colonial Chesapeake towns. First, the interplay between human agency and material culture is examined as a mechanism for understanding how towns served local populations and why some succeeded while others failed. The second contribution is a detailed study of the myriad relationships between people of all social strata from landless ordinary keepers and enslaved persons to merchant politicians and planters. Third, the study demonstrates the central role of material culture in the physical and social construction and use of colonial Chesapeake towns. Finally, this study contributes to our understanding of colonial Chesapeake towns by stressing the importance of triangulating between a variety of primary historical and archaeological data.