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Anne Grulich, editor
Phone: (240) 895-2160
18952 East Fisher Road
St. Mary's City, MD 20686
by Julia A. King, associate professor of anthropology, and a team of anthropology students
I met Mike Sullivan in December 2007. He had invited me and several colleagues to lunch in La Plata to discuss finding the long-lost site of the 1674 Charles County courthouse. As exciting as it would be to locate the courthouse site, I knew that far better minds had already tried—and failed. Indeed, Morris Radoff, who wrote the book on colonial courthouses in Maryland, had determined that the 1674 courthouse “is impossible to locate.” Historians had narrowed the site to a 25-square-mile area south of La Plata and that was about as good as it got. We had planned on telling Mike Sullivan to give it up. But before we could, he was unrolling maps and pulling out genealogical charts, spreading papers out on the restaurant tables.
Turns out, Mike’s research revealed the courthouse parcel had been absorbed into a larger farm and then given a new name. What’s more, he had discovered, the land had descended through a female heir’s second husband, making it doubly hard to trace. But traced it Mike had. “It’s right here,” he said, pointing to a 150-acre parcel off Bel Alton-Newtown Road, “and I want St. Mary’s College of Maryland to test that property and find the exact location. I’ll get permission from the landowners. You draw up a budget.”
Who is this guy? I thought as I left the restaurant that afternoon. In the summer of 2008, we found the courthouse—right there on the 150-acre lot where Mike had pegged it, and just in time for Charles County’s 350th anniversary. The students and I found traces not just of the courthouse building itself but of the adjacent tavern and dwelling. The find made national news. Ever since then, my students and I have been scouring the cornfields and woods of Charles County, mostly in the Zekiah Swamp and Wicomico River drainages, searching for traces of other significant sites that Mike’s research has brought to light.
We can do this work because of the extraordinary generosity of Mike Sullivan and his wife, Laura, who have a passion for southern Maryland history. Mike has made our students part of an unusual but highly effective team focused on finding important sites and places in Charles County history and raising awareness as we do so. In addition to our students, the team includes Kevin Norris, a surveyor with the Waldorf-based engineering firm Lorenzi Dodds and Gunnill; students from the College of Southern Maryland (CSM); and archaeologists from the Maryland Historical Trust and the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.
This past summer, we set out to locate the dwelling site of colonial Governor Josias Fendall. Fendall is mentioned only briefly in Maryland history because after being appointed governor by Lord Baltimore he twice attempted to overthrow the government. Fendall’s 1660 rebellion was short-lived and unsuccessful; and Fendall, who had up until then been a skillful governor, was arrested, tried, and banished from the colony. Not long after, however, Baltimore allowed Fendall back into Maryland— provided he stay out of politics. Fendall returned and remained out of trouble for nearly 20 years, but eventually took advantage of a period of tremendous political unrest, agitating and inciting fear among colonists in order to destabilize Lord Baltimore’s power.
This second traitorous attempt was just too much for Lord Baltimore. In 1681, Fendall was tried, convicted, and banished for good. Fendall, who was about 50 at the time of his trial, sold his plantation to William Digges, the son of a Virginia governor and the son-in-law of Lord Baltimore. Interestingly, Digges had served on the jury that convicted Fendall of treason.
Our goal last summer was to find the place from which Fendall fomented this second attempt at rebellion. Mike had identified the plantation neighborhood Fendall was living in. Next, project historian and archaeologist Scott M. Strickland ’08 went to work on the land records. Strickland describes in his story on page 14 how he found the deed describing Fendall’s ‘dwelling plantation’ and then located it in the neighborhood Mike Sullivan had identified. Mike then approached the landowners, who granted enthusiastic permission to begin the search.
We had our model. Now, the students would see if it held up.
In the last three years, our students’ findings in Charles County have made national news, been presented in papers at regional archaeological conferences, and formed the backbone of a gathering of Chesapeake archaeologists who meet regularly at Mike Sullivan’s home. (Read their stories below.) The sites the students are discovering and the stories they are revealing are fundamentally reshaping our knowledge of early colonial and Contact-period life in the Potomac River valley.
June 2010 was a hot and humid month, and it didn’t help that our model for locating Fendall’s plantation placed it in a breezeless field of tall corn. The crew of five St. Mary’s College and two CSM students arrived at the site and went to work, digging small test pits every 25 feet, and screening the soil for any clue that someone had lived here.
Stories from the Ground
by Alex Flick '10
If you’ve ever driven over the Thomas Johnson Bridge, you’ve probably marveled at the Patuxent River as it flows past Solomon’s Island and empties into the Chesapeake Bay. I made that drive for three years before learning that I was looking at the very spot (on land that is now part of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station) where, in 1689, a small army of malcontents besieged and overthrew Maryland’s government. Here, members of the government barricaded themselves inside Lord Baltimore’s large brick mansion. “Mattapany,” as it was known then, was a center of political power in the colony. Nearby was what the rebels were really after – the colony’s arms magazine.
I became familiar with the characters and settings of 17th-century Maryland, including Mattapany, while working on my St. Mary’s Project. I examined how the Provincial Council—the colony’s ruling elite— saw the landscape in political terms. For the past two summers I’ve been helping to tell these stories with a shovel – finding the material evidence of the people, places, and events I had read about during my project research. Archaeological fieldwork animates history in a way the court records and council minutes cannot. Excavating a colonial governor’s residence in the brutal summer heat was grueling work. But the artifacts I’d plucked from the ground were tangible time capsules. With a shovel and a trowel I was writing narratives never before heard.
by Scott Strickland '08
My role in the search for the dwelling plantation of Josias Fendall started in 2008. Mike Sullivan had been working with a genealogist and surveyor to locate the tract of land on which the 17th-century courthouse once stood. This successful courthouse project became the model our team would use to explore other significant colonial sites in Charles County.
Mike Sullivan brought me aboard after the courthouse project. With the skills I’d learned working with a small land surveying company, Sullivan’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of Charles County history, and Julie King’s extensive background in Chesapeake archaeology, we began our search for the traitorous Governor Fendall’s plantation.
Fortunately, Charles County’s court and land records are among the best preserved in the country. I found that Josias Fendall had two landholdings in Charles County. One of these tracts, Fair Fountain, was located at the juncture of Zekiah and Kerrick swamps, about two miles east of La Plata. Our team’s archaeological survey of Fair Fountain revealed a mid- to late 17th-century site, probably occupied by a tenant of Josias Fendall. Fendall’s second landholding was located along the west side of the Wicomico River, about two miles north of Cobb Island, between Charleston and Hatton creeks.
This second property was recorded in a deed from Josias Fendall to William Digges. This deed describes two unnamed tracts totaling 400 acres as the dwelling plantation of Fendall and his wife, Mary. It does not give a metes and bounds description or location, but it does give other clues. The land once belonged to Walter Bayne who owned many tracts along the Wicomico River, but one named Bayne Land was situated between Hatches (now Hatton) and Posey (now Charleston) creeks.
Following the paper trail, I found that the property Fendall had sold to Digges was later renamed and re-patented as Digges Purchase. Today, the property is known as Charleston. A 1797 plat of Charleston shows exactly where the property was located and I carefully fit the plat to modern maps. (See illustrations).
Four hundred acres is still a large parcel to survey! We started our work in open fields where the soil was prime for farming. Bingo! Laying in the archaeological grid on our first day, Skylar Bauer and I noticed 17th- and early 18th-century artifacts littering the surface of the cornfield. More than 200 shovel test pits and three test units later, we confirmed our discovery as Fendall’s plantation. Mike Sullivan’s courthouse research model had worked once again.
by Skylar Ann Bauer '12
This summer I looked for trash. It was one of the best jobs I’ve had! My office was the outdoors. The lunch room was whatever patch of shade we could steal from the blistering sun. I was part of an amazing crew that rummaged through a corn field covered with lady bugs, forests crawling with ticks, and pastures ruled by horses as we searched for traces of human habitation in pre-Contact and colonial Maryland.
One early June morning, Scott Strickland and I were at the Fendall site putting in the archaeological grid. We found the place littered with trash – colonial trash. Clay tobacco pipes, Rhenish stoneware, and glazed earthenware fragments on the surface pointed to Fendall’s life.
The traitorous Fendall lived quite well. I pictured him walking the same land we were, smoking his pipe, contemplating his rebellious operations, and meeting secretly with other rebels drinking from their Rhenish blue and gray stoneware jugs. From fieldwork to late night artifact distribution charts to inspirational lunchtime chats, it was a memorable experience. But it was Mike and Laura Sullivan’s passion for Charles County history that sparked and enabled such a wonderful project. Their generosity was boundless; they even housed the crew at their beautiful Mount Victoria Farm.
Skylar Bauer is a Martin E. Sullivan Museum Scholar. She will catalog and report on the Fair Fountain archaeological collection from a site in La Plata where one of Fendall’s tenants appears to have been engaged in trade with the Piscataway Indians.
by Julianna Jackson '12
By the end of this summer’s project, I had changed in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I had cut down some pretty big trees, wielded a sharp machete, worked in the shadow of some feisty Arabian horses, and learned to dig a pretty mean hole—all while uncovering a piece of Maryland’s past alongside interesting and talented people.
My colleagues ranged from professional archaeologists to students to volunteers. Together, we blazed through four agricultural fields and one woodlot, uncovering an incredible amount of data and discovering some pretty important sites. I learned how to identify a stone projectile point, trowel down a test unit, and put just the right amount of spin on a shovelful of soil.
Staying at the Sullivans’ beautiful farm enhanced my field experience. I was immersed in a landscape much like the one colonists, Native Americans, and African Americans inhabited hundreds of years ago. Much of this landscape has remained unchanged, and the same families who owned and cultivated the land in the 17th century are still in Charles County today. By the end of the project, I knew that I would continue with archaeology.
Julianna Jackson is a Martin E. Sullivan Museum Scholar. Her project will focus on making the Westwood Manor archaeological collection web accessible. This collection was recovered by Charles County property owners Phillip and Sandra Harrison, and loaned to the College’s archaeology practicum class.
Many people generously support the work of the College, but Mike and Laura Sullivan’s approach is unusual. Mike engages his passion for history with his philanthropic nature – breaking new ground in southern Maryland history through his personal investment in the region’s past. For the past several years, he has supported the archaeological and documentary research of a diverse team of scholars from several institutions led by St. Mary’s Associate Professor of Anthropology Julia A. King. Mike’s years of research are the foundation and the impetus for the group’s work, which is fundamentally reshaping our knowledge of 17th-century Maryland and providing critically important context to the decades of work done by archaeologists at Historic St. Mary’s City. Prior to Mike’s initiative, very little systematic research had been undertaken in Charles County. That situation is changing dramatically. Since 2008, Mike and Laura’s generosity and our students’ enthusiasm have discovered a long lost courthouse, Lord Baltimore’s summer house at Zekiah Manor, the home of Governor Josias Fendall, and an English tenant household on the edge of the Maryland frontier. The group has recently turned its attention to finding the lost site of the c. 1680 Piscataway Indian fort, somewhere deep in the Zekiah Swamp.
Michael J. Sullivan is CEO of Cherrywood Development, Inc., in Charles County, and president of the Smallwood Foundation that supports Smallwood State Park in Marbury, Maryland. The Foundation’s Pathways to History, chronicling Charles County’s history, was published for the county’s 350th anniversary in 2008 and received the Heritage Book Award from the Maryland Historical Trust. Mike and Laura and their two daughters, Lauren and Shannon, make their home at historic Mount Victoria Farm, and have made conservation easement donations of 444 acres of this 1700-acre farm to the Maryland Environmental Trust. This year, the Sullivans housed some of the archaeological crew there. These students lived and breathed the landscape they were investigating. Their experiences and the new history they wrote would not have been possible without Mike’s interest and generosity.