You are here

Port Tobacco

-A A +A

Port Tobacco was the site of a Native American settlement of the late Woodland period, noted by English explorer Captain John Smith in 1608, prior to its establishment by European settlers in 1684. By the mid-eighteenth century the town was one of the largest and most cohesive on Maryland’s Western Shore. It was an important terminus of the trans-Atlantic tobacco trade, rivaling Annapolis, Georgetown, and Alexandria as a commercial center.

Dependent on tobacco cultivation and trade as part of a slave-based economy, Port Tobacco began its decline during the second decade of the nineteenth century with the silting of the Port Tobacco River, hindering its transportation network. Other factors in its decline included southern Marylanders’ failure to supplant tobacco with grain production, as occurred in most other Maryland counties, and the Civil War and the end of slavery. Facing a steady decline, the final blow to Port Tobacco’s prominence came when the courthouse burned in 1892 and the county seat was moved to nearby La Plata. Now only a handful of extant buildings face the former town square, including the 1767 Stagg Hall and the adjacent Chimney House (c. 1766; 8440 Commerce Street), named for its impressive pent chimneys. A 1972 reconstruction of the courthouse (c. 1820; 8430 Commerce) encompasses the original, restored south wing. The Burch House (c. 1720, c. 1820, c. 1850; 8435 Commerce) manifests the hall-parlor plan typical of the period, with a later rear shed, creating a saltbox configuration. The Boswell-Compton House (c. 1820; 7280 Chapel Point Road) just beyond is an excellent example of the telescoping house form. Port Tobacco now constitutes a rare archaeological resource, with most of the eighty-some buildings that existed in its heyday marking an undisturbed site worthy of investigation.

Writing Credits

Lisa Pfueller Davidson and Catherine C. Lavoie

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.