Last summer, John Kille was sweating. As he worked in a field close to Town Point in Southern Anne Arundel County, Kille, the project manager for the Herrington Lost Towns effort, looked into one of the more than 600 STPs (shovel test pits) dug by him and a small crew of archeologists, graduate students and volunteers during the incessant summer heat.
Was his labor ever going to pay off? Kille wondered. The unearthed soil from the three-foot hole was sifted, just as had been done in all the others, and with each new handful of dirt, hopes were high that there would be some sort of indication they were in the right place.
And then he heard the word: Rhenish!
All work stopped. The diggers gathered around the one who held a two-inch shard of pottery in his hand. As three hundred years of dirt and silt were removed from the piece, a familiar blue and white pattern common to pottery in the mid to late 1600s appeared. Herrington, the second oldest town in the area called Arundel, had been found.
The months of research in libraries of court records, wills, property transfers, even in satellite images which, like a 1670 map, clearly showed a tobacco port in what was believed to be the Town Point area had paid off. The temperature that day was almost 95 degrees, but John Kille and his dedicated crew werent sweating anymore.
Lost and Found
The Lost Towns Project, headed by Anne Arundel County archeologist Al Luckenbach, has a good track record when it comes to research and digging.
Funded with grants from the Maryland Historical Trust, the project discovered the lost towns of Providence on the upper part of Whitehall Creek (which later became Anne Arundel Town and later became Annapolis) and London Town on the South River.
Herrington had been the most lost of the lost towns. Not now.
We were using a modeling program that is based on what weve seen at Providence, Kille explains of modern archaeological search strategies. We knew these towns were built on high flat land, were near a source of fresh water and were within 1,000 feet of access to Chesapeake Bay.
The research we used indicated Herrington was located near something called the cliffs. At first we thought that could be the cliffs in Calvert County (near the location of Calvert Cliffs State Park and the nuclear power plant), but we also knew as you go into what is now Deale from the water, there are indeed cliffs just south of the entrance, along the Fairhaven shoreline.
The modeling program fit Town Point. It is located close to Trotts Branch Creek, which was once much deeper water, and there is evidence of a freshwater stream flowing where the lost town was believed to have been built. The area they were digging in was flat, on a hill and with a view of what is now Town Point Marina in one direction and Chesapeake Bay in another.
Herrington was a center of trade and tobacco taxation. The early government in 1683 made a continued effort to get farmers to export corn and tobacco to England from specific points along the Chesapeake Bay shoreline. Herrington was one of three settlements in the county given its own naval inspection officer for this purpose. There was, however, lots of illegal trade going on simply because the towns were so far apart.
Herrington was one of 31 tobacco port towns on the Chesapeake (11 were in the Maryland colony), but many ships made numerous stops throughout the Chesapeake to load untaxed tobacco before taking it across the ocean.
Revising Local Knowledge
When Lost Towns director Al Luckenbach first told Town Point Marina owner Ned Crandell where his investigation was pointing, Crandell said to look anywhere he liked.
When they came back to me a year or so later and told me what theyd discovered, I thought they were crazy, Crandell recounted. I grew up here and never heard anything about a lost town. My father grew up here and his father grew up right here. Nobody ever said anything about this because I dont think anyone knew about it.
Since then, Ned Crandell has assisted the excavation crews. Crandells work was recognized by Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens when he was named a County Volunteer of the Year in 2002.
What Ned does remember is finding as a young boy grinding stones 50 feet off the Town Point shoreline. These were once part of a windmill that is believed to have been built on Herring Bay (long after Herrington disappeared) and used to grind corn and other grain grown nearby.
The windmill (a similar one is at the Calvert Marine Museum, and an identical one can be seen as well in Williamsburg) sat on a swivel so that it could always be turned no matter from what direction the wind was coming.
Herringtons life was short.
After 1705, the town just vanishes. says Kille. It is possible the trade moved farther north to what is now London Town, since Herrington predates it. London Town was thriving until the Revolutionary War and had not only a good trade business but was a ferry port.
London Towns ferry combined with the fact that the wooden ships of the age were vulnerable to the toredo worm that thrived in saltwater could have forced the early traders to move farther north, where the water is fresher. Another theory focuses on Samuel Chew, a statesman and political figure who lived near the tobacco port. The town may have been built because of his influence. Then, when he died around 1709, the town might have been abandoned.
Most believe its a combination of all three possibilities and probably a few more no ones yet been able to figure out.
Herrington has now moved into Phase Two, which means larger areas are being excavated (five-by-five feet instead of shovel pits). So far, Kille and Luckenbach believe Herrington was no bigger than 700 feet by 500 feet with six separate lots. Evidence of buildings on three of the lots is in archival information. This spring, an area indicating the presence of a fireplace was discovered.
Research also indicates the same area was reused during at least six different periods dating to prehistoric times.
Herrington is beginning to see daylight again.
Theres a whole world of things that only archeology can tell you, says Luckenbach. We are piecing together the story of what life was like in the past, and were doing it through digging in the archives and then digging in the soil. We are putting together pieces of peoples lives. Thats what its all about.
Luckenbach believes there are other lost towns to be found on the Magothy River and the West River as well as a West County area on the Patuxent River called Queen Annes Bridge. His research points to specific places that are, right now, covered with more than a foot of soil and silt. In other words, it will be a while before he starts digging another STP.
In Years to Come
As for Herrington?
Ned Crandell says he doesnt want to see the lost town on his property become a stop for tour buses. Its been a quiet place for all these years, he says looking in the direction where people three centuries earlier made a living. Maybe a plaque can be placed there or maybe the land can become part of Historic Preservation status and that way, after Im gone, nobody will ever build here again. He pauses just as the wind blows through the trees of Town Point, as if hearing his idea and saying, as only the wind can, good.
With his eyes still focused on the town thats been found, Ned smiles and says, yeah, maybe thats what I should do.
About the Author:
A former producer of national radio programs and a published author, Pat Piper sails his boat out of Town Point Marina.