Surviving accounts of life within the Port Tobacco area highlight the prosperous people, the people in positions of leadership, those who bore the names of prominence, and those whose behavior called attention to themselves. We know some of the others through various official documents that survive, but most of them and their stories are lost in the centuries now past.
Life was hard in the latter half of the eighteenth century, especially for the poor. By then good land was hard to get and what could be bought was exhausted. Most people were tenants with short term leases. They lived in or on the edge of poverty. Landowners were increasingly reluctant to enter longer term leases and tenants often showed a lack of concern for their rented land. Abuses happened on both sides. Slaves proved to be better investments for landowners and out-migration of the poor to places like the Kentucky District of Virginia increased.
Before the mid-1700s, local networks offered temporary help. But, as the number of long-term poor increased and vagrancy became an issue, the Maryland General Assembly acted. In 1768 a new poor-relief system authorized erecting alms/workhouses to serve the poor in each county and required all people receiving public aide to wear the letter “P” and the name of their county of origin on their clothing. The Act further directed counties support the new system by a levy (not to exceed 15 pounds of tobacco) on each taxable inhabitant. Although Charles County was one of the early counties to adopt the General Assembly’s provisions, we know little of their experience administering it or what it achieved.
Much later a substantial almshouse with a two-story overseer’s home and an attached ten room dormitory of brick was built on 200 acres of land deeded by John Chapman in 1839 to the Trustees of the Poor who over saw the operation. This property lay on the north side of Poorhouse Road near the intersection with MD Route 6. We also know that in 1840 there was an exchange of parcels of land involving the adjoining Rose Hill and Habre de Venture properties and the Trustees of the Poor. A circa 1876 report said the County’s almshouse was “neat and comfortable.” The almshouse burned in 1914, and in 1916 the General Assembly directed that the property be sold at public auction. The proceeds from the sale were used to defray the cost of a new jail in La Plata.
Oil on Canvas 24X36 inches