The History of Port TobaccoMaryland

The Port Tobacco Historic District, located along Chapel Road south of Maryland Route 6, encompasses the incorporated village of Port Tobacco. This small cluster of houses on 60 acres is all that remains above ground of a once thriving, bustling town of homes, businesses, and government offices. It served as the seat of Charles County government from 1727 until 1896.

This one-time settlement of the Potobac Indians, who traded with European colonists, became a colonial town, then called Chandlers Town, by 1720, and possibly as early as the 1690s. Maryland's General Assembly designated Chandlers Town as the new county seat (the earlier one having been some 12 miles to the east since 1674) and named it Charles Town, the official name until changed in 1820; but local people long had called it Port Tobacco. Although an appropriate name for a port town that primarily exported tobacco, the name derives from the creek, which was named for its early inhabitants, the Potobacs.

Port Tobacco thrived because of the tobacco trade, attracting businesses and wealthy planters including Thomas Stone, signer of the Declaration of Independence, Continental Army surgeon General James Craik, and John Hanson, first president of the United States under the Articles of Confederation (1781-1788). During the Civil War, most Port Tobaccoans sympathized with the Confederate cause. Resident George Atzerodt was one of several Marylanders convicted in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Sedimentation of the creek impeded river traffic as early as the 1780s and the port facilities were moved a mile south to Warehouse Point well before the Civil War. Construction of a railroad through Chapman's Town, now La Plata, three miles east of Port Tobacco, further diminished the town's commerce. Burning of the courthouse in 1892 virtually sealed Port Tobacco's fate. The County Commissioners built a new courthouse and jail in La Plata in 1897 and the town rapidly depopulated within a very few years.

Although Port Tobacco's remaining structures display little of its former glory, the site retains a wealth of archaeological deposits that will keep archaeologists returning for decades. The Port Tobacco Historic District, consisting of eleven buildings, three of which date to the 18th century, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a valuable resource for understanding settlement and trade in the Chesapeake region. Other historic sites lie within a few miles of town.

The pages of this website introduce visitors to some of these locally and nationally important sites. Look for frequent updates.