Patuxent Architecture

​17th & 18th Century Architecture Along the Patuxent River, MD


Some of the earliest Maryland colonists to spread out from St. Mary's City chose to live along the lower Patuxent River, where rich tobacco soils contributed to rapid settlement between 1650 and 1660 (Gibb 1994:166). [1] ​At least 19 existing structures or archaeological sites along the Patuxent date to the 1631-1730 period. [2] In order to explore the architecture of this period along the Patuxent, this study will focus on three site clusters chosen for their wealth of archaeological and historical data. Comparisons of sites within these loci, as well as comparisons of the site clusters to each other, allows the examination of sub-regional variation and the influence of the surrounding community on architecture.

In this context, "community" is defined as the immediate surroundings of the individual plantation, not just geographically, but also in terms of who the neighbors were, and how social and political circles may have influenced architecture. Affluence is an obvious factor in what people can afford to build, but wealth alone may not have greased the wheels as effectively as neighborly ties when it came to accessing skilled labor for building plantations.

The scarcity of skilled labor in the early colonial Chesapeake, and the need to use what labor there was on tobacco cultivation, has been cited by Carson et. al. (1981), and numerous subsequent articles, as a major force behind the development of architectural styles in this region. Rather than repeating research on the development of the Virginia house, certain characteristics of the Virginia house will be used as the baseline for this study of the sites along the Patuxent. [3] All of the sites have employed earthfast architecture with sidewall or bent-frame post-in-ground construction, leaded casement windows, [4] and clapboard exteriors. [5] This study will therefore focus on characteristics that point out differences, such as types of hearths or chimneys, presence of brick construction, plastered walls, plank floors, etc. By comparing these differences in the context of the neighborhoods and individual circumstances where they appear, elements that might at first seem to be anomalous may suddenly make a lot of sense.

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