A Student of History

October 22, 2007

Filed under: Early America,Historic Places — John Maass @ 9:20 am

A few days ago, I came across two very interesting sites I had no idea existed, both in southern Maryland. 

The first was St. Ignatius Church, founded in 1641.  That’s old!  According to the parish website and a historical marker at the church, St. Ignatius is the oldest Catholic Parish in continuous service in the United States. Fr. Andrew White and other Jesuits sailed on the Ark and the Dove to help found an English Colony, permitting freedom of religion. Fr. White settled among the Potobac Indians at Chapel Point, learned to speak their language, and soon baptized their Indian Tayak or Chief. 

Although often tried by repressive laws, the Jesuits continued to serve colonists, Indians, and slaves from the “olde wooden chapelle” by the point, and later from “Paradise Hill.” Supplies from the Manor Farm were offered to the Americans attacking Yorktown. With the return of peace, the present church was built in 1798. It was blessed by John Carroll, the first bishop of Baltimore.  Though suppressed worldwide in 1773, the Society of Jesus was restored in America by those who took their vows in this church in 1805. From here, saddle priests rode forth to serve all of Charles County, as well as parts of Prince George’s and Calvert Counties.

Union troops occupied St. Thomas Manor during the Civil War. Fire substantially destroyed the interior of the church and Manor House on December 27, 1866. However, by June 7, 1868, both were restored and rededicated.

For over 150 years, St. Thomas Manor at St. Ignatius was the home of Superiors of the Maryland Mission. Many missionaries lived and worked here. Courageous people worshiped here despite severe obstacles to their faith, and the famous visited for advice and counsel. From this manor, priests attended Catholics in an area from Virginia to Pennsylvania, developing new missions and establishing new residences. From here, all the older parishes of Charles County have been attended, and most were founded by priests of St. Thomas Manor.

There’s much more info at the website.  What is even more special about the site is that the interior of the church, built in 1798, is so lovely.  All the kneelers are hand embroidered.  And, the site has a spectacular view of the Port Tobacco River and surrounding countryside.  It is located off US 301, south of La Plata.

The second place we saw was Port Tobacco, located between US 301 and Indian Head Hwy., on the east side of the Potomac River.  There is a reconstructed courthouse there, a few old buildings and some markers but not much else.  Still, its a pretty spot and a nice drive to get there.  According to a tourism website, the town was founded in Charles County in 1641, on the site of an earlier Indian town.  The county seat was later relocated to La Plata, ten miles away.  More info I got from the web:

In 1727, an Act of the Maryland Assembly directed that a new courthouse be erected on the “East side of the Head of Port Tobacco Creek, at a place called ‘Chandler Town’ allowing 3 acres for a courthouse and a jail.” An additional 60 acres were to be divided into 100 lots to form the village. The courthouse was completed by 1729 and is assumed to have been of brick because its cost was recorded as 12,000 pounds of tobacco. No drawings have been found.

The Assembly officially named the village “Charles Town,” but that name failed to stick. The area had always been popularly known as Port Tobacco, and that is the name that endured. It could have been a corruption of the Indian name Potopaco, which through the years had been pronounced Portafacco, Potobac, Potobag, and Porttobattoo.  

[photo, Restored Charles County Courthouse, Port Tobacco, Maryland]

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