SOCIETY, HOUSING, AND ARCHITECTURE IN EARLY MARYLAND: JOHN LEWGER'S ST. JOHN'S

GARRY WHEELER STONE, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

From 1968 through 1976, St. Mary's City Commission archaeologists and historians researched four generations of farmhouses on St. John's Freehold, St. Mary's City, Maryland. The excavated buildings included the original 1638 manor house, 1640s and 1660s outbuildings, and a circa 1720 replacement farmhouse. Historical records document another dwelling of the 1740s. Architectural preservation at the excavated sites was unusually good and significantly increased our knowledge of Chesapeake construction. The evolution of these structures illustrates extensive environmental and social adaptation. What society produced these buildings? What do these buildings tell us about that society?^ Manorial lord and Provincial Secretary John Lewger established St. John's Freehold. Circa 1640, his household numbered twenty persons. By English standards, Lewger's dwelling was a modest center for such a household. By frontier standards, it was an unusually expensive one, as early Maryland carpenters commanded wages thrice those of their English peers. Subsequent owners of St. John's resorted to cheaper forms of construction.^ During Maryland's first century, architecture evolved through four phases. The 1638 house was representative of the first--the importation of English prototypes. Few were functional in the Chesapeake. By circa 1650, carpenters were evolving a peculiarly Chesapeake architecture based on riven timber, post-in-the-ground framing, and tobacco house scaffolding. These buildings were cheap, but rotted down in 25 years. Circa 1675-1725, rapid evolution continued as carpenters developed a more enduring, inexpensive structure. Their product was the "bastard" or "lap work" building, a structure whose sills were raised off the ground on cedar or locust blocks, but whose walls and roofs were framed without expensive mortise and tenon joints. Following the 1713 improvement in tobacco prices, crude frontier construction increasingly was replaced with improved box-frame or brick buildings, but these new structures were thoroughly Chesapeake in design and bore little resemblance to the English structures that had been imported into the Chesapeake only a century earlier.^ The rapid evolution of Chesapeake architecture establishes that seventeenth-century Englishmen were technologically innovative. This same evolution makes the study of architecture an effective way of monitoring cultural adaptation and social change. ^

Subject Area

American Studies

Recommended Citation

GARRY WHEELER STONE, "SOCIETY, HOUSING, AND ARCHITECTURE IN EARLY MARYLAND: JOHN LEWGER'S ST. JOHN'S" (January 1, 1982). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI8307366.
http://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI8307366

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