So, this is how I dress on weekends. Okay, not usually. This past weekend, however, I had a chance to play at being a well-to-do 18th century lady. I joined some friends at the first-ever Shore Party held on the grounds of Historic London Town and Gardens. The event featured four recreated 18th century boats ferrying costumed staff and volunteers across the South River as well as sailors, cooks, a woodworker, a washerwoman, and a few other gentry like myself chatting with visitors about their occupations and daily life in Maryland circa 1760.
London Town was a bustling port and center of trade from 1683 until about 1760. Around that time, commerce began moving on to Annapolis and Baltimore. A bridge built across the South River dealt a blow to the once-thriving ferry business, and the Revolutionary War didn’t help matters. Over time, London Town virtually disappeared from the landscape, and today, the park consists of one quarter of the original settlement. Most of the historic buildings one can tour at the site are reproductions, some on the footprints of the originals, but one 18th century structure, the William Brown House, has been painstakingly restored.
The William Brown House was an upscale tavern in its time – rather like what we’d now call a “boutique hotel.” William Brown was a ferry owner as well as an innkeeper, and he probably served as building contractor for this project. Alas, he went heavily into debt in building the house, and after London Town’s decline, his finances never recovered.
Working class locals inhabited somewhat different structures. Behold the Lord Mayor’s Tenement, where I actually spent the first night of our adventure. This is one of the buildings reconstructed on the footprint of an original dwelling.
My friends opted to sleep outdoors, but given that my official definition of “camping” is “any NYC hotel that’s more than two blocks from the subway”, I figured having a roof over my head was more my speed, even if there were no window screens, fans, or lights in the home. Fortunately, I had a flashlight and bug spray. The next night, many of us chose to sleep on the floor in the air-conditioned Visitors’ Center.
On Saturday, we had to stash our belongings in the loft of the tenement because some lovely ladies were going to need the kitchen to whip up a colonial feast, all cooked over an open hearth.
Cornbread, eggs and tomatoes, fried fish, and strawberry fritters? I’m in!
It was pretty steamy outside, so when invited to take a ferry ride, I jumped at the chance. We spent about 90 minutes on the South River, enjoying the breeze and doing our best not to be swamped by the wakes created by 21st century power boats. Here’s the ferry I rode in:
The ride was great fun, although getting in and out of the boat proved challenging in a long gown, stays (the period term for corsets) , pocket hoops, and an enormous straw hat. With the help of the crew and another friend, I didn’t end up going for an unintentional swim in the South River.
According to the staff at London Town, the event was a great success, so perhaps this will be the first Shore Party of many to come. I certainly hope so!
Tags:Historic London Town and Gardens, Lord Mayor's Tenement, Maryland history, Shore Party, South River, William Brown House