While the 1980s excavations in the Search for the City succeeded in finding the center of Maryland’s first capital, the rest of the settlement remained to be found. With the assistance of funding from the Maryland State Highway Administration, a more comprehensive survey of the rest of the core area of the city was conducted in the 1990s. One goal was to learn how the earliest roads in the earliest city of the state had developed. Another was to identify all the archaeological sites in the area, ranging from thousands of years old Chesapeake Indian settlements to 17th-century colonial homes and the 18th– and 19th-century dwellings of African Americans.
Using a combination of exploration methods (plowing and collecting surface artifacts, digging small one foot sized Shovel Test Pits every 20 feet, or larger five feet by five feet test units), over 100 acres of land was systematically examined. This revealed a remarkably detailed picture of human activities at St. Mary’s City over millennia with hundreds of separate habitation episodes identified. Among these were a camp site dating back to approx. 8000 B. C., numerous 17th-century buildings, and later domestic and agrarian building sites. The work revealed how St. Mary’s City had grown and a unique city street plan had been laid out to create an impressive capital for Lord Baltimore’s colony. It also showed how, once the government moved to Annapolis, the former capital rapidly declined and became farmland.
Among the bigger surprises was the discovery of three clusters of buildings dating to the mid-1700s, ca. 1800 and post-1840 times. Each of these clusters seems to have been the homes of enslaved African Americans at St. Mary’s City. Their changing locations and arrangements over the landscape seems to correspond to the three major plantations at St. Mary’s, that of William Hicks (ca.1755-1774), John Mackall (1775-1814) and John Mackall Brome (1840-1887).
Results of the Mattapany Road Survey Project demonstrate that St. Mary’s City is a remarkably rich archaeological site that holds the material records of numerous cultures and peoples dating over thousands of years. The information collected allows us to better understand how people have shaped and used one specific location and its natural resources over a vast span of history. And by knowing where the archaeology is located, we can protect and preserve these unique cultural resources so that future generations can explore and have the opportunity of asking their own questions about the past. These survey findings are summarized in a major report available at selected state repositories in Maryland.