Hunting for buried history in Eastport

Group tackles mystery of ex-governor's grave

April 07, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Before former Gov. Benjamin Ogle died in July 1809, he made a simple request: to be buried without ceremony on his horse farm in what is now Eastport.

After two days of using ground-penetrating radar to scan a possible burial site on a partly paved waterfront bluff, residents of the Maritime Republic of Eastport are still wondering, "Where's Ben?"

Archaeologists will analyze the results of the radar search next week to determine whether there is any indication that Ogle's bones lie beneath the pavement in the Annapolis neighborhood.

The mystery of Ogle's final resting place has galvanized the MRE, a nonprofit group that staged a mock secession from the rest of Annapolis three years ago. MRE officials hope that finding the grave will let them make a claim on Maryland history, an area in which it is often dominated by its sometime-rival across Spa Creek, historic downtown Annapolis.

"Find me the bones of Benjamin Ogle! Poke in the garden or under the bridge. Where's the colonial real estate mogul, who owned all of Eastport and half of Bay Ridge?" begins the ditty "Ben Ogle's Bones," composed by Jefferson Holland, the MRE "bard and poet laureate."

The search for the bones began last year, when the MRE "ambassador to the mainland," Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, was researching Maryland horse racing for a St. John's College exhibit and stumbled across a reference to Ogle's burial at his farm.

"This was good fodder for the cannon, if you will, in this tug of war Eastport seems to have with downtown Annapolis," Moyer said.

Moyer printed more than 200 bright yellow bumper stickers with the question "Where's Ben?" Hollander composed the theme song, and archaeologists began poring through historic records and maps for clues to Ogle's grave.

Their search led them to the high point along Spa Creek that faces St. Mary's cemetery and is partly covered by the Annapolis Yacht Club parking lot.

The strongest clue to the site is an 1846 map that shows a trail going to the top of the hill and stopping. No structures are noted on the map, so the trail could have led up to a grave or family cemetery, said Jane Cox, assistant county archaeologist and MRE "minister for old and dusty things."

Cox led this week's search, which drew schoolchildren, Ogle descendants and half a dozen archaeologists.

She explained to Eastport Elementary School fourth-graders how the machine, which was pushed in a grid pattern across the property, sends radar signals that reveal where the soil has been disturbed, such as for graves or underground pipes. By studying the printouts, archaeologists can find anomalies or patterns.

By early Thursday, Cox and her crew had discovered a large utility trench that runs across the lot.

"We're crossing our fingers that we might also find evidence of graves," she told the children.

"I think they are going to find him," Reina Castaneda, 10, said after peering at the computer screen and glimpsing the profile of the soil under the pavement.

Other pupils were not so sure. Melanie Shepherd, 10, said she thought the Ogle mystery was "kind of weird."

"Wouldn't he write a will saying where he would be buried, or wouldn't his family members pass on where he would be?" she asked.

Cox and Moyer said the search was less about finding definitive evidence of the grave than about inspiring interest in the history of Eastport and in archaeology. April is Maryland Archaeology Month.

After the children were briefed on Eastport history and got a chance to see the seismographlike images on the computer screen, they headed to a table where Lisa Plumley, another county archaeologist, told them how to figure out the mysteries of history.

"The whole point of an archaeologist is to figure out how people lived in the past," she said.

Plumley showed the children artifacts found at other county sites - bones and teeth, bits of rough pottery and fine china. Animal bones can reveal what the residents ate or what livestock they raised, and the quality of the dishes can indicate who used them, she said. The earth-tone pottery was probably used by slaves, the stenciled white china probably by the slave owners.

Benjamin Ogle, governor from 1798 to 1801, owned 47 slaves, Plumley said, drawing astonished outcries from some students.

Nearby, two Ogle descendants met for the first time.

Robert Ogle and Benjamin Ogle Tayloe V, distant cousins, exchanged jokes, family stories and chatted about their ancestor.

"We have to think back to the days when this was all farmland," said Tayloe, 83, of Montross, Va., surveying the land and looking across Spa Creek, crowded with docked sailboats.

Robert Ogle, a 65-year-old Annapolis resident who said he is "the last of the local Ogles," puffed on his pipe and said, "This would have been a good spot for a graveyard."

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