Even the rich shared their homes with strangers in order to make ends meet in early Maryland. And their children, like the children of the working class and the slaves, were given household responsibilities at the youngest ages.
Visitors to Historic London Town and Gardens, a 23-acre park featuring history and archaeology in southern Anne Arundel County, can now get an intimate look at the lives of three families as they lived when this town was Maryland's most important port city.
One of two new tours at the historical site, "Three Families, Three Stories" allows visitors — whether families or school groups — to dress the part and then play the parts of the members of these families.
One of them is Matthew Midiate, a shipwright in London Town in the first quarter of the 1700s, and his wife and children.
"We know that the family eventually left for the Outer Banks, something about a sheep-stealing and debts," said Rod Cofield, director of interpretation and museum programs at the park near Edgewater on the South River.
With the help of costumes and character cards, visitors will also learn about the Brown family, who lived in the 1760 William Brown House, an imposing brick building in London Town. Susannah Brown, the wife, ran it as a tavern while her husband ran the ferry at the water's edge and the children gave up their bedrooms to travelers.
"And we know that 10-year-old William Jr. was heading back to Scotland, where the family had relatives, for his education," said Cofield. "And he was worried about the journey."
Also in the Brown house were slaves, indentured servants and convicts, visitors will learn. Newspapers from the time reveal that a couple of these servants made multiple attempts to escape, and Brown successfully offered rewards for their capture.
A second new tour also takes place in the Brown house. "Myths and Misconceptions" uses the setting to debunk stories from that period, such as the notion that the bricks used to build the Brown house came from England as ballast in ships.
"Bricks make very poor ballast," said Cofield. "The ships leaked, and the bricks would absorb the water and pull the ship down."
Some other misconceptions debunked? Women were allowed in taverns. Drinkers were not charged extra if they did not have their own mug. Tea did not come in blocks. And closets were absent from Colonial homes not because they were taxed as rooms, but because people then didn't have as much "stuff" and chests provided adequate storage.
London Town is the destination for about 5,000 schoolchildren each year and an equal number of other visitors who can take a guided tour, an audio tour or simply wander among the houses and gardens, including the slave garden planted with period crops.
The two new tours will replace regularly scheduled tours until the end of October.
And whatever happened to these London Town families? The Mediates prospered in the Carolinas. But the Browns lost the house and tavern to bankruptcy.
If you go
Historic London Town House and Gardens, 839 Londontown Road. Take U.S. 50/Route 301 to Route 665 (Exit 22, Aris T. Allen Blvd.), exit onto Route 2 South, go over the South River Bridge and turn left at the third traffic light onto Mayo Road, Route 253. Go about a half-mile and turn left at the second traffic light onto Londontown Road. The site is at the end of the road.
Open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays noon to 4 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults; $9 for seniors; $5 for ages 7 to 17, and free for those under 7.
The "Three Families, Three Stories" tour, 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays until the end of October. The "Myths and Misconceptions" tour, 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Before you tour the tavern house and gardens, take time to see the displays in the Visitors Center, including a collection of Colonial-era games.
For more details, visit historiclondontown.org or call 410-222-1919.