A recurring theme in Bladensburg history is the flooding of the Anacostia River. Local accounts from as early as 1738, before the founding of the town of Bladensburg, talk about the damaging affects of the floodwaters. An account from Beall Town, an early settlement located just north of Bladensburg, describes the floods: “The freshes [floods] have brought down trees and trash which is lodged in and choak’d up the channel in said branch so that boats and other craft cannot be brought up to lod or relod goods at the usual landing place”
William Wirt, born in Bladensburg in 1762, and who later became Attorney General of the United States, wrote the following in his memoirs:
“At the lower end of the town, towards Baltimore, the house nearest the Eastern Branch, was occupied by old Mr. Martin, whom we used to call Uncle Martin- I know not why. The Eastern Branch is subject to heavy freshets [floods], which have flowed up to Mr. Martin’s house and sometimes overflowed the whole village. One of the surprising and interesting spectacles to me in those days was this old man wading up to his waist, during a freshet, and harpooning the sturgeon”
This long history of flooding was in evidence in our archaeological investigation in several ways. First of all, flood borne soils were ubiquitous. River cobbles and silt were observed throughout the soil profiles. Excavations at the Magruder House, located lower and closer to the river than the Market Master’s, exhibited a long history of efforts to drain and dry the lower half of the house. Drainage pipes and trenches, mixed with artifacts from throughout its occupation, were observed in the test units excavated below the house.
The floods continued in Bladensburg until efforts to control it were accomplished in the 1950s.