Post #54: OYSTER WARS; Day 387; May 23, 2015. On board: Tom McNichol; Hank (my Dad); Jim K
Chesapeake Bay is an enormous body of water, stretching 200 miles north from its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean to the Susquehanna River and measuring 30 miles at its widest point. One hundred fifty major rivers and streams empty into the Bay, and its shoreline is nearly 12.000 miles long. It is relatively shallow, however, with an average depth of just 21 feet. It was first explored in detail in 1607 and again in 1609 by Captain John Smith of Jamestown fame.
Two critical battles occurred on the Chesapeake. The “Battle of the Capes”, described in a previous blog update, occurred in 1781 and resulted in America’s French allies controlling the mouth of the Chesapeake, setting the stage for General Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, effectively ending the American Revolution. The second was the failed bombardment by the British fleet of Fort McHenry at Baltimore, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner.
Less well known are the “Oyster Wars” that continued on the Chesapeake for nearly 100 years. The Oyster Wars started in 1865 when Maryland passed a law requiring annual permits for oyster harvesting within its territorial waters. Permits were restricted to only Maryland residents. By the 1880’s, the Chesapeake supplied almost half the world’s supply of oysters. Ignoring the permit requirements, New England fishermen started harvesting oysters in the Bay when their local oyster beds became depleted. In response, Maryland formed the Maryland Oyster Navy, the predecessor to today’s Maryland Natural Resources Police. However, it was inadequate to compete with the more heavily armed watermen. Virginia made its own attempts to control oyster harvesting, including license fees, seasonal limits, and a ban on dredging, Its enforcement efforts were also inadequate, and illegal harvesting continued. However, the Governor of Virginia, William Cameron, needed publicity to boost his popularity, so he left his office in the state house to personally lead an expedition against illegal dredgers. In February of 1882, his fleet of two boats, a freighter and a tugboat, engaged the illegal dredgers at the mouth of the Rappahannock River, resulting in the successful conviction of 41 dredgers and the seizure of 7 boats. The Governor’s popularity soared. However, a year later his popularity diminished, so he decided to undertake a second expedition. This one failed, as captured dredgers were acquitted in court and the Governor was blamed. Further, the opposition press mocked him for failing to capture the “Dancing Molly”, a sloop run by three women who managed to outrun the Governor’s fleet (I’m not making this up). The embarrassment increased when the Norfolk Academy of Music lampooned the Governor in a comic opera entitled “Driven From the Seas; or The Pirate Dredger’s Doom”. The Governor’s popularity never recovered. The Oyster Wars continued until, in 1959, an officer of the Potomac Rivers Fishery Commission killed a Virginia waterman who was illegally dredging. The Commissioner ordered that the fisheries police be disarmed, and the violence finally ended.
Our next stop on the Chesapeake was Annapolis, Maryland. Founded in 1649, Annapolis grew rapidly in the 18th century as a port of entry and a major center for the Atlantic slave trade. However, it declined rapidly when Baltimore, with its deeper harbor, became a port of entry in 1780. Annapolis became the temporary capital of the United States in 1783 for about a year upon the signing of the Treaty of Paris granting independence from Britain. In 1845, the United States Naval Academy was established in Annapolis. The entire campus is now a National Historic Landmark, and its presence is omnipresent in the city.
Today, Annapolis is a thriving tourist and college town. There are over 100 restaurants in the city, and Main Street is a collage of boutiques, pubs, and specialty shops. There is a very active night life, fueled in part by the Academy.
We docked at the Annapolis City Docks, located in the heart of downtown Annapolis. Here are some images from our two-day visit:
From Annapolis we ran 40 miles up the Patapsco River to Baltimore, about 10 miles each way off our route. We docked in the Baltimore Inner Harbor, located in the heart of downtown Baltimore. The waterfront/Inner Harbor has been transformed in recent decades, and is home to many shops, restaurants, and attractions, including the Aquarium and the Science Museum. We planned to stay for two days in Baltimore, but stayed an extra day due to high winds. Here are some pictures from our stay:
The following day, the wind in Baltimore had finally diminished, but it was cold and rainy. However, we wanted to move on, so we ran 50 miles in steady rain to Chesapeake City. The bridge on the Joint Adventure has a bimini top and clear plastic windows that can be zipped into place, so we dressed warm and stayed dry during the run. Chesapeake City is located on the C&D Canal, which connects Chesapeake Bay to Delaware Bay. The map below is the best way to describe the geography:
Chesapeake City is a hidden gem – a small, historic town with buildings dating in the early 1800’s with some surprisingly good restaurants and a vibrant marina with a large restaurant/lounge that has live music 5 days a week. Here are some pictures:
The rain cleared but the forecast called for winds increasing to 20 knots with gusts to 30 knots and small craft warnings, so we left at dawn the next day to run 70 miles down Delaware Bay to Cape May, New Jersey. The wind and waves kicked up, but the waves were on our stern so the passage was a bit rough but doable. On the way, we passed the nuclear power plant that my nephew Jimmy Southerton operates:
Cape May, New Jersey is unique. Located on a peninsula which separates Delaware Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, it was the country’s first seaside resort. Several large hotels were constructed, and it became the summer playground of socialites in the 18th century. In 1878, a five day long fire destroyed several city blocks, including several of the hotels. Nearly all of the homes that were built during the reconstruction were Victorian style, and today Cape May boasts the second largest collection of Victorian homes in the nation, after San Francisco. In 1976, the entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark, the only city in the nation so designated. Today, the city is a thriving tourist town with tours of the historic homes, great restaurants, and a fantastic beach. Here are some images:
From Cape May, we work our way north on the New Jersey Intracoastal Waterway towards New York. We’re told that the channel is often narrow and shallow, extensive shoaling exists, and some debris from Hurricane Sandy still remains submerged and unmarked. If it gets too precarious, we’ll head into the open water and run outside the shoreline, but we prefer the interesting channels of the ICW if it is safe enough. More to come!