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Maritime History

While water is certainly the life blood for all three lower counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, each has developed its own special character. Water provided a transport and communication link for most early settlers along the Chesapeake Bay region and the Atlantic Coast. Early colonial homes lined the seaside or bay side of the peninsula. After roads developed, followed by the railroad, water transport began to wane. But the water's importance was already ingrained into its people.

Besides transport and communication, the water also offered food and recreation, a tradition that continues today. The Eastern Shore is synonymous with seafood. Crabs, oysters, rockfish, croaker and sea trout all are part of the table fare and sportfishing scene. Small towns like Wenona, Crisfield (the crab capital of the world), and Bivalve stay alive because of the bounty of the bay.

At one time, near the turn of the century, Crisfield had more boats registered than anywhere else in the United States. Local boats include the historic bugeye log canoe and oyster buy boat. Most renowned is the skipjack, Maryland's state boat and the last remaining commercial sailing vessel in North America. The skipjack is a true symbol of the Chesapeake Bay and the watermen who ply her waters.

On the Atlantic coastal side, Ocean City has a large commercial fleet and scores of recreational boats. In west Ocean City you'll find gillnetters, sea clam boats and shallow draft scows. Offshore you can see commercial draggers or the fancy sportfishing boats that port in Ocean City. All are part of the maritime heritage of this region.

What maritime history would be complete without tales of shipwrecks, treasure and pirates? All are part of the lore and legends of the lower Eastern Shore. Pirates such as Stede Bonnet, Sam Bellamy, Blackbeard and Calico Jack Rackam all sailed these waters in the early 1700s. Many a silver or gold coin has been found on the beach over the years by beach combers. There have been hundreds of shipwrecks off Maryland's shores over the centuries and occasionally one appears on the beach after a storm.

Since the late 1800s, the Lifesaving Service operated a series of coast watch units along the barrier islands before finally being absorbed by the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1920s. The unwritten motto for the men of this dangerous lifesaving work was "you have to go out, but you don't have to come back."

 

Check out the Labor Day skipjack races held each year on Deal Island (formerly Devils Island from pirate days). After the race visit Chance and Wenona and find the grave of Joshua Thomas, who was known as the "Parson of the Islands."

Bayside, take a boat ride to Smith Island and bring your own camera and bike. Peddle around town, out to Rhodes Point and banter with the locals who sometimes still speak with a taint of old Elizabethan accent. On the way back ask where Kedges Straits are, the scene of the last and bloodiest naval battle of the American Revolution. Seaside, walk Assateague Island after a nor'easter has blown through and look for coins or carcaasses of exposed shipwrecks. Or visit a maritime museum such as the Tawes Museum in Crisfield or the Lifesaving Station Museum in Ocean City by following the Beach to Bay Indian Trail.

 

One cannot think about the Chesapeake Bay or its environs without mentioning Captain John Smith, one of the most intrepid explorers of all time. He made several expeditions up the Chesapeake, creating the first maps and became the first "ethnographer" of the region, recording Native American place names and ceremonies. He was forced to leave the region in 1609 after ashes from his pipe fell into his gunpowder bag and he suffered serious burns. Many of the Chesapeake shorelines that you may gaze at today once once also held the gaze of Captain John Smith.

The Eastern Shore has had its time of bloodshed and warfare. Many of its early settlers were escaping religious and political persecution in England and other parts of Europe. The first shots exchanged in a naval engagement between English speaking peoples in the New World (Catholics vs. Protestants) occurred in the Pocomoke Sound. During the American Revolution "picaroons", (a picaroon is hybrid English privateer and pirate) , raided freely along the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

The last naval engagement of the Revolution occurred (November 30, 1782) off Smith Island, on the very day the peace accords were being drawn up in Paris. Known as the "Battle of Kedges Straits", the patriots lost. During the War of 1812, little Tangier Island held thousands of crack British troops, including highlanders, who occasionally raided the shore for meat and fresh water. It was from here that Francis Scott Key sailed to the failed attack on Fort McHenry.

In the Civil War, Maryland was considered a border state even though union troops occupied Salisbury. Illegal smuggling of goods to Confederate over to the western shore of Virginia occurred frequently.




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. AFRICAN AMERICANS
. BICYCLE TOURING
. BIRD WATCHING
. BOATING
. CAMPING
. ENVIRONMENT
. FISHING
. HERITAGE & NATURE
INTERPRETIVE SITES
. HIKING & WALKING
. HISTORIC BUILDINGS
. HUNTING
. KIDS STUFF
. LOWER SHORE ARTS
. MARITIME HISTORY
. NANTICOKE RIVER
. NATIVE AMERICANS
. TRADITIONAL FOODS
. WICOMICO RIVER

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