|Date(s):||December 6, 1883 to December 31, 1883|
|Tag(s):||Crime/Violence, Government, Law|
|Course:||“Rise And Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
Lieutenant Dryden was furious. The Award of 1877, which defined the boundary between Virginia and Maryland through the Chesapeake Bay, was bad enough. It ceded many of the most bountiful beds in the Pocomoke Sound to the dredgers of Virginia, but the Virginians refused to respect even those boundaries. Dryden and his fellow watermen decided to respond with force. For three weeks, his men riddled Virginia poachers with rifle fire. However, when Dryden and his men renewed their tonging, they found that only trashy-looking oysters remained. The Virginians had licked the bar with their destructive dredging practices. In revenge, Dryden and the other oystermen raided the Virginia beds. The Tangier, a Virginia police schooner, attacked them, and chased the tongers back to Smith Island. There, Dryden and the Maryland oystermen fired over 500 rounds on the Virginia police. The captain of the Tangier, A. J. Read, returned fire with his cannon. The Smith Islanders threw up barricades on the island, and dared Read to try to beach his craft. The Captain was unwilling to storm the beach, though, and the Tangier retreated back to the other side of the line.
Southern states increasingly regulated and defended their economic interests in the years after the Civil War. The War devastated the economies of many parts of the South, and these states sought to recover stability and growth through an active role in economic affairs. Maryland and Virginia fought over their boundary line through the Chesapeake Bay because each had economic interests in the Bay's valuable oyster fields. After a complex survey, the Award of 1877 settled the issue. Oystermen were notorious for not respecting the boundaries: many dredgers trawled at night in boats painted black with mud-covered sails. In response, each state created police forces to secure the boundary and the oysters. Open gunfire between the police boats and the oystermen was common throughout the 1870s and 1880s.
The police vessels also tried to limit the more destructive oyster industry practices, such as dredging. Many reports in the Baltimore Sun detail cases involving dredgers exceeding their tonnage limit without the proper license. The police forces regulated dredging because Virginians and Marylanders increasingly saw the oysters as an economic asset belonging to the state. A Marylander named Howard Hamans proposed leasing the bay bottom to dredgers instead of letting them take what they pleased. The money from this plan could be used to fund state projects like road construction. Hamans believed that dredgers squandered a precious natural resources belonging to the citizens of Maryland. After the Civil War, southern states like Maryland and Virginia tried to protect these economic interests, and even used guns to do so.