Last light illuminates the roots of a flooded tree along the southern mouth of the Chester River, north on the Chesapeake Bay. This view once held one of the most fertile and hotly disputed oyster beds in Maryland.
Audaciously productive, its huge oyster shoals were the site of several 19th century gunfights between oystermen and the beleaguered state “Oyster Navy.” One particularly violent example even made national news, covered in 1888 by the New York Times with the headline “Maryland’s Oyster War: A Desperate Fight With Illegal Oyster Dredgers” http://nyti.ms/1zq2oP4. One Oyster Navy man caught a bullet in the fray and cried out, “I’m done for!” Fortunately, he was not seriously hurt, but it did make for juicy copy.
Today, it is the location of new oyster wars, this time between would-be oyster leasers and local watermen. Although this stretch of the river hasn’t been a powerhouse of oyster production in 50 years or more, some new oyster farmers would like to change that. Their leases, and the oyster cages they use, have sparked protests from watermen who are concerned about the impact such tools might have on other fisheries, like trotlining.
For such a peaceful view, it is a place that has produced conflicts as prodigiously as it once grew oysters.