Oyster Wars
December 17, 2011 6:22 PM   Subscribe

"A Maryland boat was sent to the bottom by the Virginian navy, and a long contest was the result..." Hostility between Maryland and Virginia began the moment Maryland was created in 1632. Virginia objected to the Catholic nature of the new colony, as well as the unusual border which gave Lord Baltimore's colony ownership of all the Potomac River. Disputed maritime borders lead to conflict over the prized oyster, and naval confrontation on the Chesapeake became common. Maryland eventually created an Oyster Navy, which was charged with bringing order to the Bay and enforcing harvesting laws against the oyster pirates. The "Oyster Wars" were frequently violent.

Antipathy between the two states continues today, with reoccurring disputes over natural resource use and environmental regulation. In 2003, the neighbors went to the US Supreme Court over Virginia's plan to place a water intake pipe in the Potomac. And while anti-Catholic sentiment is no longer a source of conflict, competition and one-upmanship still frame trans-Potomac relations.
posted by spaltavian (20 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
For more Maryland border irregularities: How Maryland Got it's Shape.
posted by spaltavian at 6:32 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a Marylander, this rivalry has always been weird to me. I understand it, given the nebulous state of water borders between the two, but still. It seemed to underline the whole North/South complex Marylanders have to deal with. To many in the northeast, Maryland is southern. To a lot of southerners, Maryland is Yankee. So Virginia there, engaging in fights with us over the Potomac or the Chesapeake, could inspire either a) "that southern state is starting crap with us", or b) "our southern ally is starting crap with us!", depending on who you talked to about it, and always made me acutely aware of our state's place as a No Man's Land via Disputed Zone in the latitudinal cultural divide.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:40 PM on December 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Picture of one of the cannons used during the oysters wars and lots more cool related links. The cannon is on display in Annapolis right now.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:49 PM on December 17, 2011

My plan, when I become Governor King of Maryland, is to take out the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, reclaim the part of the seashore that's obviously part of my state, and plant our zany heraldic flag on Tangier Island, which is where the best crabcake in the universe can be found. Granted, I've got that bone-deep Maryland thing that comes from being born and raised here and having spent many unhappy hours screeching "WHY CAN'T YOU FUCKING FUCKERS PUT UP SIGNS IDENTIFYING YOUR FUCKING ROADS!?" while running tragic errands in NOVA, but I keep trying to find some love for the part of Virginia that isn't Skyline Drive and oy, the idiot politics in VA don't make it easy. Mind you, we're loonies here. It's just that Maryland loonies are fun loonies, with a few key exceptions.

Also, you have to love that the straight-appearing Mason-Dixon line is actually a crazy squiggly mess because of our state's early battle with gravity.

Great post. Always love to go over the oddity vortex that seems to be centered right..about...here.
posted by sonascope at 6:54 PM on December 17, 2011 [12 favorites]

Nice post, I love stuff like this.
posted by lobstah at 7:20 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

sonascope: After we take back the southern tip of Maryland's Eastern Shore, what do you think about swinging north to annex Delaware and its valuable toll booth industry?
posted by baltimoretim at 7:25 PM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not very many oysters to fight over anymore in the Bay, unfortunately.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:59 PM on December 17, 2011

What wonderful timing! I've spent the morning putting together a brief rundown of a fictional city I'm dropping right across the Chesapeake from Washington and Baltimore - right where Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is. (Sorry, animals.)

At this stage, the city is still kind of amorphous - I've used it in several short stories as one of my go-to Big Cities and dropping in details as I go. I put it where it is because that's where my brain told me it should be, despite not knowing nearly enough about the area. But this kind of information will go very far into helping me shape the city - its culture, economics and history - into something more realistic.

Its large population of super-heroes aside, of course...

posted by MShades at 8:04 PM on December 17, 2011

To pre-Columbian American Indians, Maryland was mostly a neutral hunting/fighting ground between cultures to the north and south (central MD).
posted by stbalbach at 8:07 PM on December 17, 2011

The bodies of crewmen who had been “paid off by the boom,” that is, swept overboard by a swinging boom after an oyster run, washed up on shore or snagged in fishing nets regularly.

~~paid off by the boom~~
posted by chronkite at 8:38 PM on December 17, 2011

This is great; thanks for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:39 PM on December 17, 2011

Grew up in Silver Spring, went to grad. school in Charlottesville.

Yeah, Virginia can suck it.
posted by bardic at 9:44 PM on December 17, 2011

Not meaning to take the wind out of the sails of the crimes being perpetrated on the East Coast, Jack London has written a series based on his experiences as a de-facto game warden in the San Francisco Bay. For all the talk of fishing restrictions today, it strikes me that the health of marine life is a foundation on which the United States was based.
posted by Graygorey at 11:47 PM on December 17, 2011

If you are into oysters, and Maryland, there is of course a facebook page.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 4:14 AM on December 18, 2011

Good post, spaltavian. Been wanting to do an Oyster Wars post ever since I heard of Oyster Wars. I mean... Oyster Wars!!
posted by zennie at 7:15 AM on December 18, 2011

Growing up, in and about bardic's apparently damned city of Charlottesville, far from the Potomac or the Chesapeake, I can say that this topic isn't much covered in the local curriculum. Fascinating, none the less, so thank you for the post!
posted by Atreides at 7:54 AM on December 18, 2011

Live in MoCo and work in Fairfax. VA can suck it.
posted by RedShrek at 10:37 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Old Dominion hears your concerns and expresses a willingness to meet on the neutral ground of a few inches off the south shore of the Potomac to listen to Marylander concerns on the suckiness of the Commonwealth.
posted by Atreides at 6:02 PM on December 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Maybe it is because I'm not a native Marylander, just a convert, but it seems like a lot of the problems now stem from Marylanders being willing (to a point) to actually pay taxes for services and Bay cleanup and stuff, whereas Virginians want to pay no taxes, destroy the Bay for profit and have someone hand them stuff on a silver platter.

The real Commonwealth is Massachusetts. Virginia is a bunch of teabagger, pseudo-libertarian loosers.
posted by QIbHom at 11:20 AM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I own a business with two locations -- one in Richmond, and one in Baltimore.

This is very tough for me.

But, after serious consideration, I have finally reached a conclusion: Suck it, Texas-of-the-East-Coast (aka Virginia). Here we are about to legalize gay marriage and medical marijuana on this side of the Potomac, and you guys can't even figure out if it's OK to let gay couples adopt, and "the Cooch" seems to think so-called "Obamacare" is socialism. (Oh, I only wish it was.) I'd love to play a game of "our Attorney General is better than yours" some time.

(Also, What QibHom said. We actually pay our bills in Maryland. Virginia? Eh, not so much. And I was actually born in DC, so technically, I'm neutral by birth, but . . . I picked my side very early on.)
posted by CommonSense at 12:13 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

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