In Chesapeake Bay in the late 19th century, oyster harvesting was a big business. There were so many oyster harvesters harvesting so many oysters that the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia had to start regulating who could harvest oysters and how they could do so. Creating the regulations was the easy part; enforcing them was much harder. The illegal harvesting of oysters by oyster pirates continued, even after the creation of the Maryland State Oyster Police Force in 1868 and a similar force in Virginia in 1884.
The first of the Oyster Wars was in Virginia in 1882 when Governor William E. Cameron himself joined the expedition to raid the pirates. The first raid was a success, but Cameron quickly learned that pirates wouldn’t stay defeated for long, and the oyster wars continued. By the late 1880s the Oyster Wars turned deadly.
The Oyster Wars remained an important part of Chesapeake Bay history all the way until the “official” end of the Oyster Wars in 1959, although even that may have not truly been the end.
In this episode, Kelly briefly tells the story of the Oyster Wars and (with a little help from her son, Arthur, interviews Jamie Goodall, author of Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Episode image: “The oyster war in Chesapeake Bay,” Drawing by Schell and Hogan. Harper's Weekly, Mar. 1, 1884, p. 136. Library of Congress.Transcript available at: https://www.unsunghistorypodcast.com/transcripts/transcript-episode-12.
Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars by Jamie L. H. Goodall
National Geographic Pirates: Shipwrecks, Conquests & Legacy by Jamie L. H. Goodall
The Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay by John R Wennersten
The daily dispatch. (Richmond, VA), 04 March 1883. Library of Congress.
"Oyster Wars," Baltimore Sun, February 10, 2015.
Oyster Question: Scientists, Watermen, and the Maryland Chesapeake Bay Since 1880 by Christine Keiner
"An Evolving Force: Natural Resources Police Celebrates 150th Anniversary," Maryland Department of Natural Resources, March 30, 2018.
“Landscapes of Resistance: A View of the Nineteenth-Century Chesapeake Bay Oyster Fishery” by Bradford Botwick and Debra A. McClane. Historical Archaeology, vol. 39, no. 3, 2005, pp. 94–112.
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