War on Chesapeake Bay
edited: Friday, January 19, 2001
By Gene Williamson
Posted: Friday, January 12, 2001
Become a Fan
Excerpt from CHESAPEAKE CONFLICT, an account of William Claiborne's war against Lord Baltimore who claimed the Virginian's fur-trading enterprise in upper Chesapeake Bay lay within the boundaries of the royal charter that created Maryland.
...Sergeant Robert Vaughn of Maryland was unaware of the dangers awaiting him and his crew when their small trading pinnace approached Palmer's Island, [William Claiborne outpost at the mouth of Susquehanna River]. Even before they had stepped ashore, Captain Smith [a Claiborne agent] ordered his men to seize their boat and its "great quantitie of trucking commodities." Informed by Smith that they had invaded Claiborne's trading territory, Vaughn and his crew were taken to Kent Island as prisoners. Claiborne kept the "trucking commodities" but released the prisoners and their pinnace, with a warning to the officials at St. Mary's that he would continue to resist invasions by [Lord Baltimore's] Maryland into his rightful domain. Response from the Maryland assembly was to pass an act "censuring Smith for Pyracie."
This only aggravated Claiborne's contempt for Lord Baltimore. On April 5, 1635, he dispatched Captain Smith, now in command of the new pinnace Long Tayle, to trade for much-needed corn at an Indian village on the south side of Patuxent, just a few miles from [the Maryland capital] at St. Mary's. Smith and his islanders were confronted by an armed company headed by a Captain Humber and [Claiborne's old trading competitor] Henry Fleet, who questioned their right to be trading in Maryland without authorization. Smith said their rights were protected "by vertue of his Majesties Commission and letter graunted to Captain Claiborne," a copy of which he presented to Fleet. The Marylanders scoffed at the document as "a false coppie and grounded uppon false information" and reminded Smith that Claiborne was not licensed to trade within the province. When Fleet and his men boarded the Long Tayle, Smith demanded to see the commission "by which they tooke us, but they would shew mee none." Unarmed, he could only watch as Fleet put ashore some of the crew who were forced "to travell to St. Mary's on foote," defenseless against any hostile Indians they might encounter. Smith and the remainder were ordered "to weigh Anchor and fall Downe towards" the Maryland capital city. The Long Tayle was confiscated on the order of the governor to take "all vessels which they should find trading within the Province of the Lord Baltimore."
...From that moment on, both sides of the territorial dispute took the precaution of arming their vessels.
...When Smith arrived [at Kent] to report the loss of the Long Tayle, he also announced that Calvert [the Maryland governor] had dispatched a large pinnace on a trading voyage to the Eastern Shore. Lieutenant [Radcliffe] Warren saw this as a chance to surprise the Marylanders and seize a boat the equal of the Long Tayle. On April 23, aboard the sloop Cockatrice, Warren and a crew of thirteen men arrived at the Eastern Shore and sailed up the Pocomoke River. Soon they sighted the St. Helen, one of Maryland's largest pinnaces, near a Pocomoke Indian village where Claiborne's islanders had been trading for several years. Warren devised a hasty plan by which he and his men would quietly slip up on the Maryland vessel, quickly board it and capture the crew. But at that moment he spotted the St. Margaret, an even larger and more menacing pinnace coming from a nearby cove.
In what some have exaggerated as "the first naval engagement in the New World," the Cockatrice approached the two pinnaces with Warren and his men waving "gunnes and pistols, swords and other weapons," threatening to charge the Marylanders in hand-to-hand combat. Suddenly, the flash of gunfire, the locking of swords, and the cries of anger and anguish echoed from the swamps and woodlands bordering the Pocomoke. The battle was brief. Under the command of Thomas Cornwallis, the victorious Marylanders suffered but one casualty. For the outmanned Virginians, the combat was costly in the lives of Lieutenant Warren and two members of the crew; the ten survivors, most of them wounded, returned to Kent Island aboard the heavily damaged Cockatrice.
[Claiborne lost the battle but continued his war against Maryland for half a century.]
Copyright 1995 by Gene Williamson
Published by Heritage Books Inc.
Web Site: A Man and His Books
Want to review or comment on this article?
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Reader Membership?
Click here for your Membership!
|Reviewed by Juliet Waldron
|As my grandgirl would say, "This totally rocks." Talk about the "Wild West!" What about the Wild East?? When I write in the Revolutionary & Colonial period, I'm always blown away by what I discover by just a little research into the local stuff. I'll have to share it w/a friend whose kid is at St. Mary's. (Thanks for the link.)|
|Reviewed by * Starman * *
You have achieved great historical commentary with, "War on the Chesapeake." Having lived in Maryland, I became homesick from your descriptive prose. I look forward to continuing this tale of the Chesapeake with my very own copy of this book. It sounds fascinating!
|Reviewed by Raymond L. Morehead Esq. FSA Scot.
Was not the ships name the Africa, Licenced for trading, william Claiborne, Captan and master who in 1630-31 had passengers/men-servants bound from England to Maryland. and among them a Charles Morehead/Moorehead/ Muirhead son of David Muirhead of London an investor in Kent Island? Charles sent as his fathers representative and to oversee their investment of Kent Island. Please write I am most interested in corrisponding with you on this. Thank you