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claiborne

Virginians Have Been Jerks to Marylanders for Centuries

No doubt you have heard about the recent comments by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe challenging Maryland’s historic standing as the home of the Chesapeake Blue Crab.  The leader of our southern neighbors said,

If anyone from Maryland is listening, I want to be very clear: All the crabs are born here in Virginia and they end up, because of the current, being taken there [to Maryland]. So really, they should be Virginia crabs.

Jerk move to be sure.  Maryland Governor Larry Hogan fired back by stating,

“While a number of Chesapeake Bay crabs may in fact be born in Virginia, they rightfully return to the State of Maryland where they survive and thrive — in our more welcoming, less salty waters. In fact, like most Virginians with any sense, the Virginia crabs eventually move north and become Marylanders.”

The fact is, Virginians being jerks to Marylanders is nothing new.  It goes back to even before Maryland was founded and is a bit of a tradition.

When the Calvert family visited Virginia, before the charter creating Maryland was issued, the Virginians greeted them with hostility and suspicion.  Part of this was the Virginians anti-Catholic prejudices but it was also a fair amount of envy and fear that they may have to compete with the Calverts in the future.

These fears, it turned out, were well founded as King Charles I carved out what would become Maryland from the previous Virginia colony.  The English king gave Lord Baltimore, the Calvert family, broad powers to establish something more than a mere colony but a semi-autonomous state called a palatinate.

The Virginians bristled at this and openly attempted to thwart Maryland’s claims. A group of these malcontent Virginians were led by William Claiborne.  Claiborne ran a pirate (or rebel depending on your point of view) operation in the Chesapeake trying to deny Marylanders their land rights and disrupting trade.

Historian Robert J. Brugger described the event this way,

In fact, Calvert’s original intent was to duplicate old England as accurately as possible. By charter Maryland was his fiefdom, a royal gift that resembled the land grants medieval English kings made in return for the military knight service of their loyal retainers—though in this case the substitute for such fealty was Baltimore’s symbolic annual tribute of two Indian arrows. King Charles placed Maryland on the same footing as the old county palatine of Durham. From the time of William the Conquerer until the sixteenth century the bishop of that northern border city had held wide-ranging political and military authority. As Lord Proprietor, Baltimore answered only to the king for his government of Maryland; while the settlers were to enjoy the rights of Englishmen, Calvert owned all the territory within the boundaries of his grant, expected to receive traditional rents, taxes, and fees, appointed all officials necessary to enforce the law, and exercised final political and judicial authority in his domain. He received full power to build fortifications and wage defensive war, to confer honors and titles, incorporate boroughs and towns, and license trade. As head of the church, he had authority to erect and consecrate chapels and churches. Like a baron of old, Baltimore also enjoyed the right of subinfeudation, the power to grant lands within his realm just as the king had bestowed Maryland on him. All these “ample rights, liberties, immunities, and temporal franchises” belonged as an in-heritance to the lords Baltimore for all time.'”

No one knew how these prerogatives would weather the climate of the New World. Baltimore’s first challenge came from William Claiborne, a Kent County Englishman who had arrived in Virginia as a young man in 1621 and risen from surveyor to Indian fighter, trader, and member of the council. Like John Smith, he had sailed up the bay and marveled at its potential riches. Along with Virginia investors and English merchants, he managed to organize the northern Chesapeake fur trade and also profited by supplying corn to English settlements farther north. On Kent Island, largest piece of land in the bay, well drained, and located ideally for dealings with upper-Chesapeake Indians, Claiborne in 1631 had built a stockade, church, and store. He persuaded a number of Virginians to settle the island, and after pledging him military support they moved there to plant crops and orchards. Claiborne named a smaller, thousand-acre island to the south after his friend Richard Popely and sent men first to graze hogs and then to clear fields there. In about 1634 Richard Thompson, a Claiborne lieutenant, took his family to live on Popely’s Island. Having made such investments, Claiborne had angrily resisted Baltimore’s request for a Chesapeake land grant; prob-ably he was the one who in 1634 told Indians that the approaching Mary-landers were hostile Spanish. Now he brushed aside messages noting the bounds of Lord Baltimore’s domain and inviting Claiborne to cast his lot with Maryland. The Maryland grant, he declared, excluded places already settled—a view that carried legal substance. But Claiborne was no lawyer.

He typified the swashbucklers that English ambition of the day sprouted in foreign parts. Proud, impulsive, and untamed, he sought out adventure and loved a good fight. Calvert prepared for trouble, and in the spring of 1635 two Maryland ves-sels under CormArallis’s command clashed with one of Claiborne’s armed trading wherries, Cockatrice, at a river mouth on the lower eastern shore of the bay. She surrendered only after suffering several casualties. Soon after-ward the Virginian got revenge when another small naval battle ended in his favor. Fortunately for the Lord Proprietor and for peace in the Chesapeake, Claiborne’s resistance led to a drop in his fur exports, and his London sponsors replaced him with another agent, more tractable, George Evelin. The Kent Islanders eventually came to terms with Calvert, though not be-fore a Maryland expeditionary party landed on the island in December 1637 and subdued rebel leaders. Claiborne, first in England and then in Virginia, nursed his wounded pride and sat on plots he hoped would hatch in the future.”

It appears our Virginian neighbors have never completely gotten over this defeat and are still plotting to undermine Maryland’s historical claims to the treasures of the Chesapeake.

So, Virginians continue the centuries old tradition of being jerks to their Maryland neighbors.






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