Kent Island and Maryland’s Turbulent Early History

Travelers heading over the Chesapeake Bay from Maryland’s western shore along Maryland Route 50 are often on their way to one of the sandy beaches along the Eastern Shore’s Atlantic Coast.  Sunlight sparkles off the bay on either side of the bridge, as large container ships, commercial fishing vessels, sail boats, and other pleasure craft ply its waters. Up ahead, the shores of Kent Island become visible, its forested shores and fields gleaming green in the distance. 

Figure 1. The date 1593 and a medallion device bearing a two-headed bird decorate the German stoneware sherd discovered in 1988. From the 18QU300 Medallion Site. (Photo courtesy of Darrin Lowery.)

Today, Kent Island is home to the Terrapin Nature Park and miles of sandy beaches, as well as a number of marinas, yacht clubs, inns, restaurants, and hiking trails that help support a booming tourist industry. But long before it became a popular visitor destination, the island experienced a tumultuous early history, marked by pitched turf battles between the Maryland and Virginia colonies for ownership of this land.

The impressive fragment of German salt glazed stoneware jug or bottle shown here was present for those early, turbulent years.  Discovered by archaeologist Darrin Lowery in 1988 while working on a clamming dredge off the southwestern side of the island (Roylance 1991), this sherd is the oldest ceramic bearing a date in the collection of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab, the state’s archaeological curation repository. The vessel of which it was a part is believed to have been used, broken, and discarded at Kent Island’s earliest settlement.

Kent Island, settled in May of 1631 as a trading post and farming community by English settler William Claiborne, is the third oldest English settlement in North America, after Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Claiborne, appointed to be the Virginia Colony’s Secretary of State, had arrived in Jamestown in 1622 at the age of 21 (Copeland 2003).  After receiving permission to explore the Chesapeake Bay from Virginia’s governor (or, as he put it, “to win the forests of Virginia”), Claiborne claimed Kent Island, near the head of the bay, for the Virginia Colony (Appleton 1888:620).  By the end of the 1630s, over 120 people lived on the island (Isaac 1957), forming a community of planters, shipbuilders, coopers, millwrights, and sailors.

Figure 2. William Claiborne. Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography (1888), from which this illustration is taken, called Claiborne “the Evil Genius of Maryland.”

Within several years of Claiborne’s claim, the Virginia colony began a legal battle over ownership of the island—a conflict that would last over four decades. In 1634, King Charles I granted the Calvert family a charter to establish the Maryland colony north of Virginia, which included the upper half of the Chesapeake Bay, including Kent Island. Calvert was willing to allow Claiborne to keep his land if he pledged allegiance to the Calvert family. Claiborne, however, was unwilling to recognize Calvert’s authority because Kent Island had already been developed under the name of the Virginia colony.

Maryland responded by confiscating one of Claiborne’s boats, prompting Claiborne to reciprocate with armed skirmishes. Financial backers lost faith in Claiborne, replacing him as the island’s leader in 1637.  After Claiborne returned to England to plead for reinstatement, Calvert seized control of the island and the Lords Commissioners of Plantations ruled in favor of Lord Baltimore’s legal right to the land.

Claiborne was not so easily thwarted. Seven years later, he and fellow Protestant Richard Ingles launched an attack on St. Mary’s City, prompting Governor Calvert to flee south to Virginia. Claiborne thus regained control of Kent Island until 1646, when Calvert retook the Maryland colony, including the island. In another reversal, Claiborne and Virginia governor Richard Bennett overthrew the Maryland government and ruled from 1652 to 1655. By 1657, Maryland had been restored to the Calvert family and, despite one final attempt by Claiborne at regaining his land in 1677, his control of Kent Island remained elusive.

Over the centuries, the effects of erosion and sea level rise have caused Claiborne’s original settlement to now be inundated by the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, off of the southwestern side of the island.  In 1991, archaeologists examining the shallow waters 40 feet offshore discovered three old barrel wells believed to date to the seventeenth century (Roylance 1991).  Fragments of wooden barrel, likely been part of another well, were also found in the soil containing the medallion sherd brought up by the clamming dredge in 1988. Because the earliest evidence of Claiborne’s settlement now appears to be underwater, it is likely we will never know more about the actual appearance of this fort.  

Figure 3. This fanciful 19th-century woodcut imagining of Claiborne’s fortified settlement has little bearing in reality—the teepee dwelling and the shape and structure of the canoe are more appropriate to styles used in other geographic regions and time periods of the American past, for example. (Illustration from Andrews 1922:155)


Andrews, E. Benjamin.  1922.  History of the United States From the Earliest Discovery of America to the Present Time. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.  Originally published in 1894.

Appleton, D. 1888.   Appletons’ Cyclopedia of American Biography. Edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske.  D. Appleton and Company, New York.  Website accessed October 2, 2021 at

Copeland, Jennifer. 2003.  William Claiborne (1600-ca. 1677).  MSA SC 3520-246.  Maryland State Archives. Website accessed October 2, 2021 at

Isaac, Erich.  1957.  Kent Island: Part I: The Period of Settlement.  Maryland Historical Magazine Volume 52 (2):93-119.

Preservation Maryland.  2017.  Maryland History: The First Pirate of the Chesapeake.  Website accessed October 2, 2021 at Roylance, Frank D.  1991.  Clues:  4-Man Team of Archaeologists Believe It Has Discovered Evidence of Early Settlement on Kent Island.  The Baltimore Evening Sun.  February 17, 1991.  Website accessed October 2, 2021 at

Roylance, Frank D. 1991. Clues: 4-Man Team of Archaeologists Believe It Has Discovered Evidence of Early English Settlement on Kent Island. The Baltimore Evening Sun. February 27, 1991. Website accessed October 2, 2021 at

Camp Stanton and the U. S. Colored Troops

In October of 1863, two young men enslaved on the Southern Maryland farm of George Peterson made a bold move towards fighting for their own freedom and that of four million individuals enslaved in the United States. William H. Coates, aged 18, and William B. Jones, aged 19, enlisted at Camp Stanton in Charles County for a three year term with the United States Colored Troops (USCT).  Located along the Patuxent River at Benedict, Camp Stanton was established in 1863 as a recruiting station and training camp for the U. S. Colored Infantry.    

Figure 1.  Lead Minié balls recovered during the 2012 archaeological work at Camp Stanton (18CH305). Photo courtesy of the Maryland State Highway Administration.

The enlistment of Black men into the Union Army came to be viewed as critical to the success of the war.  Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (for whom Camp Stanton was named) wrote to Abraham Lincoln on October 1, 1863: “There is…in my judgment, a military necessity, in the State of Maryland… for enlisting into the forces all persons capable of bearing arms on the union side without regard to color, and whether they be free or not” (Berlin 1982:212).   Although President Lincoln had initially resisted enlisting men of color, the Bureau of Colored Troops was formed in May of 1863 to facilitate the recruitment of African-American soldiers into the Union Army (Cornish 1965). By the end of the Civil War, there were almost 180,000 men in 175 USCT regiments; about one-tenth of the manpower of the Union Army. U. S. Colored Troops fought in every major battle during the last two years of the war and their efforts contributed to the success of the Union.

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Thomas Dyott’s Selfie, 1826-Style

flask 2

Benjamin Franklin

In  April 2015, this blog featured a tea cup decorated with a motif that supported the nineteenth-century temperance movement in the United States. To read go to Maryland History by the Objects Archives. The object that is the subject of this current post had a decidedly more complex message with regards to alcohol.

The pale green pint flask was found in a privy filled sometime between 1830 and 1860 at the Schifferstadt Site (18FR134) in Frederick County, Maryland. Molded in a horseshoe shape, the flask was manufactured around 1826 by the Kensington Glass Works of Philadelphia.  One side of the bottle features the bust of one of Philadelphia’s most famous residents, Benjamin Franklin, with the inscription “WHERE LIBERTY DWELLS THERE IS MY COUNTRY”.  The reverse side shows a likeness of Thomas W. Dyott, encircled by his name.  Figural flasks like this one were produced in great numbers in the second and third quarters of the nineteenth century and often honor historical heroes and contemporary celebrities (Palmer 1993:385). Continue reading

Maryland’s Fishing Industry

Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Bone fishhook from Everhart Rockshelter.

Returning home by air from a recent trip to Michigan, I was once again struck by the abundant waterways that bisect our little state. The Susquehanna, Potomac, Choptank, Patapsco and Patuxent are the major state rivers that empty into the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. Overall, between Virginia and Maryland, more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers wind through the Chesapeake Bay watershed (Chesapeake Bay Program 2014). These waterways are the source of the fish and shellfish that have made the words “Maryland” and “seafood” all but synonymous.

The thought of Maryland’s fishing industry is likely to bring up images of commercial vessels with trawl nets or sports fishermen hauling in citation weight rockfish from the back of a charter boat. But this week’s artifact, a diminutive carved bone fish hook from the Everhart Rockshelter (18FR4) in Frederick County, reminds us that fishing has long been an important part of Maryland’s past (Figure 1). This rockshelter, which was excavated by Spencer Geasey in the early 1950s (Geasey 1993), was occupied for thousands of years, all through the Archaic (7500 B.C. – 1000 B.C.) and Woodland periods (1000 B.C. – A.D. 1600). One of the rockshelter residents must have used this fish hook to catch dinner from nearby Catoctin Creek. Continue reading

Recent German Heritage in Baltimore

Figure 1.  Bottle from the Israel Greenberg Bottlers.

Figure 1. Bottle from the Israel Greenberg Bottlers.

Back in January of this year, I wrote an essay about the first wave of German immigration into Maryland. This week, I am taking a look at the later influx of German immigrants.   I was led to this topic when I noticed that our Baltimore collections contained quite a number of beer bottles whose brewers had distinctly German names.

This early twentieth-century bottle (Figures 1 and 2), molded with the name of Baltimore bottler Israel Greenberg, was found in a privy associated with the family of German upholsterer Edward and Vera Hahn (18BC135). The row house formerly occupied by the Hahns had been demolished to make way for the new construction of Baltimore’s Juvenile Justice Center north of the harbor in the city’s Old Town (Williams et al. 2000:234). The same privy also contained bottles from the Gottlieb Bauernschmidt Strauss Brewing Company (Figure 3). Continue reading

Hoover Campaign Button: Maryland and the Great Depression

Figure 1.  Hoover presidential campaign lapel pin recovered from a drainpipe that served the Wysing Lung Laundry, Sharp Street, Baltimore.  Photo, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Figure 1. Hoover presidential campaign lapel pin recovered from a drainpipe that served the Wysing Lung Laundry, Sharp Street, Baltimore. Photo, Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Measuring just 7/8” in length and just 1/4’” tall, this small, unassuming lapel pin bears little resemblance to flashy political campaign buttons of today. Its original background of deep blue paint did not survive the four decades it spent lodged in a wastewater pipe underneath the streets of Baltimore, overlooked by its owner and lost from a garment during a visit to a commercial laundry.

Herbert Hoover, who ran in the 1928 presidential election against Al Smith (whose similarly-shaped campaign pin had a red background), easily won the election, carrying 40 out of 48 states. As a Republican, he had strong support from northern Protestants and western farmers, as well as support from minority groups. In Maryland, Hoover won the primary and had a majority vote in all but two counties during the election.

Figure 2.  Hoover campaign button.

Figure 2. Hoover campaign button.

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Evergreen House – Context and the Past

In my last blog, I wrote about amusement parks in Maryland.  In that strange way serendipity works, I was inspired to write about a similar theme this week. On a recent commute, I was listening to a “Stuff You Missed in History” podcast about the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland. I had no idea the building that served as the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion was the Evergreen House on the campus of Johns Hopkins University. A quick Google Image search on both buildings confirmed the similarities between them (Figures 1 and 2).

evergreen house

Figure 1. The Evergreen House in Baltimore inspired the facade of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland is set in New Orleans Square, an area within the theme park based on 19th-century New Orleans.  Designers of the haunted house searched to no avail in that city and throughout the Deep South for architectural inspiration for the Haunted Mansion. The inspiration came instead from a mid-19th century Gilded Age mansion in Baltimore, once home to the railroad magnate Garrett family and now a 48-room museum and library.  The museum’s website describes the facility as “an intimate collection of fine and decorative arts, rare books and manuscripts assembled by two generations of the philanthropic Garrett family, and a vibrant, inspirational venue for contemporary artists” (Evergreen 2014).

disneyland haunted mansion

Figure 2. The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland with Thunder Mountain in the background.

danish axe

Figure 3. Danish ax or hammer from the Mayer Collection.

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Germans in Maryland

Figure 1:  This 25.5 x 23.5” plate from a five-plate stove is one of eight from the site that bear German or Pennsylvania Dutch motifs.

Figure 1: This 25.5 x 23.5” plate from a five-plate stove is one of eight from the site that bear German or Pennsylvania Dutch motifs.

The Antietam Furnace (18WA288), more properly known as the Mt. Aetna Iron Furnace, operated between around 1761 and 1783 in what is now Washington County. Excavations conducted at the former site of the furnace revealed a number of industrial structures and evidence of the production of pig iron, hollow ware and stoves (Frye 1984).  Some of the most interesting artifacts from the site included stove plates containing inscriptions in German (Figure 1).

Although Antietam Furnace was not owned by individuals of German descent, proprietors Daniel and Sam Hughes apparently knew their local customer base well – of the eight complete or virtually complete stove plates that were recovered from the site, all were molded with German and Pennsylvania Dutch-style motifs in the forms of tulips, hearts, birds of paradise and blessings in German (Figure 2).  From its earliest beginnings, Maryland has been home to a large population of German immigrants and the Hughes brothers were banking on these stoves finding ready customers among them. Continue reading

The Battle of the Scissors – Union Strife in Baltimore’s Garment Industry

Archaeological work done in advance of the Federal Reserve Bank construction in Baltimore in 1980 yielded the usual array of filled privies, wells and cellar holes. But under Barre Street, archaeologists discovered a twenty-foot long section of drainpipe containing thousands of early twentieth-century artifacts concreted into a solid mass filling the bottom half the pipe (McCarthy and Basalik 1980). A little documentary research revealed that the contents of the pipe were associated with a Chinese-owned commercial laundry located nearby.

Figure 1.  Tool check or worker identification tag from the Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company.

Figure 1. Tool check or worker identification tag from the Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company.

In addition to thousands of straight pins, buttons, safety pins, coins, pieces of jewelry and other clothing-related items from the pipe, the pipe contained an oval copper alloy disk stamped “B.C. & F. Co. 2050”. This item served as a worker identification tag or as a tool check tag. Tool checks were used by factory workers to requisition tools; each tag bore the worker’s identification number. If the tool had not been returned at the end of the day, the number would be used to track down the missing tool to the employee who had checked it out. A New Jersey newspaper advertisement from 1908 revealed that “B. C. & F.” were the initials of The Baltimore Clothing and Furnishing Company (Red Bank Register 1908), a firm that, in accordance with garment trade industry standards, produced men’s suits, trousers, sport coats, and overcoats, as well as men’s pajamas, hosiery, ties, underwear and shirts (Kahn 1989:xiii). Continue reading

Heralding Your Political Affiliations on Your Tableware, So to Speak

The mended Rhenish Hohrware jug found at Westwood Manor (18CH621).

The mended Rhenish Hohrware jug found at Westwood Manor (18CH621).

This magnificent Rhenish stoneware jug was recovered from Westwood Manor (18CH621), the residence of planter and innkeeper John Bayne, who lived in the Zekiah Swamp in Charles County in the late seventeenth century. Although the Zekiah was a sparsely settled frontier region on Maryland’s western shore at this time, a number of community institutions—public roads, houses of worship, mills, general stores, and a courthouse—had developed in the Zekiah by the end of 17th century (Strickland and King 2011; Alexander et al. 2010: 21-22), creating a landscape of interconnected people, plantations and community services.

Recent reanalysis of artifacts recovered at Bayne’s residence during a 1996 excavation suggested that the Manor’s occupants and their clientele were striving to reconstitute an English material world in the colony. Along with a variety of expensive and presentation quality ceramic and glass vessels, the assemblage included an elaborately decorated ivory walking stick handle, a silver spoon and other luxury items. Continue reading