Today, the Maryland State Quarter Coin remembers the war between the state and the oystermen along the Chesapeake Bay.
Newspapers of the time reported the events on December 11, 1888.
From the River Press:
Fight With Oystermen.
Two Vessels Sunk-Several Men Drowned- Victory for the State Outfit.
Annapolis, Md., December 11.- There has been an engagement between the state steamer Governor McLane and a fleet of oyster dredgers in Chester river.
Two dredgers’ boats were sunk and another taken. One of the crew on the steamer Governor McLane was wounded.
This is the first fight between the state fishery force and the dredgers since the steamers were provided with cannon.
Capt. Howard telegraphs the fight was severe and the steamer riddled with balls and has requested that help be sent at once.
The steamer Thomas, Capt. Tooker, was sent immediately to his aid. The McLane carries a twelve pound cannon.
The fight took place at the mouth of Chester river.
The secretary of state of Maryland has been notified from Washington that six more cannon will be sent immediately.
A steamer arrived this morning reports seeing the two sunken dredgers off Hell Point, with the sails riddled by shot.
Further on, four more of the dredgers’ fleet were found ashore.
Forty rounds were fired from a cannon by an expert gunner from the naval academy.
Last night’s fight at the mouth of Chester river may have resulted in considerable loss of life, as Peter Mullen, a cook on board the steamer Julia A. Jones, says he was the only man out of a crew of eleven to escape.
The state vessels were hotly attacked by the dredgers, who were heavily armed with repeating rifles, and did not return the fire until compelled to.
The steamer McLane was thoroughly riddled with bullets, and Capt. Howard determined to resort to extreme measures.
Backing his steamer off from a fleet of seven dredgers which were tied together, he singled out the Julia A. Jones, and putting on a full head of steam, made directly for her stern, striking her fairly.
The schooner sank almost instantly.
Mullen escaped by climbing up the steamer’s anchor chain, but says the rest of the crew were in the fore peak and could not have gotten out.
As soon as the McLane got cleared from the wreck, she was again backed off and headed for the fleet, striking the schooner J. C. Maloney squarely in the stern.
The schooner at once commenced to sink and the remainder of the fleet got away as fast as possible.
Some of the crew of the Maloney escaped by climbing on board the McLane, and as each one came on board he was put in the hold.
A white man named Coleman and a negro named Bramble of the crew of the Maloney are believed to have been drowned as they were not seen after the vessels had been struck.
A large fleet of dredgers is reported to be on unlawful ground tonight and it is not unlikely there will be another fight before morning.
Baltimore, December 12.-The piratical oyster dredgers are defiant tonight.
It was reported an attack was to be made on the police sloop Folly, which is on guard at Hatchett’s Point.
As the other police boats are elsewhere, Governor Jacksan telegraphed Secretary Whitney, requesting the use of the steam launches and Gatling guns now at the naval academy at Annapolis.
At 11:30 tonight Superintendent Sampson received instructions to furnish the state what assistance he could, and he at once commenced to make ready two of the launches, arming one with a howitzer and the other with a Gatling gun.
Captain Howard and the crew of the disabled police steamer, McLand, will take charge of the launches and go at once to Hatchett’s Point, where the Folly is said to be surrounded by about forty dredging schooners.
From the Connecticut Western News:
In Chesapeake Bay.
A Battle Between a State Steamer and the Oyster Pirates.
Chester River was the scene of a battle between the oyster pirates and a State vessel.
Capt. Howard, of the State police steamer Gov. McLane, achieved a victory over a fleet of forty or fifty oyster dredging vessels.
The loss of life on the part of the dredgers cannot be ascertained.
Two of the dredging schooners were sunk, one was captured, and the crew of all three taken to Centreville for trial.
At sunset the mouth of the Chester River was full of dredgers, all apparently sailing for the lee of Hell Point, the usual anchorage.
When darkness set in however, they quietly spread their sails and began work on the forbidden grounds.
It was about 9 o’clock when Capt. Howard sighted them. As soon as the State steamer hove in sight the dredgers gathered close together, and as the steamer came up an effort was made to surround her.
After three unsuccessful attempts to accomplish this the dredgers opened fire upon the McLane. Volley after volley was poured into the vessel, but she showed not the slightest intention of retreating, but instead Capt. Howard returned the fire.
The steamer was getting the better of the fight, when the dredgers adopted more daring tactics. The schooner Mahoney and the schooner Julia Jones separated from the fleet and sailed toward the steamer, one going to the starboard and the other to the port.
The two boats came on evenly, and Captain Howard divined their intention to board his vessel. He gave them no chance to act upon this plan, but went forward to defeat them one at a time.
He allowed them to got some distance from the fleet, and then turned the steamer’s head full toward one, striking her with tremendous force.
Quickly emerging from the wreck he pursued the same tactics with the other. Both vessels sunk quickly and their crews were taken aboard the McLane, which then started toward the fleet to capture more prizes.
A panic had seized them, however, and they scattered in all directions.
Nine men are still missing, and the impression prevails that they were lost, either by jumping overboard through fright, or being shot down by the steamer’s cannon.
The Maryland State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of the oyster wars in the Chesapeake Bay, circa 1880s.