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Oyster Wars of the Lower Chesapeake Bay

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Oyster Wars of the Lower Chesapeake Bay

The Aftermath

Unfortunately for Cameron, only one of the vessels captured was "foreign." The Mary Tauline hailed from New York. All of the other vessels were from Virginia's Eastern Shore and most of them were from Onancock, in Accomac county, from whence Cameron had drawn a good deal of support during his election. The Eastern Shore newspaper Peninsula Enterprise teased that the "war Governor" Cameron had "shot at the goose and killed the gander." There was no doubt that Cameron had captured several "web-footed Eastern Shoremen," but where were 'the bloody furriners' who were threatening the Rappahannock country with 'fire and sword?' In fact, there was "no proof other than the possession of oysters" that these crews had been violating the dredging laws. The Peninsula Enterprise accused Cameron of deliberately singling out white Eastern Shore watermen because the whites of the Eastern Shore had overwhelmingly voted against him in the 1881 election. "The Democrats of Accomac," said the Enterprise,"will not forget this attempt to stigmatise so foully, for so unworthy a reason, men who . . . have hitherto borne unblemished characters." But, the joke was on Cameron, for as the editor pointed out,"Half, at least, of the men captured by the expedition were . . . those upon whose votes the Coalition-Republican-Readjuster party relies for its majorities, and without whom . . . not one of them could be elected to office." Cameron, it seemed, had committed a double mistake, for half of the men arrested were black. In the space of a few hours in February, Cameron had managed to alienate the whole of Virginia's Eastern Shore.

After appeals for clemency appeared in several Virginia newspapers, Cameron agreed to pardon all of the watermen arrested, and commuted the sentences of the dredge- boat captains to sixty days. While this gesture proved popular, Cameron still had to face the owners of the confiscated vessels, who had been forced to repurchase their forfeited vessels at a public auction in Mathews County. The owners brought their grievances before the State Supreme Court of Appeals which declared that the owners had not been adequately represented in the Mathews County trial and were entitled to a full refund. The state had to repay the disgruntled owners a total of $8,600 in the settlement. To make matters worse, the 1882-1883 oyster season had just begun, and with it came a new season of dredgers operating illegally in Virginia waters. Many of the dredge-boat crews contained some of Cameron's recently pardoned "pirates."

Continue to: The Second Oyster War



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