This is from a report by the federal government written in 1887, at the height of the craziest and most violent oyster boomtimes that the Eastern Shore has ever seen. And hey, Somerset County, when you get to the end here, I am thinking that the writer is talking about you as the rare “respectable” and “honorable” exception to the rule–congrats!
VERY STRICT PROTECTIVE LAWS have been enacted by both Maryland and Virginia, but the ignorance and temper of the oystermen is such that the enforcement of these laws is almost impossible.[As a report by] Mr. R.H. Edwards, a most competent observer, says, “Dredging in Maryland is simply a general scramble, carried on in seven hundred boats, manned by fifty-six hundred daring and unscrupulous men, who regard neither the laws of God nor man. …
These men, taken as a class, form perhaps one of the most depraved bodies of workmen to be found in the country. They are gathered from jails, penitentiaries, work-houses, and the lowest and vilest dens of the city. … Returning from a trip, the men take their little pay and soon spend it in debauchery, amid the lowest groggeries and dens of infamy to be found in certain portions of Baltimore.
It is a gratifying fact, though, that even amid such surroundings as these there are some few who are respectable and honorable men. This is more especially the case on the boats owned in the lower counties of Maryland.”
THE NAME OF THE REPORT IS “The Fisheries & Fishery Industries of the United States.” The whole thing is here if you are curious.
–Published June 3, 2016 by Jim Duffy; revised for Dec. 15, 2017