National Geographic : 1950 Sep
"Delmarva," Gift of the Sea BY CATHERINE BELL PALMER ATER-GIRT "Delmarva," anchored to the eastern coast of the United States by a 12-mile neck, is a unique peninsula, the only one in this country con taining portions of three States-Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Like some gigantic crooked finger, this out of-the-way Peninsula points southward, sep arating Chesapeake Bay from Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. From Wilmington, Delaware, at its first joint, south almost all of the 180 miles to its finger tip of Cape Charles, Virginia, this low lying level land is threaded with twisting, turning tidal rivers from the Bay and with narrow inlets from the sea (map, page 371). The unofficial but descriptive name "Del marva" is in everyday usage on the Peninsula. At three approaches-south from Wilmington, north from Cape Charles, and east from Matapeake, Maryland-signs announce that each is the "Gateway to the Delmarva Peninsula." Charters of English kings and acts of legis lature decreed Delmarva's division. So bound together are its half-million people, however, that State boundary lines, long in dispute, now are practically forgotten.* One sunny spring morning I drove a Na tional Geographic car aboard the ferry at Sandy Point, Maryland. A short distance north of the ferry slip I could see men work ing on the new Chesapeake Bay Bridge. "Operation Link" they call the project be cause, when completed, the 4-mile bridge will link Maryland's eastern and western shores. Brisk breezes chopped Chesapeake waters, sending us spanking across the broad blue Bay, second only to New York Harbor as busi est waterway in the eastern United States. Kent Island Rich in History On Kent Island, Maryland, site of the East ern Shore end of the new bridge, a native shook his head slowly and complained that the span is "going to make it too easy for 'foreigners' from Washington and Baltimore to come over here." During three centuries away from main routes of travel, Delmarvians developed a sense of independence. This spirit still stands out in the character of the people. Many a time I had taken this route from Matapeake across Maryland's Eastern Shore to vacation at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware seashore resort. Then, in summer, wind whipped wheat fields were shimmering seas of gold. Mauve myrtle bushes bordered the road. Now, as I drove along, farmers were plow ing under crimson clover against green back drops of loblolly pine. From a grove of gum trees came the bold, declarative call of the cardinal, right here, right here, right here. The bucolic setting of tiny Kent Island belies its past conflicts. Few motorists taking this route realize that the land was claimed for Virginia in 1631 by William Claiborne, then Secretary of the Colony of Virginia. Armed with a trading license, Claiborne established a post here to trade with the Indi ans. When Charles I granted a charter later to the Calverts, Claiborne refused to recognize their jurisdiction over Kent Island. Tena ciously he fought for possession of his beloved island for years. Chesapeake Bay Leads in Oystering Near Kent Island Narrows, estuary that separates the island from the mainland, rose a huge pile of oyster shells. I wondered what the men loading the shells into dingy-white boats were going to do with them. One oyster man paused long enough to tell me. "Going down the Bay to plant cultch to catch spat." Translated, that means putting oyster shells (cultch) on the bottom of Chesapeake Bay to provide a good resting place for infant oysters (spat). When summer sun warms Bay waters, oys ters begin to spawn. The average female American oyster can lay 16 million eggs, dis charging them into the water, but it's pure accident whether they meet males' milt. For tunately, millions of eggs sink to the bottom unfertilized. If all were fertilized and grew to maturity, they would fill the entire Bay in a single season! Continuous fishing on natural oyster beds of Chesapeake Bay, however, has caused a dearth of oysters. During the 1948-49 season, Virginia oystermen brought up more than 3,000,000 bushels from the Bay; Maryland, some 2,700,000 bushels. This sounds like a good catch until it is compared with the peak season of 1884-85, which for Maryland alone was 15,000,000 bushels. In spite of the decline, however, Chesapeake Bay in 1949 gave up more oysters than any other body of water in the United States. Virtually all of Maryland's oyster beds are owned by the State and are open to public fishing. * See "A Maryland Pilgrimage," by Gilbert Grosve nor, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1927.