Hal Roth - November 2010


November 1910 and the State of Delmarva
Hal Roth

The major news a century ago was the mid-term election. “DEMOCRATIC SWEEP AT HAND” read a Delmarva headline posted before Election Day by a strongly partisan editor who predicted Democratic victories “from Maine to California.” He would have been more accurate if he had said “between” Maine and California because both those states elected Republican governors, legislatures and congressional representation. Democrats did make significant gains nationally and won control of the House, while Republicans maintained a majority in the Senate, and, of course, Republican William Howard Taft remained in the White House. With the exception of Somerset County, Democrats controlled Maryland, while neighbor Delaware went strongly Republican.
“One of the things that put thousands of Republicans in the Democratic column is said to be forty-cent bacon,” read an editorial. “The laboring people rose up and smote the Republicans for permitting such prices. The beef trust heard from the election, too, and the prices came down. It thought, like Davy Crockett’s coon, which noted the shining gun barrel, that it had stayed up too long.”
Maryland elected five Democrats and one Republican congressman, a gain of two for the Democrats. J. Harry Covington, a resident of Talbot County and congressman representing the Eastern Shore, was reelected despite a low turnout of Democratic voters.
Delmarva newspapers also noted that: “Another bright star rises in the democratic firmament. Dr. Woodrow Wilson, of New Jersey, was elected governor.”
Wilson, of course, would go on to win the White House a few years later.
In November 1910 the Denton Journal published this single-line announcement: “Mrs. Carrie Nation is favorably impressed with the Eastern Shore.”
Carrie A. Nation, a large, stern-faced woman, became a household name in 1901 for her pre-Prohibition, anti-alcohol campaign. She is particularly noted for her tactic of entering alcohol-serving establishments and attacking the bars with a hatchet. She died in 1911.
And I’m sure that readers found this November 1910 instruction of great value: “SPREAD MANURE IN FALL.”
Most Delmarva residents will recall having heard or read humorous chatter about the Eastern Shore seceding from Maryland and forming an independent state, possibly by joining with Delaware and the Virginia counties of Accomack and Northampton. It was most recently a topic of discussion a few years ago when then-Governor William Donald Schaefer referred to the Eastern Shore as Maryland’s outhouse. I have been asked many times over the years if there was ever a serious attempt to achieve such a union. The answer is yes.
It is a little-known historical fact that in 1790 the center of population for the United States was on Delmarva, and if natural features had been considered when drawing state boundaries, it would have been perfectly logical for the Delmarva Peninsula to have been established as a sovereign state.
Original land grants from the British Crown were often vague, causing many disputes in Colonial America and even after the United States became an independent nation. Parts of the Peninsula were claimed not only by Maryland, Delaware and Virginia but also by Pennsylvania. Some parcels of land on the Eastern Shore have at times been under the jurisdiction of Maryland, then Pennsylvania, and finally Delaware.
Isolated by water, southern Delaware and the Peninsula counties of Maryland and Virginia shared a common English origin, and the population retained its native ancestry and more distinctly Southern and aristocratic traditions for many years.
One of several newspaper articles I’ve read about historical attempts to create a single independent state on the Delmarva Peninsula was published in the December 24, 1905 edition of the Baltimore American.

“There is one link at least which binds together two of the states occupying the Maryland and Delaware Peninsula. These two states form one Internal Revenue district, which also includes the whole State of Maryland. Otherwise the Peninsula, like ancient Gaul, is divided into three parts, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
“The recent and unsuccessful attempt of Senator Allen, of Delaware, to induce President Roosevelt to supplant Mr. Phillips Lee Goldsborough with a Delaware Republican as collector of internal revenue has reminded Mr. E. T. Tubbs, of Denton, of efforts in the past to make the Peninsula one state. Had these efforts succeeded, the recent controversy started by Senator Allen would have no cause for origin. But then Mr. Allen might not have been senator, Mr. Addicks might have remained in obscurity, and many other things that have happened would not have happened.
“Seventy years ago, says Mr. Tubb, the first effort was made in the General Assembly to carve a separate state out of the Peninsula. Maryland was then spending millions in the construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and other internal improvements inuring exclusively to the benefit and development of the Western Shore. The Eastern Shore took kindly to the idea of a fusion with Delaware and the formation of a new state out of the entire territory of the Peninsula. The divergence of the interests of the two shores was expressed in the statement that the Western collected large drafts from the treasury for roads and canals, while with the Eastern, craft came to almost every man’s door, a reference to the fact that practically every plantation east of the Chesapeake at that time had a waterfront. The Eastern Shore, it was said, ought to look for more suitable alliances, and the Peninsula was formed by nature for a sovereign and independent state.
“In February 1833 the Delaware Legislature resolved that ‘It would greatly promote the interests, comfort and prosperity of the inhabitants of the Peninsula if they were united under one government,’ and that government was denominated the State of Delaware.
“The legislature suggested the appointment of commissioners, with the concurrence of the General Assembly of Maryland, to settle the preliminaries and details of amalgamation, subject to the ratification of the two bodies mentioned and the Congress of the United States.
“This resolution, signed by Joshua Burton, speaker of the Senate, and Thomas Davis, speaker of the House, was forwarded by Gov. Caleb P. Bennett to Gov. James Thomas, of Maryland, who laid it before the House of Delegates in March. Delegate Martin L. Wright, of Dorchester, thereupon offered a resolution that ‘holding the pursuit of happiness as the inalienable right of all men, and that political associations and governments are but means to gain that desirable end, we refer the overture made to this General Assembly by the legislature of the State of Delaware to the candid and serious consideration of our fellow citizens in the respective counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, who are immediately and most particularly interested in the proposition.’ On March 20 this resolution was assented to by the Maryland House of Delegates by a vote of 40 to 24, and two days later was returned from the Senate, dissented from. In the Senate it had been referred to a committee composed of Littleton P. Dennis of Worcester, Gen. Thomas Emory, of Queen Anne’s, and Col. William Hughlett, of Talbot, all Eastern Shore men, who reported it favorably. The report was rejected by one vote.
“These proceedings alarmed the Western Shore and efforts were made during the year to cultivate a better feeling between the two sections. At the succeeding sessions of the Assembly, Thomas Burchenal, of Caroline, on January 9, 1834, proposed resolutions providing that at the next election on the Eastern Shore the judges be instructed to ask every voter his view of the union with Delaware, and that the result be sent to the following General Assembly. In the debate on this resolution Burchenal said that he hoped the Assembly would gratify those who desired an opportunity to express their sentiments on the subject.
“The striking local connection between all parts of the Peninsula, impressed by nature, was worthy of consideration. By a general union its inhabitants could save expenses incident to the present government and escape those resulting from vast schemes of internal improvements in which they could have no direct interest.
The speaker was ‘tired of being called a pensioner and of having it thrown up to the Eastern Shore that it need not care how many appropriations for internal improvement were passed, as the Western Shore paid all. He would rather go and set up shop with Delaware than listen to such language.’
“On the other side, Blackiston, of St. Mary’s, admitted the existence of family jars, yet thought the two shores lived too happily together, as a general thing, ‘to allow the integrity of the state to be for one moment put in question.’ Much was his attachment to the Eastern Shore that ‘if every man there voted to leave, he would cling to them as brethren and not let them go.’ Burchenal, Carter and Fountain, of Caroline, and Sifford and Unkefer, of Frederick, on the Western Shore, voted for the resolution, which was rejected.
“No further overtures have come from Delaware, but there is a deep seated sentiment on the Peninsula that in time New Castle, Kent and Sussex, the three counties upon Delaware, ought to have added to them the two Virginia shires and Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, Talbot, Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset and Worcester in Maryland, and a new state with some such name as Delmarvia will arise with a population of singular unity in habits, interests and family ties, set aside from its neighbors, save on the narrow northern neck, by wide waters. Notwithstanding complaints of a lack of political influence, resulting from its division among three states, this territory has had a representation at Washington far exceeding that of any like area.
“Prior to 1898 it had three senators, two from Delaware and one from the Eastern Shore, and sometimes four, and it was within the range of possibilities for it to have had five, with the Virginias. The Eastern Shore forms, without Cecil, the First Maryland District, and has a representative, which, with the one from Delaware and the one from the Virginia district in which Accomac and Northampton are located, makes three congressmen from this territory. In the early years there were three representatives from the Eastern Shore alone. The entire population of the Peninsula is over 500,000.
“The bounds of the Wilmington Methodist Episcopal Conference are coterminous with the Peninsula, and the Protestant Episcopal Dioceses of Delaware and Easton are on the Peninsula. It is also embraced in one Roman Catholic Diocese, that of Wilmington.
“As part of a peninsular state the Eastern Shore of Maryland would largely regain, owing to its numerical and territorial importance, that political power so dear to its people. The United States senatorship was the last of its old-time prerogatives, a jealously guarded relic of the colonial and early state days, before it was dwarfed by the rapid expansion of the Western Shore and of Baltimore City. The latter now has half the population of Maryland.
In the beginning of state life the government of Maryland was practically a double one. Each shore had its own treasury, its land office, its clerk of the Court of Appeals, its surveyor general, and the Eastern was entitled to 6 of the 15 members of the State Senate, one-third of the membership of the House of Delegates and two of the five members of the governor’s council. McMahon, the ablest historian of Maryland, writing in 1830, said that the two shores were ‘regarded as being as distinct portions of the political power of the state as if they were distinct members of a mere confederate government. These institutions impart to our state the character of a confederacy of the two shores.’
“In 1877 the peninsula state proposition was widely discussed and its desirability generally concurred in. The Milford News, a leading Delaware newspaper, said that the territory would form ‘a beautiful state, with its boundary almost entirely a water line.’ Its rivers and estuaries produce wildfowl, fish, terrapin, oysters and other products found in no other part of the country. Its soil and climate, rich endowments of nature, ‘possess all the elements which ought to contribute to make the people of this peninsula a great and prosperous community.’ The disadvantages to the people of being governed under three separate codes of laws by three different legislatures, all clashing in interest and dividing the people by local jealousies and sectional pride, were referred to.
The late John H. Emerson, then a veteran editor of the Peninsula, said in his Denton paper, the American Union, that development on the peninsula had been retarded by the fact that the assent of three legislatures was necessary to any general scheme of internal improvement, although the interests of the people of the entire territory were one. ‘We have been a mere appendage to the Western Shore long enough.
“‘Congress and the Delaware legislature could be easily gotten to assent to the formation of a new state, but the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia would oppose it.
“‘Still, if the people were brought together in its favor, there would be no insurmountable obstacles. Thousands of the citizens of the Western Shore never set foot on Eastern Shore soil, and many of them are almost entirely ignorant of our existence, and, for aught we know, regard us as an outlandish race, having made but little advance on Darwin’s theory of the monkey tribe, not having yet got rid of the caudal appendage. While taxed for Western Shore railroads and canals and educational institutions, that section does nothing for us. The people of the two sections are socially and politically estranged, and the Eastern Shore is the weaker. Its position is that of the colonies toward Great Britain. Had the peninsula been one state, the national highway between North and South, along the Atlantic seaboard, would have been hereon, and cities and towns, manufactures and industries would have sprung up.’
“It is evident, however, that the time has gone by for the dream of a peninsular state to be made a reality. In recent years giant strides have been taken toward binding the Peninsula more firmly to Baltimore. Once the steamboat was the most rapid means of communication between this section and the city of Baltimore, and it took from 48 to 60 hours to make a round trip between many points on the Shore and the city.
“The Eastern Shore Railroad, from Ocean City to Claiborne, and its steamer connections placed the counties of Worcester, Somerset, Wicomico, Dorchester, lower Caroline and Talbot – the southernmost part of the Maryland-Delaware Peninsula – in daily communication with Baltimore, and the Queen Anne Railroad has done the same for the central section, its line running from Queenstown, on the Chesapeake, to Lewes, in Sussex on the Delaware, at its junction with the Atlantic.
Other roads are projected, and it is probable that within a short time the Eastern Shore will be covered with a network of steam and trolley roads, bringing every part of it into intimate relations with the metropolis of Maryland and the natural trading point for its people. Then, too, an inter-bay canal is among the possibilities, and this old and often discussed work would be of vast advantage to the foreign trade of Baltimore, A cut across the peninsula would bring the Chesapeake and Atlantic together and enable vessels of the ocean-carrying trade to reach Baltimore in much quicker time than is now the case, and the long journey up and down the Chesapeake Bay and its expenses for pilotage and towage.”
I still think a State of Delmarva would be a great idea. I might even run for governor.

You can reach Hal Roth at nanbk@dmv.com.