Page 141

Tilghman’s Island “Great Choptank Island” was granted to Seth Foster in 1659. Thereafter it was known as Foster’s Island, and remained so through a succession of owners until Matthew Tilghman of Claiborne inherited it in 1741. He and his heirs owned the island for over a century and it has been Tilghman’s Island ever since, though the northern village and the island’s postal designation are simply “Tilghman.” For its first 175 years, the island was a family farm, supplying grains, vegetables, fruit, cattle, pigs and timber. Although the owners rarely were in residence, many slaves were: an 1817 inventory listed 104. The last Tilghman owner, General Tench Tilghman (not Washington’s aide-de-camp), removed the slaves in the 1830s and began selling off lots. In 1849, he sold his remaining interests to James Seth, who continued the development. The island’s central location in the middle Bay is ideally suited for watermen harvesting the Bay in all seasons. The years before the Civil War saw the influx of the first families we know today. A second wave arrived after the War, attracted by the advent of oyster dredging in the 1870s. Hundreds of dredgers and tongers operated out of Tilghman’s Island, their catches sent to the cities by schooners. Boat building, too, was an important industry. The boom continued into the 1890s, spurred by the arrival of steamboat service, which opened vast new markets for Bay seafood. Islanders quickly capitalized on the opportunity as several seafood buyers set up shucking and canning operations on pilings at the edge of the shoal of Dogwood Cove. The discarded oyster shells eventually became an island with seafood packing houses, hundreds of workers, a store, and even a post office. The steamboats also brought visitors who came to hunt, fish, relax and escape the summer heat of the cities. Some families stayed all summer in one of the guest houses that sprang up in the villages of Tilghman, Avalon, Fairbank and Bar Neck. Although known for their independence, Tilghman’s Islanders enjoy showing visitors how to pick a crab, shuck an oyster or find a good fishing spot. In the twentieth century, Islanders pursued these vocations in farming, on the water, and in the thriving seafood processing industry. The “Tilghman Brand” was known throughout the eastern United States, but as the Bay’s bounty diminished, so did the number of water-related jobs. Still, three of the few remaining Bay skipjacks (sailing dredgeboats) can be seen here, as well as two working harbors with scores of power workboats. 139

July 2013 ttimes web magazine  

Tidewater Times July 2013