An historic “oyster cannon” used to protect Maryland’s oyster fisheries from overharvest during the 1800s “oyster wars” is now on display.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently acquired a historic cannon — a relic of the Oyster Police of the 1800s — from the American Legion Post 116 in Reisterstown, Md. The cannon was used to protect the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters during the “oyster wars” of the nineteenth century.
“This cannon is not only a terrific piece of Maryland history, but a representation of our State’s commitment to protecting our valuable natural resources” said Secretary Griffin. “We are honored to preserve this great artifact for the enjoyment of future generations of Marylanders.”
The cannon was acquired by Hunter Davidson, the first Commander of the State Oyster Police Force, in 1868. It was installed on the original steam-powered patrol boat of Maryland’s “Oyster Navy,” the Leila. In 1884, this ship was replaced by the Governor R. M. McLane, which fought many spectacular battles against the oyster pirates. The McLane was equipped with a 12-pound Dahlgren boat howitzer in 1888. While accounts are not definitive, authorities believe that this gun may have been the original cannon from the Leila.
The American Legion Post 116 has had possession of the cannon since the 1950s, allowing it to be used for demonstrations periodically. The cannon was purchased for $40,000. Half of the funds were provided by a private donor, with DNR matching the contribution. Proceeds from the sale of the cannon will go toward post improvements and the charities the post supports.
The cannon will be on display through early spring in the lobby of DNR headquarters at the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis. For more information about the history of the cannon and the oyster wars, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/mdconservationhistory/Oyster_Wars_Cannon.asp.
In 2010, Maryland implemented Governor Martin O’Malley’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, which increases the State’s network of oyster sanctuaries, increases the area open to aquaculture leasing and streamlines the permit process, and maintains 76 percent of the Bay’s remaining quality oyster habitat for a more targeted, sustainable, and scientifically managed public oyster fishery. –Maryland DNR Press Release