Norfolk Virginian, June 18, 1870


Infrastructure -- Public - Government : Maryland-Virginia boundarySea -- Shellfish - Oystering : BaysideSea -- Shellfish - Oystering : Law enforcement

Mr. Editor: -- Permit me, through the columns of your paper, to correct the false and exaggerated statements that have been published in the Baltimore papers of the arrest and trail of the Maryland oystermen, who were taken in Virginia waters, violating the oyster law, both of Virginia and Maryland. To fully understand this dispute, it is necessary to explain the compact of 1785 between Virginia and Maryland. It was agreed by this compact if the laws were violated by the citizens of either State in the Potomac river, Pocomoke river, or in the doubtful portions of the Chesapeake bay, near the boundary line of which is still unsettled -- that if citizens of Maryland, they should be tried in Maryland by Maryland laws, and Maryland Courts. If Virginians were the offenders, they should be tried in Virginia, and by Virginia Courts and laws. This compact refers only to the above named places. These Maryland oystermen were arrested in Pocomoke sound, a portion of the Chesapeake bay, over which Virginia has always held undisputed title, and there are several laws on her statue book regulating and protecting her rights in this sound. These men were arrested by the Commander of the Tredegar, in undisputed waters of Virginia, in open noon day, in violation of the oyster law of the State. There was no harshness used in the arrest of these men. They were not fired at -- a single shot was fired across the bows of one of the boats, as a signal for them to come to. This was all. They obeyed the signal. They were towed in their boats to Onancock -- were taken from there in wagons and carts and to the courthouse, and turned over to the courts for trial. They were put on their trial. They represented themselves as poor and ignorant, thus appealing to the sympathy of the court. They were proceeded against in the most lenient manner, a violation the oyster law would permit. The trail being continued to some hours in the night, it was determined to postpone it till morning. The prisoners, as is the custom in such cases, were remanded to the custody of the sheriff, fearing the condition of the jail was not very comfortable -- from the fact that a large number of negroes had been confined in it. It was suggested by some of the citizens and acquiesced in by the officers of the law, that they should be kept under guard in the courthouse. They declined this offer, and preferred to be sent to the jail. If they suffered, they have no one to complain of but themselves.

The next morning these men, knowing they had violated the oyster law of Virginia, offered to compromise. The inspector, desiring to deal leniently with them, accepted their offer. Three of their party were released to return home to get the money to comply with their agreement.

They returned in two days accompanied by the ablest lawyers of their State. Their counsel applied to Judge Garrison for a habeas corpus - hoping thus to release their clients from the custody of the officer, and the fine that had been agreed on. Every facility was granted them. Their learned counsel argued at length, and with great ability the legal questions that arose in this case. The question after being freely and ably argued on both sides was submitted to Judge Garrison. He took the night to examine the law and make up his decision. He reviewed the facts and the law of the case, and his decision was one of great ability, and was so clear, so conclusive that it must have curried conviction even to the opposing counsel -- it certainly did to every disinterested person who heard it.

In conclusion, let me add a word in defence of the Commander of the steamer, who arrested these men. As I before stated they were not fired at -- a single shot was fired across the bows of one of the boats as a signal, which was promptly obeyed.

They were turned over to the officers of the law, who manifested every disposition to threat them leniently and kindly. Mr. Browne, who was in command of the arresting steamer, is incapable of harshness or cruelty in the discharge of his duty. It is his duty to execute the oyster law, and to protect the oysters in our waters from depredations and destruction. This he will fearlessly and uncompromisingly do against all offenders.


Norfolk Virginian
June 18, 1870