st. george's islandSt. George’s Island, MD – Here’s an Independence Day story we bet you haven’t heard before.

There was a period in colonial Maryland history often referred to as “The Plundering Time,” when Puritan pirate Richard Ingle invaded Maryland in 1645, burned many of the capital’s early records and hauled Jesuit Father Andrew White off to England in chains. That was not the only time Southern Maryland became embroiled in events happening elsewhere in the world, however.

When the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, it was the lower peninsula of Maryland’s western shore where the English would exact their revenge.

John Murray, Earl of Dunmore and former Royal Governor of Virginia, commanded a fleet of 72 ships which appeared without warning in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Point Lookout July 17, 1776.

The colonies were ill-prepared for warfare, especially against the formidable British Royal Navy, which unbeknownst to the citizens of St. George’s Island, was in pitiful shape due to a lack of provisions, fresh water in particular, and beset by a serious outbreak of smallpox.

Because of the island’s unprotected position, it was invaded on two occasions.

The fleet docked in the nearby St. Mary’s River and 10 boats set forth to St. George’s loaded with British soldiers in search of wood and water. By July 19, the British had established entrenchments. An English deserter later told his captors that they were only there to procure “wood and water” and to “burn all of most of their small craft and proceed to sea.”

When the Earl of Dunmore attempted to cross the mainland, the Redcoats encountered stiff resistance from a small band of St. Mary’s militia commanded by Captain Rezin Beall. Both Beall and Lord Dunmore were wounded in the fighting.

By August, Dunmore withdrew from the island, but the British Navy continued to harass the lower part of the county, with many prominent plantations along the banks of the waterways burned or plundered. In a desperate effort to halt the plundering, barges were loaded with explosives and floated at night into the anchored British ships, rendering five of the enemy’s vessels unseaworthy.

The British returned to the island in April through June of 1781, this time in search of the tall pines that are prominent in this particular area of St. Mary’s County, because they needed to replace the masts on their ships.

British forces landed on the Island again during the War of 1812 when Admiral George Cockburn robbed island residents and burned four houses and a barn.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com