History of Kent Island

In the spring of 1980, both houses of the Maryland General Assembly passed resolutions recognizing the colony William Claiborne established on the Island of Kent in 1631 as the first permanent English settlement in what is now the State of Maryland.

For many years, researchers set Kent Island among the earliest permanent English colonies on the North American continent. Although incorrect, many people consider Lord Baltimore's 1634 colony at St. Mary's City to be the first permanent settlement in Maryland. This misconception may be due in part to the fact that William Claiborne, who was also serving as secretary of state for the Virginia colony, claimed Kent Island for Virginia.

When the Ark and Dove brought the first settlers St. Mary's City in 1634, Claiborne's settlement was already firmly established on Kent Island. At the southern tip of the island stood a fort protected by tall palisades and four cannons. William Claiborne's account books include payment for pewter services, Bibles and prayer books, and the remuneration he paid The Reverend Richard James, whom he brought to Kent Fort.

Two of the major crops that were grown on the island were corn and tobacco. Harvested tobacco and furs that Claiborne received through trading with the Matapeake, Susquehannock, and Wicomesses Indian tribes, were exported to England. Two tall windmills were used to grind the corn, and in 1634 a shipyard was constructed to build a naval fleet. Long Tayle, a pinnace capable of carrying 20 men and two cannons, is thought to be the first European-style vessel built not only on the Eastern Shore, but in all of Maryland.

In 1634, Leonard Calvert, the brother of Lord Baltimore, arrived in the Chesapeake Bay with the two vessels, Ark and Dove, carrying settlers to establish a Maryland colony. The first meeting between Lord Baltimore's and William Claiborne's naval forces set the stage for several years of combat for the sunny Isle of Kent. Claiborne refused to acknowledge Lord Baltimore as his overlord and Lord Baltimore refused to allow Kent Island to be part of Virginia.

In 1638, Calvert, then governor, led a force of armed Marylanders to make a surprise landing on Kent Island in an attempt to capture the rights to the land. While their main target, William Claiborne, was in England, Calvert's men captured the fort and Kent Island was declared Kent Hundred and a part of St. Mary's County. Over the next twenty years, Kent Island was turned over numerous times between Virginia and Maryland. In 1658, an agreement was signed in London, England that returned Kent Island to Lord Baltimore and finalized it as a part of Maryland. It was not until 1706 that Kent Island became a part of Queen Anne's County.

William Claiborne returned to Virginia and lived out his last public act with a petition to Charles II begging for the return of his beloved island on the Chesapeake. Claiborne died in West Point, Virginia circa 1677 at the age of 77.

~ summarized from an article by Gilbert Byron (1903-1991), Eastern Shore poet and teacher ~

The Kent Island Heritage Society, Inc. • P.O. Box 321, Stevensville, MD 21666(410)643-3776 • ©2007 All Rights Reserved