A Decade of Maryland Crabbing History in Chronicling America

Over the past few months, you may have seen Historic Maryland Newspapers Project’s blog posts, with topics ranging anywhere from researching articles for Black History Month to holiday shopping to Brood X cicadas. With summer coming up, this month’s blog post will focus on the Maryland crabbing industry in the 1910s and 1920s.

Crabs seem almost simultaneous with the state of Maryland. Since the late 19th century, when the first batch of soft shell blue crabs were shipped out of Crisfield, MD, crabbing has been a critical component of the state’s economy and reputation. While soft shell crabs were once seen “as a luxury food,” the crabbing industry took off in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Eastern Shore of Maryland. With the introduction of hard crabs and adjustments for uses and sales for both types, the crabbing industry set itself in a firm place.

But as important as crabbing is to Maryland’s culture and economy, the industry has a long history of fluctuating supply, decreases in crabbers, and increased fears of the crabs’ extinction. According to Maryland Sea Grant College, there has been a continuous strain on the crabbing industry and many are still trying to find a healthy balance between protecting “the recent recovery of the Bay’s crab population while also securing opportunities for watermen to earn money for their harvests.” 

With almost 150 years of history in the state, strain on the Maryland crabbing industry is not a new phenomenon. In fact, since at least 1911, numerous efforts have been made to preserve the crabs in the Chesapeake Bay. 

At the start of 1911, the St. Mary’s Beacon reported concerns that crabs around the state of Maryland would become extinct within the next decade. At the time, a few ideas to preserve the crab population and the surrounding natural resources were proposed by the Engineer of the Shellfish Commission, Swepson Earle. One idea was to return all female crabs to the water, as this would provide the crabs time and resources to re-populate as the crabbing season went on. A second idea was to implement a tax on crabbers for every active crabbing boat; at the time, a similar tax was implemented in Virginia with some financial success.

Saint Mary’s beacon. [volume] (Leonard Town, Md.), 26 Jan. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82006687/1911-01-26/ed-1/seq-2/>

Although there were very few reports of the 1911 crabbing season in 1911, a year after the initial St. Mary’s Beacon article, the Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette reported an “unusually scarce supply of crabs” throughout the season; this raised even more concerns to preserve the crab population. As the state of Maryland supplied a significant “supply of crabs” throughout the United States – particularly from Crisfield, MD, located along the Chesapeake Bay – many local government officials considered it paramount to preserve the crab population while also preserving the crabbing industry. If the crabs were to go extinct, the state could lose at least $2 million in revenue. To prevent such a catastrophe, the National Shellfish Association introduced a Conservation Act to the Maryland State Legislature in February 1912. The act would propose that the crabbing industries in Maryland and Virginia work together to preserve the crab population, including costs to use boats and packing materials, as well as issuing crabbing licenses. Despite the outlined benefits, as we will discover later, the Act was struck down in the State Legislature.

Evening capital and Maryland gazette. (Annapolis, Md.), 28 June 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1915-06-28/ed-1/seq-1/>

Almost a year and a half after the introduction of the Conservation Act, the Maryland crabbing industry saw a successful season in 1913. According to the Midland Journal, even though there were not as many crabs as there had been in previous years, they were priced well to make up for the discrepancy in supply. In Crisfield, for example, 3.8 million dozens of soft crabs and 10 million hard crabs were shipped out, bringing in just under $3 million to the town. When considering their revenue with oyster shipments as well, according to the article, these numbers made Crisfield the leading town for crab and oyster supply and shipment. With such numbers and rankings, it seemed like the fear of crabs going extinct was long in the past.

The next few crabbing seasons negated such thoughts; in the summers of 1914 and 1915, the crab supply started depleting even more. A couple of explanations for this turn emerged: Earle believed that without proper protective measures – like those proposed in the 1912 Conservation Act – crab supplies would continue to decrease until extinction. However, others blamed a specific crabbing practice; many thought that dedgring crabs during the winter negatively impacted the supply during the summer crabbing season. In response to the latter, in late July 1915, a new set of legislation was proposed to ban the winter dredging. Additionally, the legislation also proposed that young crabs – particularly those smaller than five inches in length – should be returned to the water if caught, as they would be the next generation to reproduce and replenish the crab supply for seasons to come. Over the next several months, more legislation – and pleas to work with Virginia – would be proposed. Finally, in May 1916, just as the next crabbing season was kicking off, the Crab Dredging law was approved by both Maryland and Virginia and prompted crab packers to gather to ensure its enforcement.The bill officially went into effect on June 1, 1916 along the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Throughout the next couple of crabbing seasons, the state-wide law seemed to positively impact the population, as the summers of 1917 reported ample crab populations. With a high demand and large crab size, the start of the 1918 crabbing season looked promising. Notably, the newspapers in the Annapolis-area reported a fluctuating season for crabbing: one week they would report that crabs were plentiful, and the next week, there would be concerns of depleting supply. This crabbing season also saw a decrease in the number of crabbers in the industry. During weeks where the crab supply was performing well, the Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette reported a lack of crabbers. 

The next two crabbing seasons continued to show mixed results. In the early 1919 crabbing season, The Evening Capital and Gazette reported a decent supply of soft-crabs in the Chesapeake Bay, but two months later, another article claimed that the supply was minimal. 

Evening capital and Maryland gazette. (Annapolis, Md.), 27 May 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1919-05-27/ed-1/seq-6/>

On the other hand, in August 1919, hard crabs were very much available to crabbers. To wrap up the decade, the summer of 1920 proved to be another tough crabbing season as business owners claimed that “there had never been known such a scarcity among both soft and hard crabs.” 

What is the purpose for writing about this decade of Maryland crabbing industry, especially in Chronicling America?  For one, using information provided today, we can conclude that crab depletion in the Chesapeake Bay is nothing new; in fact, it’s been going on for at least a century, if not more. Second, by analyzing newspaper articles over a period of time, we see the fluctuating reports of crab supply and experience different newspapers reporting similar events. Finally, these newspaper articles provide us with an opportunity to learn about the environmental and economic history of Maryland related to blue crabs. You never know what information you can find in Chronicling America!

Works Cited

Stagg, Cluney and Marguerite Whilden, “The history of Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab (Callinectes sapidus): fisheries and management,” Investigaciones Marinas 25 (1997): 94-5.

“Blue Crab Industry.” Maryland Sea Grant. https://www.mdsg.umd.edu/topics/blue-crabs/blue-crab-industry (accessed on February 6, 2020).

 “Fears Extinction of Crabs,” Saint Mary’s Beacon, January 26, 1911, 2, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82006687/1911-01-26/ed-1/seq-2/

 “To Protect State’s Crabs,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, January 1, 1912, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1912-01-01/ed-1/seq-1/

“Better Protection for Game and Fish,” The Midland Journal. January 5, 1912, 8, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060136/1912-01-05/ed-1/seq-8/

 “To Save the Crabs,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, February 16, 1912, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1912-02-16/ed-1/seq-1/

“Big Decrease in Supply of Crabs,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, June 28, 1915, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1915-06-28/ed-1/seq-1/

 “A Profitable Peninsula Industry, ” The Midland Journal, October 10, 1913, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060136/1913-10-10/ed-1/seq-1/

“Big Decrease in Supply of Crabs,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, June 28, 1915, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1915-06-28/ed-1/seq-1/

 “Scarcity of Crabs,” Maryland Independent, July 17, 1914, 2, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85025407/1914-07-17/ed-1/seq-2/

 “Abuse of Crab Industry,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, July 31, 1915, 3, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1915-07-31/ed-1/seq-3/

“To Enforce Crab Law Crab Packers Organize,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, May 12, 1916, 3, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1916-05-12/ed-1/seq-3/

 “New Law Protects Crabs,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, May 23, 1916, 4, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1916-05-23/ed-1/seq-4/

 “Soft Crabs and Fish in Great Demand Now,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, June 4, 1918, 4, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1918-06-04/ed-1/seq-4/

 “Crab Industry in State Uncertain,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, June 22, 1918, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1918-06-22/ed-1/seq-1/

“No Crabs and Fish in the City Market for the First Time,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, July 2, 1918, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1918-07-02/ed-1/seq-1/

Better Crab Supply is Now in Prospect,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, July 15, 1918, 4, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1918-07-15/ed-1/seq-4/

“Crabbers Scarce and Crabs High,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, July 26, 1918, 5, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1918-07-26/ed-1/seq-5/

“The Crab Season Not a Success,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, August 21, 1918, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1918-08-21/ed-1/seq-1/

 “Soft Crabs Plentiful,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, May 27, 1919, 6, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1919-05-27/ed-1/seq-6/

 “Watermen Dejected,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, July 17, 1919, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1919-07-17/ed-1/seq-1/

 “Gives Explanation of Scarcity of Soft Crabs this Season,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, August 22, 1919, 3, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1919-08-22/ed-1/seq-3/

“Scarcity of Crabs Increases Daily,” Evening Capital and Maryland Gazette, July 20, 1920, 1, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1920-07-20/ed-1/seq-1/

This post is part of a monthly guest blog post series featuring the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and Chronicling America. The Historic Maryland Newspapers Project at University of Maryland Libraries is the Maryland state awardee of the National Digital Newspaper Program. National Endowment for the Humanities and Library of Congress developed this program for state partners to digitize historic newspapers from across the country and make them freely accessible in the Chronicling America newspaper database.


Sarah McKenna is a student assistant for the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and a second year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies. Additionally, McKenna is a Graduate Assistant in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Women’s History Month: Suffrage Pilgrimages in Historic Maryland Newspapers

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re going to take a look at suffrage pilgrimages that took place in Maryland in the summers of 1914 and 1915.

Back in August 2020, the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and the Maryland State Archives co-hosted a social media campaign in honor of the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment. Many of the posts created for the campaign came from a newspaper digitized by HMNP in Chronicling America titled the Maryland Suffrage News.

One of HMNP’s Instagram posts for the #MDSuffrage and #MarylandWomenVote social media campaign
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The Voting Rights Act, Its Reauthorization, and Its Relevance Today

A big topic of conversation for 2021 has been the For the People Act (HR1). HR1 is an expansive bill, spanning a number of voter issues including registration, early and mail-in voting, voter roll purges, election securing, campaign finance, and outlines conflict of interest and ethics provisions for federal employees. With the bill being hotly debated by Congress, we are reminded of other contentious battles over American voting rights legislation.

For decades, people of color and other marginalized groups were denied the right to vote and met with violence and intimidation when they challenged the status quo. Civil rights organizers worked at various levels to challenge the discriminatory laws and segregationist attitudes prevalent across America. During the height of the Civil Rights movement the increased brutality inspired greater activism, which in turn led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark legislation sought to combat voting laws that discriminated against voters on the basis of race.

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Voter Suppression: Then and Now

Following the 2020 presidential election, the ensuing debates over the integrity of the election and the violence of early 2021, voting rights and efforts to ensure fair and safe elections seem as important as ever.

The Brennan Center for Justice’s State Voting Bill Tracker 2021 reports that in just over one month, hundreds of restrictive bills were introduced across the country, some of which have already passed and been signed into law. Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Michigan’s legislative battles have dominated headlines for many weeks.

As debates rage, many have invoked terminology we thought a distant part of our nation’s troubled history, calling these newly introduced voting bills Jim Crow laws. Looking into our past using resources in our collections can help us better understand the ways laws meant to protect marginalized citizens failed. Politicians cloaked systemic bias into law by utilizing coded language and proxies for race to deny people of color access to the ballot.

Literacy Tests and Poll Taxes

Literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather laws all arose from efforts to ensure that the electorate was primarily composed of white, wealthy men. With constitutional amendments introduced to protect African Americans and women, politicians determined to uphold the status quo developed these laws to continue to disenfranchise people of color while being able to deny any violation of the 15th amendment. These laws were inconsistently applied across racial groups, often exempting white citizens from these rules.

Redistricting and Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering can take many forms. Techniques called “cracking and packing” involve consolidating and dividing populations in and across districts. Both techniques have the same effect of strengthening the power of the white vote while silencing marginalized votes. This document illustrates how inequitable representation was across the state of Oklahoma in the 1950s. Some districts received a representative with only half the population as other districts.

Challenging Disenfranchisement

There were many tireless advocates for equitable voting rights. Below is an example of research that demonstrates the success of expanding voting rights.

Warning: This document contains offensive and outdated language. We strongly condemn the use of such language and ask exhibition visitors to engage with this material carefully and critically.

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Explore more about historical disenfranchisement and the history of voting rights in America by visiting our virtual exhibition Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America.

Updated Resource: Djuna Barnes Papers Finding Aid

The Djuna Barnes papers finding aid has recently been updated with an inventory of the extensive Barnes Library, which is comprised of over 1000 titles owned by author/artist Djuna Barnes.  The library’s highlights include first editions of Barnes’ works like Ryder, Ladies Almanack, Nightwood, and The Antiphon.  The Barnes Library also includes unique items such as books from the 18th century, books with annotations by Barnes, a copy of Shakespeare’s works that Barens was given for her 16th birthday, and presentation copies of works from other notable authors such as Charles Reznikoff .  These items and more, can be found under the Inventories/Additional Information heading in the finding aid or by searching the online catalog!

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Updated Resource: Katherine Anne Porter Papers Finding Aid

The Katherine Anne Porter papers finding aid has recently been updated with an additional series on the Katherine Anne Porter Library, which is comprised of over 3800 titles owned by author Katherine Anne Porter.  The Katherine Anne Porter Library includes presentation copies of works from authors such as Glenway Wescott and books inscribed to Katherine Anne Porter from writers like Marianne Moore.  The collection also includes unique copies of Porter’s works such as a copy of L’Arbre de Judée on vellum or a copy of Ship of Fools with Porter’s handwritten revisions.  These items, and more, can be found under the Inventories/Additional Information heading in the finding aid or by searching the catalog!

If you have any questions about the Katherine Anne Porter papers or our other Literature and Rare Books collections please contact us!

Caroline Ackiewicz, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.

New Virtual Exhibition: Weapons of Math Destruction in the Archives

A new virtual exhibition of items from University Libraries Special Collections and University Archives related to Cathy O’Neil’s book Weapons of Math Destruction is now available. In her book, O’Neil presents arguments for how algorithms increasingly control critical functions in our lives and the danger of increasing our dependence on these flawed algorithms. While much of the material in Special Collections and University Archives cannot speak to the issues with present day algorithms, what these collections can help us understand are the “historical data sets” that drive our cultural implicit biases and shape the algorithms we encounter everyday. These items allow us to explore the ways that bias has historically played a role in upholding inequitable systems. Explore material from our collection related to higher education, hiring and employment, credit, insurance, and advertising by visiting the new virtual exhibition Weapons of Math Destruction in the Archives.

Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction was selected as the 2020-2021 First Year Book.

Brood X Cicadas are on their Way: Find them in the Newspapers

Evening capital and Maryland gazette. (Annapolis, Md.), 21 June 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88065726/1915-06-21/ed-1/seq-3/>

It’s that time of year! After spending 17 years underground, the Brood X cicadas will emerge around the third week of May. “For about four to six weeks after the cicadas emerge, woods and neighborhoods will ring with their buzzing mating calls” (Kelly Kizer Whitt, EARTH, April 1, 2021). Have no fear, though! The cicadas are harmless. They won’t eat crops, and they won’t bite you. They just come to do their business and leave. Once the eggs are laid, the adult cicadas will die; the baby cicadas will hatch and burrow back into the ground for 17 years; and the cycle will repeat.

Cicadas are already trending in the news in the Mid-Atlantic region. Perhaps you’re wondering what the community thought of Brood X’s arrival in the past. Chronicling America is a great resource to compare current news articles about the 17 year cicadas with historic news articles about the brood. 

Catoctin clarion. [volume] (Mechanicstown, Md.), 12 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026688/1919-06-12/ed-1/seq-4/>

In a 1919 article of the Catoctin Clarion, published in Thurmont, Maryland, there is a quote from a 1669 book that details a cicada visit from years earlier: ““It is to be observed,” he says, “that the spring before there was a numerous company of flies, which were like for bigness unto wasps or bumble-bees, they came out of little holes in the ground, and did eat up the green things, and made such a constant yelling noise as made all the woods ring of them and ready to deaf the hearers” (Catoctin clarion. [volume] (Mechanicstown, Md.), 12 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026688/1919-06-12/ed-1/seq-4/>). Of course, they weren’t flies, and they didn’t “eat up the green things.” However, their mating rituals were the same. Hundreds of years later, the Brood X cicadas are likely to do so every 17 years for hundreds of years to come, despite what some 1919 headlines might have led people (who didn’t read the article) to believe.

Catoctin clarion. [volume] (Mechanicstown, Md.), 12 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026688/1919-06-12/ed-1/seq-4/>
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Online Exhibit – How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris

Are you looking for a way to enjoy Literature and Rare Books’ digital holdings?  Explore our updated virtual exhibit How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris.  This online exhibit offers insight into William Morris (1834-1896), who was an author, socialist, decorator, printer, calligrapher, and leader in the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Morris was inspired by the Middle Ages to produce beautiful, high quality works.  Morris’ creations include furnishings from Morris and Co. and books published by Kelmscott Press.  Morris was also active in the English Socialist movement and founded the Socialist League in 1884.

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Gerrymandering & the Attempted Elimination of Macon County, Alabama, 1957

Despite its fundamental political motive–to reshape voting districts in order to benefit the electoral chances of one political party–gerrymandering may be one of the few practices that Republicans and Democrats have in common these days.  Although the effects of Republican-led gerrymandering has arguably received more national attention during recent years, both parties have used this practice to gain political advantages. Districts across Maryland, for example, have been redrawn by both major parties during the last several decades.  Take Baltimore–a longtime resident in southern Baltimore may have lived in as many as three different electoral districts during the last 20 years.

While gerrymandering has been utilized to both maximize and minimize the electoral impact of different groups of voters, its geographic effect typically follows a certain pattern.  The shapes of different districts change every few years as a result of gerrymandering. However, in 1957 in southeast Alabama, the practice of gerrymandering almost led to the complete elimination of one county entirely.  The reason? To severely curtail the voting power of African-American residents.

Despite ever-present resistance from white, pro-segregation factions, including violent intimidation tactics used by white nationalist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, black voter registration in the South rose steadily during the 1950s.  A corresponding trend was also occurring in Macon County, Alabama–located about 40 miles east of Montgomery and home to the historically-black Tuskegee University. Whereas only 30 African-American residents were registered to vote in 1930, over 1,000–or roughly three percent of the total county population–were registered by 1957.  

Of course, this trend also created heightened concern among white southerners who feared that black voters would be able to curtail long-standing segregation laws across the region.  In turn, they worked with state legislators like Alabama senator Sam Engelherdt to develop and implement strategies to stop the growth of black voters.

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New Resource: Libguide on LGBTQ Writers and Artists in Special Collections

Hornbake Library’s Literature and Rare Books collection contains many excellent works by LGBTQ writers and artists.  If you would like to learn more about works by LGBTQ people in Literature and Rare Books but aren’t sure where to start, we have the solution.  Exploring Hornbake’s holdings from LGBTQ writers is easier than ever with our new subject guide, LGBTQ Writers and Artists in Special Collections!

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