April 23, 1635: War on the Chesapeake – Claiborne vs. Calvert, Round 1


From Appletons 1880 Cyclopedia of American

1st Governor of Maryland

1st Governor of Maryland

On this date in 1635, the sloop Cockatrice, engaged the St. Margaret and St. Helen at Pocomoke Sound.  The Cockatrice fought on behalf of William Claiborne, a prominent Virginia colonist who operated a trading post on Kent Island.  Claiborne had sent the sloop in retaliation for the seizure of one of his boats by Maryland commissioners, who were attempting to dislodge him from the island.  This was the first in a series of conflicts, legal and armed, over who controlled Kent Island:  Maryland or Virginia.

Claiborne had first settled Kent Island in 1631, and established a trading post for which he had been given a charter by King Charles I.  He named the island Kent after the county of his birth in England.  However, he had not received an official land grant for Kent Island and the 1634 land grant given to George (and then Caecilius) Calvert established that Kent Island was part of the new Maryland colony.  By this point, Claiborne had established mills and brought in shipwrights, coopers (barrel-makers), and other skilled personnel in order to create a permanent settlement.  The new governor of Maryland, Leonard Calvert, offered to allow Claiborne to keep Kent Island, so long as he agreed to acknowledge the authority of the Maryland government.  Claiborne, as a prominent member of the governing Council of Virginia, refused, which most Virginians supported.

In response to his defiance, Calvert sent out a number of commissioners to stop and seize all unauthorized ships and trading areas in the Chesapeake Bay.  Henry Fleete, one of the commissioners and a fellow (to Claiborne) trader, seized the pinnace Long Tail belonging to a merchant working with Claiborne, along with its cargo.  Claiborne sent the pinnace Cockatrice, under the command of Lietenant Ratcliffe Warren, to find and recapture the boat.  On April 23, 1635, the Cockatrice engaged the St. Helen and St. Margaret under the command of commissioner Thomas Cornwallis off Pocomoke Sound.  The Cockatrice was soundly defeated with three Virginians and one Marylander killed.

This battle, despite its victory for Maryland, was relatively indecisive in deciding who controlled Kent Island.  Kent remained in Claiborne’s hands until 1637, when he sailed for England to resolve a legal dispute.  However, this battle, and subsequent events, helped to undermine and eventually destroy the rule of Governor Harvey of Virginia, whose council denounced his approval of Maryland’s actions.

Pocomoke Sound is on the Virginia side of the Maryland-Virginia border, and is located to the east of Tangier Island (see picture below)

  Replica of a 17th-century Pinnace:  Discovery http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=40253

Replica of a 17th-century Pinnace: Discovery


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