In October 1870 a group of land holders around the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers called upon the Oyster Navy to enforce a law that prohibits the use of sink boats while hunting water fowl. In early November they got their wish. The captain of the newly formed Oyster Navy, Hunter Davidson, arrived in the flats with a side wheeled steamship named LEILA. From the 5 November 1870 edition of the Cecil Whig:
“The Duck War, at Havre de Grace, between the “Oyster Navy “ and Havre de Grace gunners, is characteristic of the heroism of the “Navy.” Notwithstanding the stringent law, passed by the last session, requiring the — “Oyster Navy” to suppress the Havre de Grace gunners, the professional sportsmen of that town made their usual preparations for the season, and when the concerted day arrived, proceeded to anchor their sink-boats out on the flats and lay out their decoys. On Monday last, if we are informed properly as to the day, the “Navy” made its appearance, and actually ran one poaching gentleman ashore. Report says when he touched the shore he raised his gun and threatened to fire on his pursuers, but the Captain of the pursuing force begged him not to shoot, that it was not his purpose to arrest him or capture his boat, that, in short, they had come to warn them not to shoot in violation of the law. Captain Davidson, of the war steamer, subsequently went ashore and made a speech to the Havre de Graceans, assuring them that the mission of the “Navy” was a friendly visit. The steamer then fell down the Bay and anchored opposite the mouth of Bush River. On Wednesday the dockers from Havre de Grace sailed out as usual and anchored on the fiats, where they kept up the usual fire on the ducks all day, killing some 2,000 or 3,000 of the birds. The “ Navy “ didn’t make its appearance, and the Havre de Grace men say that they ran the valiant Captain and his dauntless crue, with their war vessels, off.
Another theory is, that the “Navy” have orders from headquarters not to resort to harsh measures till after the election, as the duckers threaten to slaughter the Democratic ticket in Harford if their business is interfered with, but the ides of November being past, the “ Navy “ will return to execute judgment, without fear, favor or affection. We will see.”
The Law in question at the time was Article 98 of the Code of Public General Laws entitled “Wild Fowl”. It appears that the Law was first passed in 1860. From 1870 to 1880 the law would undergo several amendments.
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