History of Kent Island
written by Jennifer Gayman
ISLAND IS THE LARGEST ISLAND in the Chesapeake Bay and was the
location of the first European settlement in what is now Maryland.
From its earliest inhabitants to its present-day status as the
gateway to the Eastern Shore, Kent Island has played a vital role
in the history of Maryland.
The Matapeake Indians
Kent Island has been inhabited for
nearly 12,000 years. The more recent native populations belonged
to the Matapeake tribe, and were members of the Algonquin nation.
The Matapeakes called Kent Island "Monoponson." They lived
relatively peaceful lives, hunting, gathering, fishing and
planting. They experienced attacks from the warlike Susquehannocks,
who periodically traveled from the north to raid the areas
surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. The early native settlements were
probably located on the southeastern side of the island, but as
European settlers arrived, the tribe shifted north. The Europeans
brought disease and conflict, and infringed on the lands used by
the Indians for hunting, gathering, and cultivation. The tribe
eventually disappeared from the island as more and more Europeans
The Claiborne Settlement
The first permanent European
settlement in what is now Maryland was established on Kent Island
in 1631 by William Claiborne. Claiborne was the official surveyor
of the Jamestown colony, and was appointed secretary of state for
Virginia. He received permission in 1627 from the governor of
Virginia to explore the Chesapeake and investigate trade
opportunities with the Indians. Claiborne selected Kent Island
(named after his home in Kent, England) as his base for trade with
the Susquehannocks, from whom he purchased the island for "truck"
worth twelve pounds sterling, or about the annual wages of two
farm workers. "Truck" was the term used for items brought
specifically for trade with the Indians, including axes, knives,
combs, bells, beads and woolen cloth. The Europeans traded truck
for furs, particularly beaver, and corn.
By 1631, Claiborne and a group of
men had settled on the island, built a fort on the southern tip,
and established a trading post. The fort was known as Fort Kent. A
fire destroyed the fort in the winter of 1631-32, but the
settlement quickly recovered. By 1634 a palisade, or wooden wall,
enclosed a community that included a trading station, grist mill
and courthouse. Claiborne built a private residence and fort at
Craney Creek which was called Fort Crayford. The settlers grew
tobacco, built small boats, and manufactured wooden barrels. They
utilized nearby Poplar Island for grazing hogs and growing crops.
By 1638 the population of the settlement included 120 Englishmen,
plus women and children.
In 1632, the Calvert family was
granted a charter by King Charles I to establish a colony in
Maryland. The Calverts claimed that Kent Island, which was a
lucrative trading post, was included in that land grant. Claiborne
disputed that claim, declaring Kent Island was part of Virginia.
The two groups clashed in a series of naval battles in 1635. When
Claiborne returned to England on business, Calvert forces seized
the island in 1638. After an unsuccessful legal battle, Claiborne
and his family returned to Virginia, and Kent Island was
eventually settled as part of Maryland.
Settlement and Expansion
The earliest settlements on the
island consisted mainly of land grants that were originally
conferred by Claiborne, and later re-issued by Lord Baltimore. The
island was first known as Kent Hundred of St. Mary's County, and
in 1642 was established as Kent County. In 1695, Kent Island was
made part of Talbot County, and finally in 1706 became part of the
newly formed Queen Anne's County.
The first and only town in the
colonial period on Kent Island was at Broad Creek, which was in
existence by the mid-1600s. Broad Creek boasted a ferry landing
for the first ferry to cross the Chesapeake Bay, a courthouse, a
jail, a tavern, and a church. The church was the Anglican Christ
Church, one of the earliest congregations in the state of
Maryland. The town of Broad Creek was in existence until the
Natural population growth and new
transportation routes increased the population of Kent Island in
the nineteenth century. As new ferry routes, such as the
Annapolis-Rock Hall ferry, the Annapolis-Matapeake ferry and the
Baltimore-Love Point ferry were established, the population
shifted from the Broad Creek area. New settlements at
Stevensville, Dominion and Chester reflected the shift to
steamboat and railroad transportation for both people and goods,
as well as the expanding seafood industry.
1952 the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, officially named the William
Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge, was built, linking Kent Island
to the Western Shore. The bridge immediately opened the island to
new development and a rapid influx of new settlement. A band of
gas stations, restaurants and other businesses developed along
Route 50/301 as it crossed the island. A second span of the bridge
was built in 1973 to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic
traveling from the Western Shore to the ocean-side resorts.
In its earliest days, Kent Island's
economy expanded from its initial role as trading post to the
extensive cultivation of tobacco and corn. Tobacco farming,
however, ended by the early nineteenth century. The island's
farming went into decline because of the depletion of the soil
from the nutrient-intensive tobacco and lack of crop rotation. As
the soil recovered, farming returned. In the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, farmers grew crops ranging from corn and
wheat to berries and melons. Also, many of the island's
inhabitants were watermen, who worked the Chesapeake Bay as part
of the expanding seafood industry.
Today Kent Island is often regarded as a bedroom community to
Annapolis, with the Bay Bridge providing quick access to the
Western Shore. It is also a haven for recreational boaters and
vacationers, with an abundance of marinas, seafood restaurants and
The Kent Narrows is the strait that
separates Kent Island from the mainland of Queen Anne's County and
the Eastern Shore. Known as the "Wading Place" in colonial times,
this waterway was once quite shallow, with marshland on either
side. A ferry once carried passengers across. In 1826 an earthen
causeway, or raised road across marshland or water, was built, and
it closed the Narrows to all boat traffic. In 1876 the causeway
was removed and a new, deeper channel was dredged. Also, a series
of bridges have connected the Island to the mainland, including
several railroad bridges, and drawbridges. Today two bridges, the
lower drawbridge, and the higher Route 50/301 bridge, cross the
The Narrows was once the heart of
the seafood industry, with 12 packinghouses in operation along its
waters. In its heyday in the latter half of the twentieth century,
hundreds of boats arrived daily to deliver their catch to the
seafood houses. Today only two packinghouses remain, but the
Narrows still boasts numerous seafood restaurants. The waterway is
regularly dredged to prevent it from silting closed.
written by -Jennifer Gayman Ruffner
Emory, Frederic. Queen Anne's County Maryland. Queenstown, Md.:
Queen Anne's County Historical Society, 1981.
Freedman, Janet. Kent Island: The Land That Once Was Eden.
Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2002.
Hoxter, William N., Jr. Growing Up On Kent Island. Grasonville,
Md.: M.R. H. Publishing, LLC, 2000.
-----. A Walk Back In Time: A Pictorial History of Yesterday on
the Island. Baltimore: Pavsner Press Inc., 1997.
The Island of Kent: The 350th Anniversary, A Commemorative
History. Stevensville, Md.: Kent Island Heritage Society, 1981.
Schoch, Mildred C. Of History and Houses: A Kent Island Heritage.
Stevensville, Md.: Kent Island Heritage Society, 1989.
Truitt, Reginald V. The Saga of Blunt's Warehouse, Kent Island,
Maryland. Centreville, Md.: Queen Anne's County Historical