Claiborne's offending settlement on Kent Island. 19th c. woodcut.

Maryland History: The First Pirate of the Chesapeake

09/19/2017
By Preservation Maryland

In 1635, William Claiborne gained notoriety as the first documented pirate in Maryland history.

William Claiborne

Claiborne, who held a leadership role in the Virginia colony, setup a trading post and settlement on Kent Island which was later redrawn into the new colony of Maryland. Claiborne’s settlement and subsequent refusal to leave was an act that led to the Battle of Pocomoke Sound, one of the first naval battles in North American history, as well as the first accounts of documented piracy.

Claiborne’s first act of piracy took place on Palmer Island (today known as Garrett Island) in 1635 when he ordered his men to attack and raid a Maryland fur trading post. The outlaw Claiborne then went on to attack Maryland ships in the Chesapeake causing his lands to be seized by the fledgling Maryland General Assembly in 1638 for what was described as, “grevious crimes of pyracie and murther.”

Example of a “Pinnace” the type of ship involved in the Battle of Pocomoke Sound.

Claiborne failed in later attempts to reassert control over his former lands on Kent Island and finally retired in 1660 to his 5,000 acre plantation known as “Romancoke” on Virginia’s tidewater peninsula near West Point. It was there that William Claiborne, Maryland’s first pirate passed away in 1677. Claiborne may have been Maryland’s first pirate – but was far from its last – with the Chesapeake’s brackish waters playing host to many more rogues throughout its long, choppy history.

Read more about Chesapeake Pirates

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