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In December 1888, an attempt to assassinate Capt. George W. Clark, the captain of the State Fishery Force schooner “Folly,” resulted in the launch of two steamships — one of which was armed with a howitzer cannon — to Clark’s aid.
The ship, the “Leila,” was part of Maryland’s State Oyster Police Force created in March 1868 by the Maryland General Assembly to fend off oyster pirates in the late 19th century during the Oyster Wars.
Now, as part of its scheduled tour through Maryland, the 144-year-old howitzer cannon resides in the lobby of the Calvert Marine Museum until Sept. 30.
“It was a revelation to me,” Sherrod Sturrock, the museum’s deputy director, said of the Oyster Wars, “that these preservation acts have been going on for so long. It’s just an ongoing struggle between regulation and the fishermen.”
Sturrock said the small exhibit has been popular.
“The thing people find most interesting is the seal” on the top of the cannon, she said. The seal is known as the Great Seal of Maryland, ordered by the General Assembly in 1854.
The violent Oyster Wars of the late 19th and early 20th century were fought between the Maryland State Oyster Police Force and oyster pirates who were trying to harvest the oysters of the Chesapeake Bay.
The oyster pirates were, for the most, watermen trying to earn a living which is why the wars were so controversial, Sturrock said.
The “Leila” was a patrol boat of Maryland’s “Oyster Navy,” who fought in the Oyster Wars.
The howitzer cannon, originally placed on the “Leila,” also is believed to have been placed on the “Governor R.M. McLane” after the “Leila” was sold in 1884, said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Lt. Commander of Area 8 and Agency Historian Gregory Bartles.
There is documentation that a 12-pound Dahlgren howitzer cannon was placed on the “McLane” in 1888, he said, but it doesn’t specifically cite it as being the same cannon from the “Leila.”
The museum has the original nameboard from the “Governor R.M. McLane” steamboat, which patrolled state waters for 50 years beginning in 1888, on display in the maritime history exhibit.
Bartles said the thing that makes this cannon so unique is that during that time, most of the similar cannons were built in the U.S. Navy yard, whereas this particular cannon was built by Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Va.
Bartles purchased the John A. Dahlgren cannon on behalf of DNR from American Legion Post 116 in Reisterstown for $40,000, half of which was from a private donor.
The legion loaned the cannon out regularly to various re-enactor groups, according to a 2011 DNR news release.
Since its acquisition by DNR, the cannon has been displayed at the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Delmarva Discovery Center and the Annapolis Maritime Museum. According to the DNR website, the cannon will find its home at the National Sailing Center & Hall of Fame in Annapolis.