Inhabited by English settlers beginning four hundred years ago, the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay is one of the most ancient, beautiful, and haunting regions of the country. Its seafood is unsurpassed; its history is fathomless; its allure to tourists seemingly irresistible.
Here are a baker’s dozen of enduring books from this region. The number could easily be doubled or quadrupled.
What literary treasures are we missing? Feel free to leave comments or nominations in the dialog box at the bottom. This list will grow over time.
Frederick Douglass, born a slave in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, educated himself, escaped, and made himself one of the greatest leaders in American history. His brilliant anti-slavery speeches were so fiercely intelligent, and so startlingly eloquent, that many people didn’t believe he had been a slave. To prove them wrong, Douglass decided to write his own story. His autobiographical narratives stunned the world, and have shocked, moved, and inspired readers ever since. Here, complete for the first time in one authoritative volume from the Library of America, are the three powerful and gripping stories, now recognized as classics of American writing.
Eastern Shore native John Barth – a National Book Award winner and longtime teacher of creative writing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore – based his historical novel about the early settlement of Maryland on a 17th century satirical poem by one Ebenezer Cooke. This intricate, witty, and engrossing saga shows why Barth is considered one of the giants of postmodernist American literature along with such contemporaries as Thomas Pynchon.
The Sot-Weed Factor (the title refers to a seller of tobacco) is a hilarious tribute to all the most insidious human vices, with a hero who is “one of the most diverting…to roam the world since Candide” (Time ).
In this national bestseller, James A. Michener brings his grand epic tradition to bear on the four-hundred-year saga of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, from its Native American roots to the modern age. In the early 1600s, young Edmund Steed is desperate to escape religious persecution in England. After joining Captain John Smith on a harrowing journey across the Atlantic, Steed makes a life for himself in the New World, establishing a remarkable dynasty that parallels the emergence of America. Michener tells intertwining stories of family and national heritage, introducing us along the way to Quakers, pirates, planters, slaves, abolitionists, and notorious politicians, all making their way through American history in the common pursuit of freedom.
The Lord’s Oysters: Gilbert Byron
Nationally acclaimed when first published in 1957 by Atlantic/Little, Brown, The Lord’s Oysters has never previously been available in an e-book edition. While presented as a novel, it captures with vivid fidelity the life of the Chesapeake watermen and their families in the early 20th century.
“This is literally a wonderful book. The wonder is that of a boy, Noah Marlin, growing up along the Chester River near the Chesapeake Bay. Inevitably there is something of Twain and Tarkington in his pranks, hooky-playing, and fishing. But other qualities distinctly Gilbert Byron’s make the novel more than a nostalgic re-creation of an American childhood. This isn’t childhood we’re reading about, it’s life.” (Saturday Review)
The 1884 fictional masterpiece of George Alfred Townsend (1841-1914) who was born the son of a Methodist minister in Georgetown, Delaware; grew up in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore; became one of the youngest of all Civil War correspondents; and achieved national fame as one of the most influential newspaper writers in Washington, D.C. during what came to be known as the Gilded Age. in The Entailed Hat, he fictionalizes the true story of Patty Cannon, a notorious kidnapper and slave trader who impressed free blacks into captivity and sold them South. Over many years and multiple editions, this has earned the status of regional classic.
This engaging history presents the extraordinary true stories of Patty Cannon, Anna Ella Carroll, and Harriet Tubman, three “dangerous” women who grew up in early nineteenth-century Maryland. Their lives and times overlapped, but there is no evidence they ever met each other. The “monstrous” Patty Cannon was a reputed thief, murderer, and leader of a ruthless gang who kidnapped free blacks and sold them back into slavery. Miss Anna Ella Carroll, an unmarried slaveholder, foisted herself into state and national politics by exerting influence on legislators and conspiring with Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks to keep Maryland in the Union, when many state legislators clamored to join the Confederacy. And Harriet Tubman–slave rescuer, abolitionist, and later women’s suffragist–was both hailed as “the Moses of her people” and hunted as an outlaw, with a price on her head worth at least ten thousand dollars.
The Right-Hand Shore: Christopher Tilghman
Fifteen years after the publication of his acclaimed novel Mason’s Retreat, Christopher Tilghman returns to the Mason family and the Chesapeake Bay in The Right-Hand Shore.
It is 1920, and Edward Mason is making a call upon Miss Mary Bayly, the current owner of the legendary Mason family estate, the Retreat. Miss Mary is dying. She plans to give the Retreat to the closest direct descendant of the original immigrant owner that she can find. Edward believes he can charm the old lady, secure the estate and be back in Baltimore by lunchtime.
Instead, over the course of a long day, he hears the stories that will forever bind him and his family to the land. The drama in this richly textured novel proceeds through vivid set pieces: on rural nineteenth-century industry; on a boyhood on the Eastern Shore of Maryland; on the unbreakable divisions of race and class; and, finally, on two families attempting to save a son and a daughter from the dangers of their own innocent love. The result is a radiant work of deep insight and peerless imagination about the central dilemma of American history.
The Right-Hand Shore was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012.
Nobody could capture the Phantom. She was the wildest mare on Assateague Island. They said she was like the wind, that the white “map” on her shoulders was her mark of freedom.
Paul and Maureen Beebe had their hearts set on owning her. They were itching to buy and tame her, and worked hard to earn the money that she would cost. But the roundup men had tried to capture her and for two years she had escaped them….
Pony Penning Day holds a surprise for everyone, for Paul not only brings in the Phantom, but her newborn colt as well. Can Paul and Maureen possibly earn enough to buy them both?
This perennial classic won the Newbery Honor in 1947 and was made into a popular movie in 1961. It has gone through multiple editions and claims new readers every year.
Sara Louise Bradshaw is sick and tired of her beautiful twin Caroline. Ever since they were born, Caroline has been the pretty one, the talented one, the better sister. Even now, Caroline seems to take everything: Louise’s friends, their parents’ love, her dreams for the future.
For once in her life, Louise wants to be the special one. But in order to do that, she must first figure out who she is . . . and find a way to make a place for herself outside her sister’s shadow.
Honored with the Newbery Medal, this elegant and moving novel for young readers is set on the fictional Rass Island, located north of Smith Island, just a short ferry ride away from Crisfield, Maryland in Chesapeake Bay.
An Island Out of Time: Tom Horton
A classic of Chesapeake Bay literature, Tom Horton’s An Island Out of Time chronicles the three years Horton and his family spent on Smith Island, a marshy archipelago in the middle of Maryland’s famous estuary. The result is an intimate portrait of a deeply traditional community that lived much as their ancestors did three hundred years before, attuned to the habits of blue crab, oyster, and waterfowl. In a new afterword for this edition, Horton brings the story of Smith Island, and its people, up to the present.
“He has captured in full the life of the island.”—Washington Post Book World
Once you find yourself in Oysterback, you may never want to leave. Nothing beats Desiree Grinch’s corn soup at the Blue Crab Tavern. There’s never a wait at The Curl Up ‘N Dye Salon de Beaute. In season, you can buy your produce (as you pay your respects) at Dreedle’s Funeral Parlor. There’s bingo every Tuesday at the V.F.D. The Mosquito Festival is next week. And when the moon hangs over Widgeon Marsh as full and yellow as one of Miss Nettie’s oyster fritters, you’ll know you’re in a place like no other. Helen Chappell’s stories capture the unique charm of rural life on the Shore, and her memorable characters typify the folksy strength and eccentricity of the natives.
Originally issued in the prestigious “Rivers of America” series and now again available, here are the beautifully crafted descriptions of the sluggish tidal rivers, never more than a few miles apart, that wind interminably through the rich, flat land of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. On their banks stand some of the finest Georgian mansions in the Tidewater area. Footner’s evocative text and the pen-and-ink sketches of Aaron Sopher make Rivers of the Eastern Shore one of the most enjoyable works in Maryland literature.
William Warner exhibits his skill as a naturalist and as a writer in this Pulitzer Prize-winning study of the pugnacious Atlantic blue crab and of its Chesapeake Bay territory. Penguin Nature Library.
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