Local author Brent Lewis’ book “Remembering Kent Island,” covers the history of Kent Island from before Native Americans arrived until the present day. We read his book and talked to him to learn a more about the early years of Kent Island, including about the lives of the Native Americans who lived here, how Kent Island was almost part of Virginia and more.
Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Kent Island was populated by a Native American tribe known as the Matapeake People. They, and other Native Americans on the Eastern Shore, are believed to have migrated here from the far north chasing after bison and mammoths. People in the region were often nomadic, meaning they traveled from place to place, but also built dome-shaped homes known as Wigwams made with branches and secured with vines and animal leather. For trading, Native Americans in the region used a form of money made by modifying seashells. By the year 1,000, it is estimated that there were just 8,000 people living throughout the Eastern Shore.
In 1631 William Claiborne created the first European settlement on Kent Island. A merchant from the larger Jamestown settlement to the south, William Claiborne used the island as a shipping point for trading. Accounts suggest that the relationship between the European settlers and the Native Americans in the area was initially good. As a resident of Jamestown, Claiborne and the rest of Jamestown viewed Kent Island as an extension of Jamestown and the “Virginia Company.” Today, the location of Claiborne’s original settlement is under water due to erosion, and the exact location is unknown. There is still an ongoing search for the original site to this day.
Around the same time, George Calvert, a Catholic living in England, petitioned the king to grant him land in the new world. After failing to settle in the cold north of Canada, he eventually petitioned the king for land further south in what is now Maryland. He sought both wealth and to create a space where Catholics and Protestants could co-exist. Though he died before the king would grant him land, the king granted Calvert’s son, Cecil, land north of Jamestown that included Kent Island.
Tensions between both sides grew quickly. The first known battle between ships in the new world happened when Claiborne’s men attacked the Calverts with the Maryland side (Calvert) winning. Eventually, William Claiborne was called back to Europe by the company that had financed him, and Marylanders took full control of Kent Island. Though William Claiborne would eventually return and mount many attempts to reclaim the island named after his own birthplace of Kent, he would never succeed.
Despite Claiborne’s attempts to claim Kent Island for Virginia, author Brent generally has a positive view of the man. He recounted that his friend, who is also an author, had a much different take on Claiborne, telling me “He paints Claiborne as a villain. I told him that while I don’t want to be a Virginian, I’ve always appreciated his cavalier, stubborn attitude. He is a bit of a character… It was funny to see that different perspective. I’ve always thought of him as kind of an appealing figure.”
The first section of Brent Lewis’ book has loads of other interesting details about Kent Island, including more details about the battles between Claiborne and Calvert and about the early history of settler and native relations. You can find Brent’s book in some local stores, at Arcadia Publishing’s website and at Amazon. In a future issue, we will go more in depth on the latter half of Brent’s book, which includes interesting tales about the development of Kent Island and how a tenacious senator saved it from being used as a military testing ground.