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WADING FROM TILGHMAN’S ISLAND TO SHARP’S ISLAND
In the December 2010 edition of the Tidewater Time s, there appeared an article titled “Wading to Sharp’s Island” by Gary Crawford. In that article, Mr. Crawford mocks long-held lore that in the mid to late 1800s a person could wade the waters of the Chesapeake Bay between Black Walnut Point, Tilghman’s Island, to Sharp’s Island. Although Crawford admits he heard the story of wading to Sharp’s Island from “twenty different residents” of Tilghman’s Island, whose families have lived on Island for many generations, Mr. Crawford nonetheless dismisses those historical accounts with derision by “rolling his eyes” and stating he views the stories as “a scow full of chum”. Crawford goes on to state that any account of “great-great grandparents…of current residents” wading to Sharp’s Island “cannot be true”. Consequently, Crawford’s article is about disproving the wading story rather than seeking to prove the family history accounts of twenty Tilghman’s Island residents.
In addressing a timeline for support of his argument against the wading to Sharp’s Island story, Crawford states unequivocally that “The settlement of Tilghman’s Island didn’t begin until the 1830s.” However, the records of the United Methodist Church disagree with that 1830 date he proffers. In this connection, Reverend Ernest C. Hallman, in his book titled The Garden of Methodism (1948), notes a journal entry in 1784 by Jesse Lee; wherein Reverend Lee writes: “1784 I preached at Tilghman’s. There was a gracious move among the people. I preached in a new meeting house to a large company.” - To clarify, and historically speaking, a meeting house was a Protestant place of worship, and company was considered to be a gathering of people. -Jesse Lee was one of the most famous Methodist preachers in America, and the Methodist Church’s first historian. Reverend Lee’s account, in essence, nullifies Mr. Crawford’s timeline by 46 years, revealing settlement of Tilghman’s Island in the 18th century, along with the establishment of a Methodist church, and not the 19th century as alleged by Mr. Crawford.
Cited in his Tidewater Times article is a map Mr. Crawford identifies as “1795 –Griffiths”, and then states the map “does not support the wading tale”. He then offers-up two observations concerning that 1795 map: (1) “the size and shape of Tilghman’s Island is all wrong”; and (2) “Sharp’s Island was three miles offshore [from Tilghman’s island] as far back as 1795…the same as to Cook’s Point”. Well, those observations are totally incredible…one can’t argue map error as to size and shape of Tilghman’s Island but in the next breath argue that distances on the map are correct. No jury is going to believe Mr. Crawford’s lopsided analysis and total contradiction. As to his map, my curiosity led me to locate, for review, the complete 1795 map housed in the Library of Congress, which was published by John Vallance with contributors being Dennis Griffith and James Thackara. That review revealed a picture of the Tilghman’s Island/Sharp’s Island area totally different from what Mr. Crawford presented to his readers. In this regard, and bearing directly south from Black Walnut Point on Tilghman’s Island, there are three large shoals (land masses usually a few inches to a foot under water) all in a row, in which each shoal was approximately one-third to two-thirds the size of Tilghman’s Island. Immediately to the east of Sharp’s Island and between the last shoal was an “islet” Mr. Crawford acknowledges was present on his 1795 map. Thus, the 1795 map in the Library of Congress is astonishing in that it reveals Tilghman’s Island, the shoals, the islet and Sharp’s Island to be so close as to make a wading trek in 1795 from Tilghman’s Island to Sharp’s Island quite a pleasurable jaunt.
I do have to give credit to Mr. Crawford because he doubted his own conclusion about not being able to wade to Sharp’s Island, when he stated in pertinent part: “Could the 1795 map be wrong? Besides, it only shows distances, not depths. Maybe the gap between Sharp’s and Tilghman’s was just a few feet deep at extremely low tides.” Perhaps that would have been a good spot for Mr. Crawford to change course and seek to prove the story of those twenty residents about people being able to wade from Tilghman’s Island to Sharp’s Island.
Also embedded in Mr. Crawford’s 2010 Tidewater Times article is mention of a “chart…published during the Civil War in 1862”. While Crawford does not attribute development or publication of the chart to anyone, he nevertheless presumes the chart makes his case when he argues: “I’m sorry folks. Even at the lowest tides, no one in 1862 could have walked to Sharp’s.” Once again Crawford appears to have “missed the boat”. In this connection, an 1862 chart of the Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac River, published by the U.S. Coast Survey, reveals a walking path from Tilghman’s Island to Sharp’s Island. In reaching that conclusion, the chart commentary presented by the U.S. Coast Survey reveals a fall of the lowest tide by 2.4 feet at times. Thus, the maximum depth would have been no more than five feet. The commentary on that federal government chart also mentions that only “mean low water” was recorded, not “mean lower low water” as is recorded in today’s world of navigation. (The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration uses mean lower low water, which is the average height of the lowest tide recorded at a tide station each day during the recording period.) Additionally, an 1862 chart of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, authored and published by Fielding Lucas, Jr., reveals “soundings” of no more than five feet between Tilghman’s Island and Sharp’s Island. Accordingly, and based upon these two charts identified (and the fact that “mean lower low water was not measured in 1862), Crawford’s unidentified chart “misses the boat” when it comes to measuring up in support of his conclusion that the water was too deep to wade in.
Mr. Crawford also stated in his 2010 article that Sharp’s Island is “gone…eroded away entirely by inexorable currents of the Bay”. That conclusion, however, goes against the grain of, and does not comport with, datum collected and published in a chart by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2018. That chart reveals that Sharp’s Island does indeed exist, as marshland, and is approximately four acres in size, and surrounded by a three-square-mile shoal with water averaging three to four feet in depth. In final analysis, the only thing “gone” is Mr. Crawford’s assertion that Sharp’s Island no longer exists.
So…why did Mr. Crawford fail in his effort to disprove the Tilghman’s Island lore supported by twenty of its residents? Simply put, had Crawford examined his charts of 150 plus years ago and applied current hydrography and topography science and technology he would have certainly reached different conclusions, and would not have wasted his time writing his “scow full of chum” (as he would characterize it). In this connection, findings in the 2018 nautical chart mentioned above are a result of collaboration between several federal government agencies, which include: The National Ocean Service; The U.S. Coast Survey; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Coast Guard; and the U.S. Geological Survey. Consequently, the sounding surveys and mapping of the 19th century did not have the benefit of today’s digital electronic and satellite imaging technology, nor multi-governmental agency manpower and coordination in tidal assessment. Most importantly to this issue is that fact that the maps Mr. Crawford used to try to make his case did not have the important element of measuring depth soundings and providing datum of “mean lower low water” levels. The technology of measuring mean lower low water simply did not exist in the mid to late 1800s. So, it is reasonable to conclude that the measure of mean lower low water was recorded for history orally; i.e., Island lore passed down by those who waded the waters between Black Walnut Point, on Tilghman’s Island, to Sharp’s Island. To clarify, the 2018 nautical chart reveals mean lower low water extending directly southward from Black Walnut Point on Tilghman’s Island for one and one-half miles with sounding depths of only one foot to 5 feet but averaging just three feet of water. At Sharp’s Island, there is a shoal surrounding it with an average of just a four foot depth. The fair analysis is that even today, in 2018, and with all the erosion and rising sea levels over the last 150 years or so, there is still a lot of wading to be enjoyed between Tilghman’s Island and Sharp’s Island.
In closing…Early on in his 2010 article, when Mr. Crawford questioned his own conclusions about the 1795 chart, that would have been a good point for him to “clam up” since the rest of his article turned out to be nothing more than a “fish story”. In that regard, Crawford failed to recognize he was sailing off-course and into-the-wind when he was unable to offer his readers credible evidence of “mean lower low water” datum. In the end, and based upon the foregoing, it appears justified and prudent to accept the oral tradition espoused by the twenty Tilghman’s Island residents who avow that their great-great grandparents could wade to Sharp’s Island in the mid to late 1800s.
Ron Frampton writes from Tilghman’s Island. His family is now in its 7th generation of having resided on the Island.
 see https://tidewatertimes.com/GaryCrawford-December2010.htm
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- Ron Frampton (Autor), 2018, Wading From Tilghman's Island To Sharp's Island, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/438895