This week’s topic is the Bloody Point Bar Lighthouse, notable not only for its name, but also for its unique and radical location.
We passed close by the structure recently on our way up to Baltimore.
A number of sources claim the Bloody Point name comes from a variety of infamous though unverified events near that southern tip of Kent Island.
One story attributes the name to the massacre of Native Americans at the hands of English settlers in the late 1600s or early 1700s. Another alleges that four mutineers were rowed ashore from the ship they had hoped to usurp and hanged in a tree near the point by men loyal to the ship’s captain.
Other stories tell of violent naval battles near here that bloodied the waters; and still another tells of a bloodthirsty French pirate, captured and caged in a tangle of chains, and left hanging in a tree to die and rot, his skeletal remains a warning to other would-be pirates.
But with the passing centuries layering so much dust and fog over these stories, I’m happy to have come across a poem about Bloody Point that deals more romantically with the lore.
A Tale of Bloody Point was published in the Bay Times in April of 1966 and was republished in the Spring 1990 edition of the Kent Island Heritage Society newsletter in an article written by Bettye Speed. Stevensville’s Toots Baxter brought the poem to light. He said it was written in 1908 by a friend of his, a Rock Hall waterman named Josh Thomas.
Through the years I’ve read a number of poems written by watermen. Their work and the waters where they ply their trade clearly serve as a muse for them. Their colorful language and the rhythm and rhyme of their poems bespeak a slower pace, and appreciation for nature, that arise from so many quiet hours spent in boats rocking on the water.
Here’s Thomas’s poem which I will follow with a brief comment on the unique location of the Bloody Point Bar and lighthouse:
A Tale of Bloody Point
Down where the waves of the great blue bay/
Kiss the shores of Kent Island , then dance away,/
Lies the little point with its sinister name,/
Seeming to all the world proclaim/
The deeds so dark laid at its door,/
Close by the edge of the Chesapeake shore./
A hundred snows have glistened white,/
Since the horrors of that fateful night,/
But, still when winter hovers near,/
And Kent Isles round the fireplace cheer,/
The children gather with eyes aglow,/
To list this tale of long ago./
Long ago, when 1812’s grim smoke,/
Hovered o’er our land like a giant’s great cloak,/
How an English merchantman passed this shore,/
Of old Kent Isle bound for Baltimore./
The storms of fall had changed her way/
‘Til she stood well into Eastern Bay./
The sails hung idly on their spars/
As she rose and fell beneath the stars,/
Moving gently with the blue bay waves,/
First on water mount, and then in briny caves./
How a sailor murdered a captain and mate/
To settle a long deep feeling of hate./
How he swam to the mainland where he knew/
He’d be safe from the mad revengeful crew./
But the goddess of justice still held sway/
Until at last he was brought to bay;/
Then placed in a case secure and strong/
And swung to a tree limb high and long,/
And there he stayed ‘til death’s grim hand/
Called his guilty soul to the promised land./
And to this day ‘neath the place he died/
Every blade of grass is bound to hide,/
Seeming in horror to turn its face/
From the spot of murder and dire disgrace./
May no bloody deed our land anoint/
Such as there was at Bloody Point./
And the spot still tells with silent breath/
That the wages of sin is surely death./
The Bloody Point Bar Lighthouse, now a rusting shell of its former self, began its service in 1882 at the northern entrance to Eastern Bay. Its spark-plug metal shape, filled with concrete, rests on pilings driven into the bay bottom. Despite the apparent uselessness of its now dilapidated condition, the lighthouse nonetheless marks, perhaps, one of the Chesapeake’s most distinguished and unique geographical features.
Nothing less than a precipitous underwater cliff falls away from where the lighthouse stands in nine feet of water. To the west, a hundred and fifty yards or so, the water drops out to a few more than 170 feet, the Bay’s deepest depth. That deep and narrow feature is thought to be a remnant of the ancient Susquehanna River, flooded by the recession of the last ice age to become the nation’s largest estuary.
Measured from sea level, the so-called Bloody Point Hole, according to reliable geological sources, marks Maryland’s lowest altitude.
Between the high branches of nearby trees worn smooth from hanging ropes and chains, and the Bay’s murkiest depths, Bloody Point Bar and its lighthouse occupy what might rightfully be called the Cheapeake’s most dynamic historical/geographical locale.
Dennis Forney grew up on the Chester River in Chestertown. After graduating Oberlin College, he returned to the Shore where he wrote for the Queen Anne’s Record Observer, the Bay Times, the Star Democrat, and the Watermen’s Gazette. He moved to Lewes, Delaware in 1975 with his wife Becky where they lived for 45 years, raising their family and enjoying the saltwater life. Forney and Trish Vernon founded the Cape Gazette, a community newspaper serving eastern Sussex County, in 1993, where he served as publisher until 2020. He continues to write for the Cape Gazette as publisher emeritus and expanded his Delmarva footprint in 2020 with a move to Bozman in Talbot County. Photo by Dennis Forney