CHC Cruise Facts – Spesutie Island

  1. A 1,500 acre island, which was originally inhabited by Native Americans and English colonists.
  1. Lord Baltimore granted a Virginian (after he became a Marylander), Nathaniel Utie, a 2300 acre tract that included the island.
  1. Utie prefixed his name with the Latin word for hope – spes – and named his land “Spesutie” in 1656
  1. During the mid to late 1600s things started to get a bit complicated for Utie.  Apparently, the Dutch who were rapidly settling land between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, didn’t care much about the fact that they were encroaching on Lord Baltimore’s grant.  The Governor of Maryland at the time (a guy named Josias Fendall) enlisted Utie to educate the Dutch and provide them with two options – respect Lord Baltimore’s authority or leave.  Utie carried out his charge but not very diplomatically.  According to Cronin’s account he did it in a “boisterous and stormy manner” threatening bloodshed.
  1. Of course the Dutch being the Dutch, did not comply and sent troops to capture Utie and keep the land they had settled. Well, they never caught up with the stealthy Utie and he returned to Spesutie Manor.
  1. Unfortunately (at leas for Utie) Utie’s woes continued when he got into a flap with Lord Baltimore and, along with Governor Fendall, tried to create a commonwealth independent of the Catholic lord proprietor.
  1. After surviving the murder of his first wife by a slave, and the death of his young son (to his second wife), Utie finally passed on and left Spesutie Manor to his nephew, George.  Spesutie Manor remained in family ownership until 1779 when Colonel Samuel Hughes (of Catoctin Furnace fame) bought it for 7500 pounds.
  1. Hughes eventually sold Spesutie Manor to another colonel, Willam Smith.  His family lived on Spesutie Manor for over 100 years, and then passed it on to some one else… and on and on.  Farming was the main use of the land.
  1. Sometime through all this, the Spesutie Manor ghost came onto the scene – a little white dog, which was often spotted roaming the manor house.
  1. During WWI the federal government bought 35,000 acres surrounding Spesutie Manor to built the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  But Spesutie Island was not part of the deal… yet.
  1. The private owners of Spesutie Island sold it to something called the Susquehanna Development Company, which in turn sold off the island’s six farms to individual tenants. 
  1. Somehow, J. Pierpont Morgan came into the picture and built a hunting lodge on the island in 1936.
  1. It all ends in 1945 when Stephen Burch sold Spesutie Island to the feds for $95,000 to expand APG.  Somehow Burch got the land from JP Morgan. 
  1. Spesutie Island is still part of APG and is off limits to the public.  And that’s probably a good thing, given what you might end up tripping over (or off).  Most of us now know the area around Spesutie Island for its loud booms and eagle nests.    Yes amidst the ordnance testing and disposal, a large number bald eagle pairs find Spesutie Island a fine nesting area.

Note: These “CHC Cruise Facts” were extracted from William B. Cronin’s book, The Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in 2005 (ISBN: 0-8018-7435-I).  CHC volunteers are encouraged read more about Garrett Island by purchasing this book or checking it out at a local library.