Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The "Great Oyster War" Between City Island and Tarrytown in 1877 and 1878

A "war" of epic proportions erupted between the Oystermen of City Island and the Oystermen of Tarrytown in 1878.  I previously have written on the Historic Pelham Blog about the oystering industry on City Island during the 19th century.  (Indeed, one such posting highlighted a similar feud between City Island oystermen and Long Island oystermen in 1869.)  For examples of postings on the City Island oyster industry,  see, e.g.:

Mon., July 30, 2007:  1885 Report Notes Decline of Oyster Industry Near City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Thu., July 26, 2007:  Pelham's City Island Oystermen Feud with Long Islanders in 1869.

Fri., July 27, 2007:  Possible Origins of the Oyster Feud Between City Islanders and Huntington, Long Island.

Fri., April 13, 2007:  Oystermen of City Island (When It Was Part of the Town of Pelham) Pioneered Oyster Cultivation.

Mon., September 18, 2006:  A Brief Description of Oystering in Eastchester Bay and at Pelham Published in 1881.

Fri., January 26, 2007:  A History of the Early Years of City Island When it Was Part of the Town of Pelham, Published in 1927.

Thu., December 3, 2009:  Pelham News on May 30, 1884 Including Allegations of Oyster Larceny and Meeting of the Pelhamville Improvement Association.

Below is the text of the letter to the editor published on March 22, 1878, followed by a citation to its source.



City Island and Tarrytown. -- The wars of heroes are not yet ended.  In the first ages of the world, there was a mighty contest between Greece and Troy on account of -- a woman -- and the earth fairly shook under the mighty deeds of valor then performed.  But a still mightier warfare is now raging between City Island and Tarrytown, on account of Oysters; and not only is the earth in those parts trembling, but even the sea is in commotion.  Greece and Troy had high ideas of beauty, but knew nothing about oysters.  City Island and Tarrytown have a high appreciation of beauty, with the most perfect knowledge of oysters, and hence the great valor of City Island and Tarrytown.  As the Declaration of Independence says, 'a decent respect to mankind shows that we should declare the' -- cause of the oyster war.

Some eight months ago, some aged oystermen belonging to that mountainous little town called Tarrytown, bordering on the North River, went up, pipe in mouth, to their council hall and passed a law, that none but North River oystermen should oyster in the North River.  Having accomplished this, they returned home and called on their friends to defend them through blood and death.  The great town of Tarrytown was witness, a few days since, to the effects of this vision.  There the Northernites assembled in vast numbers and threw themselves back on their new privileges, and promulgated a decree, declaring that, to them aloned belonged North River oysters, and threatening all free-traders, especially those of the coast of Long Island, with vengeance and destruction.

The City Islanders, being men of brave, bold spirits, laughed at the Northernites and their oyster law, and hence the Great Oyster War.

Already has the war progressed to a fearful extent; the sound has gone forth and the whole coast is in commotion from the beds at Bridgeport to the shad poles at Tarrytown; and neither of the belligerent parties can now retrace their steps with honor. 

A Bloody Battle has been fought in the North River, between an armed steamer from City Island and a party of North River gunboats.  We shrink with horror from the devastating events which must follow.  The lasting blood of the Northernites mounting higher and higher as the fight thickens, and the fiery spirit of City Island shows us nothing but a five years' war, before either can be annihilated.  In the meantime the oysters will sleep in their pearly juice undisturbed beneath their sandy beds, while thousands of epicures will mourn their loss. 

Oysters gone, and the world is a blank.  Without oysters and Champagne, how can a respectable citizen cause the heart of a police officer to expand, or how can wronged husband presume to call on his attorney and ask for a small ticket to rid him of his wife?  We call on the Board of Supervisors, which meets in a few weeks, to take the oyster war into consideration.  It is a glorious chance for that body to show forth the influence of their principles, and let the peace society make City Island and Tarrytown smoke together in unity, the pipe of Peace; And its future influence will be secure, while the United States will be saved.  In the meantime, when the war closes, we trust it will be definitely settled whether City Island oystermen have a rite [sic] to catch oysters in their own country or not.  Yours,


Source:  Oysters and War, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Vol. IX, No. 444, Mar. 22, 1878, p. 1, col. 2.

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