Part 3: Decoy Makers of Charlestown
Gerard William Wittstadt, Jr., Esquire (c)2023
Chapter 12: George Washington Barnes
George Washington "Wash" Barnes was born July 21, 1862, at Carpenter's Point. His father, George Washington Barnes, was a relatively wealthy man who owned the majority of Anna Catherine Neck at Carpenter's Point, including the farm and fishery at Carpenter's Point and the nearby Greenbank Farm and Fishery.
The elder Mr. Barnes was born on September 17, 1812, in Havre de Grace, Maryland, and in 1854 moved to Carpenter's Point in Cecil County. His parents were Richard Barnes and Mary K. Meyers. His first wife, Sarah Jane Morgan, was born September 16, 1815. Sarah Jane Morgan's first husband, James Heverin, died, leaving her a widow with five children, one of whom was William H. Heverin, the father of William Y. Heverin. Her marriage to the elder Mr. Barnes resulted in the birth of Perry Kinneman Barnes on March 14, 1849. On May 22, 1857, Sarah Heverin died, and in 1859 the elder Mr. Barnes married Rachel Louisa Kirby, from North East, Maryland, the daughter of Zeblon S. Kirby (d. 7/29/1864) and Eliza S. Kirby (d. 2/6/1857). Together they had eight children: Mary Gertrude (b. 11/29/1860, d. 3/25/1925), George Washington (b.7/21/1862, d. 1/19/1915), Robert Lee (b. 7/15/1864, d. 10/23/1936), Richard Kirby (b. 12/3/1865, d. 4/1934), Eliza Arabelle (b. 11/16/1867, d. 8/23/1950), Henry Reasin, known as "Harry" (b. 2/4/1870, d. 1926), Frederick Morrison (1874-1874), and Edith Rachel (1876-1945).
According to the Portrait and Biographical Records of Harford and Cecil Counties Maryland, "the occupation in which [the elder Mr. Barnes] was principally engaged was that of fishing, and it proved the source of a fair income." The Portrait further states that Carpenter's Point "contains the most extensive shad, rock and herring fisheries on the bay."
(This sketch is reproduced from the 1877 Lake, Griffing & Stevenson publication An Illustrated Atlas of Cecil County, Maryland. It depicts the "Barnes Residence, Fishery and Farm Property.")
The elder Mr. Barnes died May 16, 1880, and is buried at Angel Hill Cemetery in Havre de Grace, Maryland, with his first wife. He left an extensive estate, administered by his widow, Rachel K. Barnes; his son Perry K. Barnes; and his two neighbors, George and William H. Simcoe. It was the Barnes brothers who carried on the operation of the commercial fisheries at Carpenter's Point, with Wash Barnes head of the daily operations.
(Left, clipping from the July 26, 1919 Cecil Whig, Historical and Industrial Edition.)
(Above, the farm house and home of George Washington Barnes at Carpenter's Point, circa 1900, courtesy of J. Cranford Henry, Charlestown and Allen W. Purner, Sr., Elkton, Maryland.)
Throughout the early 1900s, the Barnes brothers continued to carry on the fisheries business at Carpenter's Point, shipping herring, roe, and other species to the market in Richmond, Virginia, and beyond. In fact, the Barnes brothers operated a port at Carpenter's Point, as evidenced by a bill of lading dated June 14, 1907 (below).
(Barnes Brothers' Bill of Lading, courtesy of Allen W. Purner, Sr., Elkton, Maryland.)
(Above, fishing shores at Carpenter's Point during the season, circa 1907, courtesy of J. Cranford Henry. The photograph at the bottom left also shows the fishing shores at Carpenter's Point, after renovations to fish houses, where the fish were cleaned and stored for later shipment, circa 1923, courtesy J. Cranford Henry. This bull shark was caught in the Barnes' fishing nets at Carpenter's Point in the summer of 1900, courtesy of J. Cranford Henry, Charlestown, Maryland.)
Of the surviving boys, Wash Barnes was the only one not to marry; he was content to live at the old homestead at Carpenter's Point in pursuit of fish and fowl. Like their brother Wash, all of the brothers-Perry, Robert, Harry, and Richard-were avid hunters, regularly gunning the knoll off Carpenter's Point on the Susquehanna Flats.
(Above, Richard K. Barnes, Wash Barnes and Harry Barnes, circa 1900, Carpenter's Point., Maryland. At right, Richard K. Barnes, setting the decoys in a single box off Carpenter's Point, circa 1887, courtesy J. Cranford Henry, Charlestown, The Knoll off Carpenter's Point was the favorite spot on the Susquehanna Flats for the Barnes brothers to gun, using the sinkboxes that belonged to Perry K. Barnes, and decoy carver by Wash Barnes, branded "P K BARNES.")
(Above, Perry K. Barnes sinkbox rig and below Wash Barnes in a sinkbox with Carpenter's Point in the background, circa 1878.)
(Above, Opening Day, 1915, Carpenter's Point. Left to right, Perry K. Barnes; Wash Barnes; Bob Gibson; Will Heverin; Harry Heverin; and Harry Barnes. "151 Canvasbacks!" Photograph courtesy of J. Cranford Henry, Charlestown, Maryland.)
Known today for his exceptional decoys, Wash Barnes enjoyed notoriety in his day too. Wash was a market hunter, and apparently in the 1880s was considered an outlaw by some. In February 1883, an article ran in the Baltimore American newspaper, "A Successful Raid on the Game Slaughterers of the Chesapeake Bay." In that article, Washington Barnes is described as a "Captain" of a "band of outlaws." At the time, Maryland laws criminalized the use of "punt guns" at night. The law was not enforced, as many of those charged with its enforcement were also involved in its practice. "Sports" from Baltimore, led by attorney John E. Semmes, hired private detectives to put an end to the practice. The article refers to Wash Barnes as "the great duck killer and the ringleader of the poachers," and describes a particular hunt where Wash killed 104 ducks. This led to the eventual arrest of Mr. Barnes and the seizure of several of his big guns, but not before an armed standoff between the gunners and the ducking police. The guns were described as "enormous single-barreled affairs, painted dirty white. The lock was a beautiful piece of mechanism, and the metal was perfect."
Wash Barnes is best known for his Canvasback decoys, although he is also known to have made Blackheads, Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, and some Teal decoys.
Wash Barnes died January 30, 1915, and is buried at Angel Hill Cemetery, in Havre de Grace, Maryland, with other members of his family.
(Canvasback drake and hen in original paint, George Washington Barnes, Carpenter's Point. Drake circa 1890, Hen circa 1905.)