THE CLAY-EATERS OF MARYLAND
The Sorry Specimens of Humanity Who Inhabit the Eastern Shore.
Baltimore Cor. Chicago Tribune.
The eastern shore of Maryland has not only been brought into prominence by the wonderful oyster beds that line it, but also by some of the queer people who inhabit the almost uninhabitable portions of it. A great swamp extends through Wicomico and Worcester counties. It produces fine cypress, and is the home of the most venomous snakes. It is also the home of the “swampers" and clay-eaters. These are not reptiles or animals, but people, human beings, most of whom have never seen a railroad, heard a locomotive-whistle, or voted any ticket.
It is hard to understand the appetite that craves clay as a diet Some people refuse to believe that the people can live and yet eat clay, but a reputable and truthful physician who recently contracted a severe case of the shaking-ague in making a tour of the eastern shore swamps declares that these peculiar specimens of the Maryland population do eat clay and have a passion or habit of chewing it like lovers of hasheesh. There is a kind of clay found in that section that is oily, like putty, and with very little sand or grit in it.
The physician referred to says the clay-eating swampers are miserable specimens of humanity, with legs that are mere sticks, narrow hips, depressed chests, pot bellies, and bluish-yellow complexion, they present about the lowest type of the white race found in the United States. The swampers who acquire the habit of eating clay are generally short-lived, but the other inhabitants of the eastern shore swamps are as hardy as others and as ignorant as Hottentots. Many of their houses are built on piles, and they reach them in boats through the lagoons. Though they shake with ague half the year, and have skins the color of saffron, they seem to be insured against any other disease, for it is rare to hear of any other kind of sickness in the swamps than ague.
It is astonishing what quantities of quinine and whisky are consumed by these people. The women who are not clay-eaters chew tobacco and drink corn juice the same as the men. In the summer the women and children gather blackberries, which are plentiful in this vicinity. The "men go off in the woods and make shingles, which they sell to the nearest country stores for cheap wearing apparel, corn-meal, bacon, quinine and whisky. These people are never reached by the tax collector, the preacher, the book agent, the politician, or the lightning rod agent, and when they are not shaking with chills they are happy and contented.
Above from the Honolulu Advertiser ( Hawaii) 06 Feb 1888