Leonard Copsey Drifted On

Leonard Copsey at Drift Inn. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo

Leonard Copsey Drifted On

By Ken Rossignol


The day after Hurricane Isabel hit Southern Maryland, leveling, flooding and rearranging boats, docks, homes, and businesses located close to the shoreline, wreaking havoc throughout the Chesapeake Bay region including areas of Annapolis and Baltimore, Leonard Copsey was up to his waist inside his famous crabhouse, Drift Inn.

Drift Inn the day after Hurricane Isabel stormed into Southern Maryland.

“Insurance? Heck no,” said Leonard. “Those people want too much money each year from you, it’s hard enough making a living without paying those big insurance companies those big numbers. We’ll fix up our place, dry things out and replace anything that’s damaged, and we’ll be back open for business really quick.”

Leonard Copsey was right, within a couple of weeks, Drift Inn had reopened, as good as new. Of course, with a big family and many friends and customers pitching in to get everything done, it was easier. And Leonard didn’t have to wait for insurance adjusters or FEMA people to show up with clipboards and excuses. 

The tide was at super levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel. This view is of the road leading into Drift Inn.

Self-assured, self-insured, self-reliant – that was the way it was in 2003. Leonard didn’t slow down too much or consider himself retired, though life changed a lot for him on March 24, 2016, when he lost the love of his life, the beautiful lady named Josephine that he married on Friday the 13th in 1939 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Morganza, Md.

Not one to trust insurance companies and to pay their high premiums, Leonard Copsey is shown outside the Drift Inn as work is underway to rebuild in 2003.

Leonard didn’t have much use for banks after a bank failed during the Depression with some of his money in it. After being in business for so many years, farming, raising tobacco, working the water, running his oyster shucking business, the ‘granddaddy of all crabhouses’, as he referred to the Drift Inn and moving a little moonshine from time to time, Leonard must have begrudgingly began to keep some of his money in a bank – likely checking up on the status of his accounts, quite often.

From mayhem to rebuild of the interior of the Drift Inn, in a short period time, not delayed by the red tape of FEMA.

Not one to miss a lick of news, a scrap of information or knowledge of the goings-on of ‘that bunch in Leonardtown’ – he made sure his weekly copy of ST. MARY’S TODAY as well as monthly issues of THE CHESAPEAKE – were sent to his winter quarters in Florida. Just as the Barnum & Bailey Circus spent the offseason soaking up Florida sunshine, so did Josephine and Leonard Copsey.  The big top was always the greatest show on earth, and the Copsey’s made sure that Drift Inn was the greatest Crabhouse in Maryland. That winter-rest and revitalization always prepped the Copsey’s to hit the ground running each spring to reopen the business.

This aerial view of the morning after photographed from a helicopter reveals the large extent of the flooding provided by Hurricane Isabel.

One day when Leonard was reminiscing about his life, he laughed about an article that referenced the rather thin amount of formal schooling he had accomplished. Leonard said he got about the same amount of education that everyone did during the Great Depression and surviving those times and thriving in later decades was an education of itself, that one didn’t find in a schoolhouse. 

The work continued each day to restore the Drift Inn.

Seeing Leonard checking from table to table in the dining room of the bustling crabhouse when emerging from the kitchen, holding up a super jumbo crab with that grin as big as the crab, knowing that a spry laugh would match the twinkle as those who saw the big crab all said they hoped that big one would be on their platter – was part and parcel of a trip to Drift Inn. 

This headline in ST. MARY’S TODAY noted the 90th birthday of Leonard Copsey and the 70th Anniversary of the marriage of Josephine and Leonard.

Leonard’s stories were the entertainment, but the spicy steamed crabs were the feature attraction from April to each October.

This jumbo crab is ready to be served.

While Leonard has drifted on from the Drift Inn, his sprawling family makes sure the legend lives on with family-operated seafood establishments, still the Drift Inn run by Punkin and Jerry; Sandgates Inn owned by Leonard’s daughter Sissie and her husband David; Captain Leonard’s Crabhouse a thriving landmark owned by his son Lonnie and his wife Elaine; and the Foxy Fish operated by Debbie and his grandson David Buckler Jr. The Leonard Copsey Seafood Market recently closed with the retirement of his daughter PeeWee and her husband Ralph Gray.  To find them, just Google them or ask anyone in Southern Maryland how to get there. You won’t be far from any one of them and great seafood.

Leonard Copsey’s Seafood Market

Seventy Years of Crabs, Oysters, and Family for Ninety-Year-Old Leonard Copsey

DRIFT INN on the PATUXENT RIVER (Dec. 13, 2009) — In 1939, Adolph Hitler had just invaded Poland and was marching across Europe.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was attempting anything to try to pull America out of the Great Depression while the Lend-Lease program was ramping up American production of tanks, planes, and ships to send to Britain and Russia to use against the Nazis as the U. S. tried to stay out of the war.

Oyster buy-boat and an old pickup truck are landmarks in front of Captain Leonard’s Crabhouse in Oraville on Rt. 235.

During that year Maryland was still producing record bounties of crabs and oysters and the Patuxent River was still one of the principal harvesting grounds of both. 

The official Oyster Buyboat marks the Captain Leonard Crabhouse and the turn to take to get to Drift Inn.

It was that year, in December, on Friday the 13th of, that Josephine and Leonard Copsey got married at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Morganza.   Leonard said he wasn’t superstitious and the priest said that damn if he was either, so they got hitched up.  Leonard still chuckles today to recall the words of the priest. Leonard was 20, Josephine was 18, and the world was their oyster…and crab…and clam.

Historic Chesapeake Bay Oyster Buyboats. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photos

It was the year before that the Gov. Harry W. Nice Bridge which carries Rt. 301 across the Potomac River to Virginia, opened for traffic that the Copsey’s began their quest to farm, run the Granddaddy of all Maryland crabhouses, raise kids and live a long and wonderful life.

The Copsey’s Drift Inn has been the lynch-pin for three other seafood restaurants and outlets in the area.  Daughter Sissy and her family run the Sandgates Inn; son ‘Lonnie-Boy’ and his wife Elaine run Captain Leonard’s Crabhouse, while daughter Peewee and her husband, Ralph Gray run Leonard Copsey’s Seafood Market while the Drift Inn is now operated by his daughter Punkin and her husband, Jerry Bowles.

The first lesson the Copsey’s taught their children was to work hard. Next in line were to cook fresh food good, always with generous portions and then to treat their customers great.  It’s a simple philosophy and has worked well for decades.

Oystering on the Patuxent River.

Leonard Copsey’s adventures with formal education intertwined with the lessons of life and before achieving stellar success in academia, he provided space for others in the schoolhouse and went out to find his fortune on the water.

With a large oyster shucking house next to his crabhouse, Leonard soon was trucking oysters all over the East Coast in cans branded with the name of Drift Inn.

With crab pickers, oyster shuckers and watermen coming and going with their catches, Drift Inn was a center of commerce on the Patuxent River, and the Copsey’s were at the right in the middle of it all.

City folks would find their way down to the river, Calvert residents would come by boat, and local people would motor over from Leonardtown, Avenue and Budds Creek for crabs on the weekends.  Slot machines got a work out while trays of crabs were carried out to long tables covered in brown paper with hungry crustacean devouring customers crowded round.

Spiced shrimp, soft shell crabs, crab balls, fried shrimp, fresh fish, and hush puppies have also been sold by the tons over the years in the old crabhouse, along with plenty of pitchers of beer.

Never has a politician running for Governor of Maryland in the last 60 years failed to make a visit to Drift Inn and go from table to table shaking hands with folks up to their elbows in crab mustard.

In 2009, a big crowd was on hand to congratulate the Copsey’s on their important date as Punkin, Jerry and Miss PJ Bowles threw a surprise birthday party for Leonard.

The life story of the success of the Copsey family mirrors the story of America in that hard work produces rewards.  While the American family has been content to allow a big part of the family to sit on their cans and collect rewards taken by force from those who do work, in the Copsey family, no one sits on their cans with their hand out.  They all work.   At an early age, the youngest are assigned tasks at cleaning tables or peeling shrimp, but there is no free ride for anyone.   This is a lesson that America needs to return to as the socialists attempt to spread the wealth around.

Dumping crabs into a large cooker at Rock Point.

When crabs get scarce, Leonard Copsey doesn’t put a closed sign on his crabhouse door or tell folks that he is out of crabs.  Instead, he gets up at 2 am and drives to the Eastern Shore and brings back a truckload of crabs to keep his customers coming in the door.

At the birthday party thrown for Leonard, friends, family, and longtime customers packed the closed up crabhouse which is open for business from April through October.   One friend from Indian Head said that she and her husband come every weekend to Drift Inn and every time they have ordered a dozen crabs there were more than a dozen on the platter.

Tobacco farming was part of Leonard Copsey’s life.

Giving folks more than what they bargain for and keeping the promise of good food and good service has built a solid business over the years for the Copsey’s and Josephine and Leonard Copsey have contributed their children, all hard workers, to America to help this nation prosper and grow.   

Obituary for Leonard Edward Copsey Sr.  

Leonard Edward Copsey, Sr. 98 of Mechanicsville, MD passed away on November 7, 2018.

Leonard was born on December 26, 1919, in Horselanding, MD. He was the son of the late Freeman Copsey, Sr. and Lilly Copsey (Burch).

Leonard is preceded in death by his wife of 76 years Josephine Ann Marie Copsey (Quade), his daughter Margaret (Peggy) Alvey, and granddaughter Marlene Saldaña (Wood). Leonard is survived by his children Hilda (Tillie) Wood) (Marvin), Pearl Buckler (Ronald, Sr.), Leonard (Lonnie) Copsey, Jr. (Elaine), Violet (Sissie) Buckler (David Sr.), Frances (PeeWee) Gray (Ralph Sr.), Emma (Punkin) Bowles (Jerry) all of Mechanicsville, MD. Leonard has 15 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, and 6 great-great-grandchildren.

Leonard was the last of his generation, he is preceded in death by his brothers Al Copsey, Frank Copsey, and Freeman Copsey.

Leonard was a lifelong resident of St. Mary’s County, MD. Leonard lived a fulfilling life born on the riverbanks of the Patuxent River down on the shore. As an eight-year-old child, Leonard came down with rheumatic fever, all of his classmates who came down with it died, but he survived, and it caused his heart to go “boomp stop boomp stop” all his life. Leonard will tell you he was raised by his grandfather Ned Copsey growing up on the farm as a boy working with his grandfather raising tobacco and loading up their crop by boat and taking it up to Baltimore. As a young teen, Leonard met the love of his life at a school dance, whom he spent his life with and his passion for Bootlegging. Leonard loved bootlegging whiskey. Setting up stills in the riverbanks he lived on, the farm he was raised on and a few other places around the county.

While Leonard was bootlegging to make a living, he also farmed, and the river was his home crabbing and oystering. Leonard was drafted by the Navy around the 1940s, but the “boomp boomp stop boomp boomp stop” in his heart the Navy considered a burden and took Leonard as a cook on a boat. The boat never left port because as he would tell you “they dropped that bomb over there and they sent us all home.”

Back at home in 1946, Leonard along with his wife Josephine Built and opened the first crab house in St. Mary’s County “The Drift Inn Crab House. Leonard on crabs and Josephine in the kitchen, another business they loved to do hand and hand as they raised their children. In 1955, Leonard and Josephine opened up the Patuxent River Oyster Company. Leonard loved the businesses, he enjoyed socializing with his customers and making sure he took care of the business.

When not working Leonard loved his view from his porch, the smell of bootleg whiskey that came to be enjoyment and not work and admiring the fish hawk he so proudly called his own. Leonard along with his wife spent there off time in Port Charlotte, Florida. Together Leonard and Josephine loved to travel and, in his words, “there’s a lot of miles on these old feet.”

Leonard leaves a legacy behind that he instilled in all his children. Leonard’s daughter Punkin along with her husband Jerry, now run the Drift Inn, his daughter Sissie along with her husband David is Sandgates Inn, and his son Lonnie along with his wife Elaine is Capt. Leonard’s. Peewee along with her husband Ralph retired from Leonard Copsey’s Seafood Market. Grandson David Buckler, Jr, and wife Debbie at Foxy Fish. Leonard passed away peacefully at his home.

The family will receive friends on Monday, November 12, 2018, from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM with prayers recited at 7:00 PM in the Mattingley-Gardiner Funeral Home Leonardtown, MD. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Tuesday, November 13, 2018, at 10:00 AM in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Morganza, MD with Father Michal Sajnog officiating. Interment will follow in Mt. Zion United Methodist Cemetery Mechanicsville, MD. Pallbearers for Leonard will be his grandsons; Ronnie Buckler, Troy Buckler, David Buckler, Jr, Ralph Gray, Jr, Ray Alvey, and Richie Copsey. Honorary Pallbearers Johanna Alvey, Tracy Fowler, Anita Drury, Kim Buckler, Eddie Alvey, Margaret Buckler Ford, Cheryl Riley, Cindy Quade, and P.J. Bowles.

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3 Replies to “Leonard Copsey Drifted On

  1. All so interesting. This legend in his own time and the work ethic he instilled in his family is emblematic of President Trump’s campaign motto: Make America Great Again!

    I see in this article an infusion of othe mainstay “bloodlines” of traditional St. Mary’s county surnames. All part of building a County, a State. , and a Nation!

    All honor to Leonard Copsey!

    Alan V. Cecil, Esq.

  2. Ken:

    Your narrative on the life of Leonard Copsey was poignant and informative. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Copsey but, after reading your article, I sensed that I knew both him and his devoted family. Thank you with sharing your memories with us. It appears he had an enormous impact in South Maryland.

    Jim Davis
    Leonardtown, MD

    1. An important part of the story of Leonard Copsey is that many people were employed by him and were purveyors of products in his various endeavors. He touched many lives in many ways, certainly, his customers were entertained, well-fed and loved their times at Drift Inn. Thanks for reading.

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