It might be hard, at first, for outsiders to understand why Gov. William Donald Schaefer's recent jokes about the Eastern Shore caused such deep distress in this remote, rural area.

But when he likened the Shore to an outhouse and described its people as "clannish, parochial" and "strange," Schaefer was delivering an ancient insult, part of a 200-year-old tradition of misunderstanding, suspicion and hostility between two distinct parts of the state that face each other across Chesapeake Bay.

"When I was 12 years old, I used to fantasize about blowing up the Bay Bridge," said Rusty Vreland, a boat repairman who grew up in Oxford. "Now I'm ready to think about doing it again."

Poor relations between the eastern and western shores did not begin with Schaefer's recent gaffes on the floor of the legislature, and they are not likely to end with his apology. Marylanders have been hurling insults at the Eastern Shore for decades.

H.L. Mencken decried "Eastern Shore Kultur" in columns condemning the lynchings that took place on the Shore in the 1930s. "Trans-Choptankia," he called this region through which the Choptank River flows.

Shore residents have been just as adept at hurling the insults back, when they aren't muttering about secession. "We don't give a damn for the whole State of Maryland, we're from the Eastern Shore," ran a popular song from the 1940s, when Shore residents were resisting the building of the Bay Bridge.

Independent, politically conservative and traditionally tied to fishing and farming, the people of the Shore are products of their 200-mile long peninsula, which is separated by the bay from the rest of the East Coast.

Before the bridge was completed in 1952, one had to take a ferry to reach Baltimore, or drive north toward Wilmington, Delaware, and loop south through Harford County. Growing up in a small town near Salisbury in the pre-bridge days, former state senator Joseph J. Long Sr. felt no strong ties to the rest of Maryland.

"You know where I went to see Santa Claus? Philadelphia," said Long. "My mother shopped at Strawbridge and Clothiers. We followed the Phillies, the Eagles and the Athletics."

The Shore's long history of geographical and political separation is one reason it seems to be so frequently at odds with the rest of the state. Another reason is its collective sense of loss -- of the pristine quality of the bay, of political power, of the identity and economy derived from the beleaguered seafood industry.

Add to that the way aspects of Schaefer's personality and programs have clashed with the personality and politics of the Shore, and it is not surprising that the Baltimore-born governor's intended joke in front of a group of Shore lawmakers earlier this month ("How's that {expletive}-house of an Eastern Shore?") prompted protests, including a convoy of portable outhouses circling the State House.

"Schaefer would be perfect as the Ocean City mayor," Tom Pinto said. (That notion would be taken as an insult on most of the Shore, where many regard the highly developed resort city as their worst nightmare.)

Why? "He likes all that cutesy stuff, like adopt-a-pothole," Pinto said as he prepared breakfast last week for Vreland and others at Tom's To Go in downtown Easton. "That just doesn't go out here."

A fertile ground for conservative politics, the Shore showed significant support for the Tories and later the Confederacy. "This place still feels like the South," said the Rev. Linda P. Wheatley, pastor of St. John's AME Church in Bishopville. "You have generations of ex-slave owners and generations of ex-slaves."

From the time when tobacco prices declined after the Revolutionary War until the middle of the 20th century, the Shore's population changed little. The region grew after World War II, but not nearly as fast as the booming Washington and Baltimore suburbs. Gradually, class lines deepened as the Shore came to be dominated by small farmers, watermen, poultrymen, military personnel and rich retirees.

With the growth of the suburbs, the Shore began to lose its considerable political power. From 1776 to 1920, 65 percent of Maryland's governors were natives of the Eastern Shore or southern counties. But from 1920 to 1980, 20 percent came from the area. The final blow came in the mid-1960s with court-ordered reapportionment that required political representation to reflect population levels.

"Back when I was in Annapolis in 1963, we had 26 delegates and nine senators," Long said. "We had a lot of power as a voting bloc."

Today, perhaps the most common complaint from Eastern Shore residents is that they feel left out, ignored, forgotten. The Schaefer administration's "Reach the Beach" program, a plan to improve the traffic flow along the clogged road to Ocean City, seemed only to underline that feeling.

"It does nothing to benefit the Shore, it bypasses the small towns, it's just to help the city people zoom past us," said Lolo Pennewell, of Snow Hill.

Such complaints abound. Robert Cox, a retired federal worker who heads a senior citizen group on Kent Island, fretted that a state Highway Department program to help motorists disabled on Route 50 "takes business away from local tow truck operators."

Even Schaefer supporters who like "Reach the Beach" agree it has an image problem. "They could have named it something else," said Chestertown Mayor Elmer Horsey, "like 'Reach the Shore.' "

Another strong Shore sentiment is opposition to gun control, a factor frequently cited to explain Schaefer's failure to win seven of the nine Shore counties in the November election.

"I got three assault rifles -- I shoot them in my back yard," said Robert Perry, a bridge tender at the Cambridge Creek Bridge who displays in his booth a bumper sticker that says "Fight Crime -- Shoot Back!"

Although they mourn the degradation of Chesapeake Bay, many Shore residents resent the "government intrusion" of efforts to save it, such as the program to restrict development in "critical areas." Other ideas have more support, such as the so-called 20-20 Commission proposals to restrict development and storm water runoff across the region.

"It's time the rest of the state suffered. They've put watermen out of business," said Grant "Hon" Lawson, a retired Crisfield waterman. "Eleven generations of my family worked the water. To take that away from me is a crime."

Many Shore residents are also sensitive to any hints of arrogance. News stories about the redecoration of the governor's mansion and Schaefer's several residences play poorly here.

"I was told two or three times that he was only for the rich, that he was only the rich man's governor," said Tilghman Island businessman Buddy Harrison, a strong Schaefer supporter.

Even some of those with no great affection for Schaefer, however, said his ill-phrased remarks had a ring of truth.

"There's no jobs out here, there's nothing for people to do," said Debbie Owens, a factory worker who moved to Chestertown from Prince George's County four years ago. "No wonder girls get pregnant in the back of cars and kids sell drugs."

"The Shore has been complacent -- they are clannish," said Wheatley, a lifelong resident and community activist who urged her fellow Shore residents to focus on issues such as housing, jobs and race relations.

Kent Armiger, who loaded bottles at a recycling center in Trappe last week, said the flap over Schaefer was just a way for people to blow off steam.

"People took all their problems -- with the fishing, with the economy, with everything -- and put them on Schaefer," he said.

"Folks I know don't take his comments too seriously," he said. "We call those people from Baltimore chicken-neckers and plenty worse."