A headline on the front page of The Fauquier Democrat published on Jan. 29, 1953 read, “Russians Rise to Defend Poor Islanders from Fauquier Ruler.”
It was a tense time when the United States and its allies were pitted against the Communist Bloc during the Cold War. How did this situation come about, and how serious was it?
The “Fauquier Ruler” at the center of the story was Russell M. Arundel (1902-1978), then publisher of the Fauquier Democrat, businessman, and lobbyist who came to Fauquier County in 1940 and lived at Wildcat Mountain Farm west of Warrenton. A sportsman, he was a Master of Foxhounds of the Warrenton Hunt and an avid angler. A favorite fishing ground was off the coast of Nova Scotia, where he and his friends would go to cast their lines for the large tuna found there.
During a trip to the region in the late 1940s, Arundel discovered Outer Bald Tusket Island, a treeless, windswept islet off the southern coast of Nova Scotia. To provide a stopover between the fishing grounds and the mainland, in 1948 he purchased the four-acre islet from its local owners for $750. He had a small stone cottage built where he and other fishermen could take meals, drink and enjoy each other’s company.
“Legend has it that while Arundel and his friends were relaxing in the cottage with a few bottles of rum, they conceived, wrote, approved and published a tongue-in-cheek Declaration of Independence,” wrote Andrew Robinson of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, current owners of the island. “Arundel declared himself Prince of Princes, and the Principality of Outer Baldonia was born.”
The Declaration of Independence of the “new nation” read in part:
Let these facts be submitted to a candid world. Fishermen are a race alone… endowed with the following inalienable rights: The right of freedom from question, nagging, shaving, interruption, women, taxes, politics, war and inhibitions. The right to applause, vanity, flattery, praise, and self-inflation. The right to swear, lie, drink and gamble. The right to be noisy, boisterous, quiet, pensive, expansive, and hilarious. The right to sleep all day and stay up all night. Now, therefore, we bond ourselves to a new nation, forever independent of all other nations… which shall forever be respected and recognized as the Principality of Outer Baldonia.”
Arundel bestowed the title of “Prince” on all who caught a bluefin tuna and paid a $50 fee. He actively sought additional citizenry among his “acquaintances of caliber,” which included industrialist Kenneth J. Edwards of Fenton Farm, among others.
In a 1953 interview with Esquire Magazine, Arundel stated, “Back in Washington, with the deed in my pocket and a drink in my hand, the Principality of Outer Baldonia began to take shape.” It was reported that one of these new citizens was Alben W. Barkley, Vice President of the U.S. in the Truman Administration. Barkley asked to be the Secretary of the Treasury (with no money, assets or debits.)
Other “cabinet officials” included Chancellor Elson Boudreau (1915-2009) and Ambassador Extraordinary Minister Plenipotentiary Ron Wallace (1916-2008), a Canadian. Arundel’s tax attorney, Prew Savoy (1899-1956), served as Minister of State and Ambassador to the United States Without Portfolio or Credentials. Although women were denied citizenship, an exception was made for Florence McGinniss, Arundel’s secretary in his Washington, D.C. office. She was honored, but never came to the island.
Arundel created the Outer Baldonian Navy, which consisted of the mainland Wedgeport Tuna Guides Association. Currency for the principality was produced in the form of “Tunar”’ gold coins bearing Arundel’s image, and $25,000 paper bills.
To add to its legitimacy, a telephone number for the “Consulate of Outer Baldonia” appeared in the Washington, D.C. telephone directory, which rang in Arundel’s D.C. office. The National Geographic Society called seeking information on latitude, longitude and export information for Outer Baldonia.
“The whimsy state of Outer Baldonia was recognized only by the government of Nova Scotia,” wrote Robinson. “Its existence did briefly ignite a minor incident when a Russian propaganda newspaper published an article apparently taking issue with Arundel and his Principality.”
The article appeared in 1952 in the Literatumaya Gazeta, and said in part, “Arundel established this dominion over the island… he set himself the aim of turning his ‘subjects’ into savages… he grants his subjects the ‘unrestricted right’ to tell lies, to be rude….In a word, the ‘right’ not to adhere to the ethical and moral laws which have been established by civilized mankind.”
The Russian response was a typical propaganda attack on “capitalist society decadence,” and the author was apparently unaware that the uninhabited island had no “subjects.”
The story was picked up by the international press, briefly increasing recognition of Outer Baldonia. Typical was the tongue-in-cheek coverage by the Ottawa Citizen, which noted that the playful, outrageous wording of the Baldonian Declaration should have been obvious to the Russians as a “spoof.”
In response, Outer Baldonia declared war on the Soviet Union on March 9, 1953. This resulted in a series of condemnations in the Soviet press, finally revealing the principality as a humorous non-issue. The conflict was soon over, and according to the Democrat, “Mr. Arundel has remained undisturbed by the whole affair.”
During the following years, Arundel made fewer trips to Outer Baldonia, and in 1973 transferred ownership of the island to the Nova Scotia Bird Society as a wildlife refuge for $1 Canadian. “Russell Arundel was a truly conservation minded man, a conservation pioneer,” said David Currie, then-president of the NSBS. Arundel practiced the same commitment to conservation back home in Fauquier, which remains his legacy.
In 2015, stewardship of the island was transferred to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, which hosted members of the Arundel family on a visit to the former principality in 2019.
“A link to the past and new friendships forged, my sister Sally and I are still full from our adventure, still absorbing the spirit of the day, and pondering the immortal nature of our grandfather’s island folly,” recalled granddaughter Wendy Arundel in an article on the MaineBoats.com website.