Driving Tour: Watermen in the Middle Bay
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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This tour takes visitors to three sites where they can learn about oyster dredgers and the oystering industry, visit the 1860s home of a buyboat captain, and learn about a waterman’s neighborhood that thrived until the 1960s.

A Watermen's Neighborhood
Annapolis Maritime Museum, Annapolis, MD.

Tray of soft-shells - photo by A Aubrey Bodine courtesy the Mariner's Museum
A nice large tray of soft-shells.
Photo by A Aubrey Bodine -
courtesy the Mariner's Museum
Peelers are crabs that are shedding their shells in order to grow. Right after shedding they’re called soft-shells, and they are a Bay delicacy. Many watermen keep peeler floats or sluffing tanks to hold the peelers until they shed, so they can be delivered to market at the exactly right time. Captain Herbie Sadler, a waterman from the Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis, was known for letting local kids dip their hands into the tanks to feel the cottony soft backs of the soft-crabs he kept at his shop, Sadler’s Seafood. His story is one of those you will find at this fledgling museum, which is located in a defunct oyster packing house on Back Creek in Annapolis. Walking the cool, damp hallways of the packing house, you can almost hear the voices of the men and women ringing from the past when the place was bustling with business, boats lined up out front offloading their catch.

Captain Salem Avery House Museum Annapolis Maritime Museum Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum The Home of the Buyboat Captain
Captain Salem Avery House, Shady Side, MD.

Buyboats were named for their purpose. Their captains met the tongers on the water, bought their oysters and then delivered them to the city markets. Captain Salem Avery was a buyboat captain in the heydey of Chesapeake oystering. He married Lucretia Weedon and bought a piece of land along the West River, where in the early 1860s he built the house that is home to this museum. Today, you can stand on the broad swath of lawn facing the river and the Bay beyond and imagine the view in Captain Avery’s time, when scores of skipjacks and bugeyes worked the oyster beds. Then walk the halls and rooms where he and his wife raised their family, now furnished in the period. In the kitchen is the pie safe where Lucretia stored her baked goods, and on a table in the foyer rests the family Bible.

The Oyster Dredger’s Tale
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, MD.

No story of Chesapeake watermen would be complete without several chapters dedicated to oysters. At one time so abundant that their enormous reefs were noted on charts as threats to navigation, Bay oysters were known as a delicacy in the finest of restaurants across the country. They were the economic foundation for Bay watermen in the 1800s and through the mid 1900s. Hundreds of skipjacks, bugeyes and log canoes sailed the Bay in search of the oyster. The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum examines the oystering story using many of those boats. One of them, the skipjack Rosie Parks, still sails from the museum on the Miles River. Another, the E.C. Collier, is the center of an exhibit that includes the hand tongs and dredges that provoked the fierce Oyster Wars on the Bay. Standing on the deck of the Rosie Parks, hefting a massive pair of oyster tongs, you can feel exactly just how hard these men worked to harvest what was known as Chesapeake Gold.

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