Although we would like to be conscious of where our food is coming from, it’s not often that you think about what it takes to get the bivalves on half shell with mignonette from the sea to your plate. Luckily for us, the Watermen’s Museum has devoted its entire curatorial collection to the men (and rare woman) who risked life and limb to bring us the Chesapeake’s harvest, from eastern oysters to fish, crabs and clams. The term “waterman” dates as far back as the eleventh century in England. The museum is a non-profit organization located on the York River in historic Yorktown, VA. It was founded in 1981 as a part of the 200th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Yorktown. In October of 1781, American and French forces were fighting the British in the final battle of the Revolutionary War. With the help of the Chesapeake’s earliest watermen, the French fleet defeated the Brits by working with the knowledgeable harbor pilots and keeping the British navy at bay.
The current mission of the Watermen’s Museum is to preserve the rich heritage of the Chesapeake watermen and interpret their culture and contribution to the region. Commercial fishing is not only an incredibly dangerous job, but it’s one that requires a large amount of physical and mental fortitude (not to mention the often treacherous weather conditions). These images are from the museum’s vast archives show the watermen using the now obsolete method of oyster harvesting, hand tonging, and captures the daily challenges they overcame, from ice storms to sinking rigs.
All photos care of the Watermen’s Museum located in Yorktown, Virginia. Visit the museum Tuesday through Saturday from 10am-5pm to learn more about the Chesapeake’s rich watermen heritage. More information found here.