Waters to Work

There is no major commercial venture associated with the Chesapeake Bay that has not involved the labor, skills, and ingenuity of African-Americans. Blacks of all ages, women and men, enslaved and free, have toiled for more than three centuries on and along these waters. African-American oystermen, canal diggers, coopers, crab pickers, pilots, cooks and waiters on steamboats, stevedores, cullers, cart men, oyster shuckers, fish mongers, boatmen, watermen, caulkers, riveters, welders, metal workers, sawyers, ferrymen, ship carpenters, and boatbuilders have all made vital contributions to the economy of the Bay region. The Bay has also been a source of sustenance, financial independence, and varying degrees of freedom for African-Americans. The seasonal bounty of the waters allowed slaves and working class African-Americans to provide nourishment for their families.

"We used to catch oyster and fish nights, and hire other slaves to peddle them out on Sunday mornings. By this way I have helped some to get their freedom." G. W. Offley, former slave of Centreville, Maryland

"…the pot was swung from the fire and the children squatted around it, with oyster shells for spoons." James L. Smith, former slave of Virginia

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