Bounty from the Sea
First oysters, then bay and sea clams buoyed Chincoteague's economy.
During the second half of the 19th century, Chincoteague's seafood industry relied on the oyster. Each year, from September to April, island watermen gathered Chincoteague's tasty oysters from cultivated beds. Processing plants and shucking houses along the island's western shore annually prepared several hundred thousand barrels of oysters for markets in Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.
When the oyster harvest declined, bay and sea clams filled the economic void. Supplied by an estimated 100,000 acres of productive clamming grounds, local companies shipped more clams to market in the 1920s than anyone else in the nation. By the 1950s, they led the world.
Dead Give Away
Nature demanded flexibility from Chincoteague's watermen. Due to seasonal change, variable weather, natural disease, and the economics of supply and demand, local residents learned to live off a range of species: ducks, clams, oysters, fin fish, and the diamond-back terrapin.
Most early residents, including indentured servants
"A terrapin, when he is down in the bottom has to have a way to breathe… You'd see a hole in the mud and you'd also see a puffy place, where he had buried down. They'd take a stick with em and they'd … punch down in the bottom… When they punched down… they'd hit the back of the terrapin… Course he was dormant and he would try not to bite em. They just run their hand down in the soft mud and pull him out." This was called 'mungin" terrapins.
Some oysters traveled to market in their shells while others were shucked and canned. Oyster cans are now collector's items.
Miles Hancock checking his terrapin crop.
Watermen at work dredging oysters.
Some watermen raked hard shell clams by hand from boats. Many others raked the shallow waters at low tide.
Some islanders found a new source of income when Chincoteague's first oyster shucking house opened in 1855. Over a century later, Chincoteague's oyster industry still contributes to the local economy and Chincoteague oysters are still renowned.
Unlike oysters which couldnot be harvested from May to August, clams could be taken up at any time of year.
Over the years, watermen relied on a variety of boats, some powered by sail and others by steam or gasoline.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Animals • Industry & Commerce • Waterways & Vessels.
Location. 37° 56.1′ N, 75° 22.596′ W. Marker is in Chincoteague, Virginia, in Accomack County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Main Street and Post Office Street, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 4121 Main St, Chincoteague Island VA 23336, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Chincoteague Timeline (a few steps from this marker); Fish So Fine (a few steps from this marker); Dollars from Decoys (within shouting distance of this marker); Chincoteague's Front Door (within shouting distance of this marker); Misty of Chincoteague (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Boats and Bridges (about 300 feet away); You Had to Keep On (about 300 feet away); So Terribly Helpless (about 300 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Chincoteague.
Credits. This page was last revised on January 19, 2021. It was originally submitted on January 19, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 32 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on January 19, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.