work focuses on the communities of Deal Island, Chance, and Wenona,
located on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. The majority
of the families in these communities are economically dependent on
the harvesting of the blue crab.
community members have been generous in sharing their knowledge and
time with us. As a way of thanking them, we put together skipjack
heritage exhibits for the 42nd and 43rd annual Skipjack Race and Land
Festivals held on Deal Island. Traditionally, skipjacks have
been used for oystering in the Chesapeake Bay. Many Marylanders
regard the skipjack as a symbol of the heritage of the Bay.
In fact, the skipjack is the state boat of Maryland, and was pictured
on the State Stamp. Over the years, the skipjack fleet has declined
in numbers from hundreds to only a few working boats. This decline
in boats is also related to the decline of the oyster population in
the bay, due mainly to marine diseases. The few remaining working
boats are docked in harbors along the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland
and race every summer as part of this festival.
members worked with us to pull together local resources for the exhibit.
These resources included photographs, written information, and material
culture. The experience of putting together the exhibit raised
questions about the representation of watermen heritage. The
exhibit was a celebration of the skipjack, but watermen no longer
make a living by working on skipjacks. So what does the Bay’s
heritage mean for people who live and work in watermen communities?
What kinds of things do these people recognize as their living heritage?
Based on initial interviews, people in watermen communities view the
heritage of the Bay as the right to “work the water.” Environmental
degradation and increased fishery regulations threaten that right.
As we continue our research, we will focus on learning what heritage
really means for those living in watermen communities.