"Captain Bill" (pictured above) wrote and published the newspaper, The Great Swamper.
Read the transcripts of our collected interviews with people who lived in Shady Side in the 1900s.
This project was begun
by the Captain Avery Museum in the Fall of 2014.
For 60 years, members of the Samuel Gompers Lodge of the Masons created a relaxed getaway here at the house to enjoy the shore.
Read the transcripts of our collected interviews.
"Conversations with the Past" is an oral history digitization project undertaken by the Captain Avery Museum begun in Fall 2014. Funding was provided by a grant from the Four Rivers Heritage Area and
by a Bequest from the Estate of Georgia Dent DiPietro.
The purpose of this site is to provide discovery and access to oral history transcripts and images that capture the early and current life of people in the Shady Side Community.
The Captain Avery Museum's Miss Ethel Memorial Library has a collection of more than 150 oral histories in various formats, as well as a collection of printed materials, newspaper clippings, and photographs relating to Shady Side, Maryland, its surrounding communities, and the Chesapeake Bay.
Click the button below to enter.
After our recent renovations, we are better able to host events and celebrations in the future. The efforts of the board and staff have now put us in the position of restoring and improving the wonderful small house museum that has been entrusted to us. Here is some of the 'working script' of the museum exhibition planner, Dean Krimmel. The illustration at the left is by Jay Anderson, from our upcoming video about the Avery homestead. These entries are being serialized in our 'Heard On The Wind' newsletter.
"The Captain Avery Museum is a lens through which visitors will understand and appreciate the vital role of the water as a source of livelihood and recreation. They will identify and learn ways to contribute to its health. The museum is committed to being a steward of its historical and natural resources to benefit the community and future generations.
In Shady Side, water is central to our lives - as individuals, families, and a community. The bay and its tributaries were once a source of livelihood; they are now synonymous with recreation and fun. A resource once seen as inexhaustible is recognized as fragile and worthy of protection.
Our relationship to the water is, and always has been, personal, complex, and enduring. What does the water mean to you? What will you do to help protect this place?"
"Visitors step into a small space that feels personal, private, contemplative even—but does not in any way feel like a period setting. A soundtrack plays softly in the background. The intimacy and immersive feel are interrupted when visitors catch a glimpse of the water. A Wow! moment. Moving around, they are introduced to the Avery family of waterman and farmers.
You are standing in the original parlor of the home of Salem and Lucretia Avery. They moved here in 1860 as a young couple with two children. There were two bedrooms upstairs and an attached kitchen which was later demolished when the house was enlarged.
In 1860, this house was closer to the water. Shoreline erosion forced its relocation—three times!"
Salem Avery (1831-1887) left his family and friends for Maryland while in his early 20s. He joined an exodus of Long Island waterman—including an older brother—fleeing over-fished oyster beds in search of a fresh start.
Avery came from a family of prosperous watermen and farmers. He was probably no stranger to the Chesapeake Bay before arriving in the 1850s. New York and New England oystermen had been working these waters—winter oystering—for two generations.
Avery quickly settled in. Within a decade he married a local widow, became a father, and acquired a house and waterfront property (where you are now standing). Over the next 25 years, the hard working and ambitious newcomer owned a series of oystering vessels, bought and sold property, and provided loans to neighbors.
Joining other families of black and white waterman and farmers, Salem Avery helped transform the sparsely populated “Great Swamp” into the community that was renamed “Shady Side” shortly after his death in 1887.
Lucretia Avery (1828-1900) raised seven children here while managing the household and farm property—often while pregnant. The Mayo native had already been married and widowed once before she married Salem. Lucretia gave birth to her first child, Ella, at age 29. Eight more followed over the next 14 years. Two died in infancy within 16 days of each other in July of 1864. Imagine, how very tragic.
Oystering season was especially hard for the family. Salem could be gone from home for a week at a time. As a buy boat captain, he hauled the oysters he purchased from tongers to packing houses in Crisfield, Norfolk, and Baltimore.
We don’t know much about Lucretia’s family and what support they may have provided each other. The fifth of eight children, her father, Eli Weedon, died when she was 10. Her mother, Catherine Johnson Weeden, was left with six children under the age of 16. Of Lucretia’s childhood we only know that she did not learn how to read or write. Lucretia Avery survived Salem by 13 years, dying at age 72 in 1900. Together, they created a large extended family.
“The runner (also known as the Buy Boat) will be anchored near some tonging ground, an empty basket or a small flag will be hoisted to the masthead as a signal that she is ready to receive oysters. In one or two days she will be loaded and is at once off for a market.”
— U.S. Fish report 1880
Salem Avery owned at least a dozen vessels—three sloops and nine schooners—over a 25-year period as a Maryland oysterman and buy boat captain. With few exceptions, he was both the managing owner and the master (captain of the vessel).
These records are as revealing as they are provocative. Avery owned most vessels for only a year. We don’t know why. He also went for two long stretches (1853-1859 and 1866-1875) without registering a vessel. Did he captain other waterman’s vessels? And then for five years (1877-1881) he owned two vessels.
Salem Avery was one of some 200 Marylanders licensed as a buy boat operator. Officials estimated in 1880 that captains earned $50/month and their crew of four $18/month plus board.
“According to oyster folklore, in the early 1800s, a New York businessman named Joseph Avery planted seed oysters from the Chesapeake in the Great South Bay, naming his new oysters "Bluepoints" after his hometown of Blue Point. The name bluepoint has persisted; it is still one of the most widely recognized types of Eastern oyster.”
—Kit Waskom Pollard “A brief history of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore Sun, June 3, 2014
Salem Avery’s family was long established on the south shore of Long Island, near the Great South Bay in Suffolk County New York. Salem’s uncle, Joseph Avery, introduced the Blue Point oyster to Long Island. It became a major export before being decimated by parasites and starfish.
All but two of Salem’s six brothers left Long Island for new oyster beds. Josiah Avery, 10 years Salem’s senior, married an Eastern Shore woman, Martha Muir, in 1851. A year later, Salem Avery licensed his first vessel, 9½ ton sloop Altire, at the Port of Annapolis. He was 24 years old. A close friend, Joshua Hallock, soon followed Avery to the Great Swamp where the two remained neighbors.
“Ain’t no glory in oystering. A man who doesn’t want to work hard isn’t going to make it in the water business.” — Milton Evans, Smith Islander
By 1860, when Salem Avery moved his family here, the market for oysters and oyster shells (used in fertilizer) was exploding. Railroads carried three million pounds of bivalves west every year. Packing houses sprung up around the bay—there were 60 on Baltimore’s waterfront alone.
Some 2,000 vessels –dredgers, tongers, and buy boats—plied their trade on the bay. By the 1880s, when oyster harvesting peaked through overfishing, there were more than 3,300 vessels—and open warfare in sections of the bay between dredgers and tongers and oystermen and Maryland’s Oyster Navy which was created in 1867 to enforce laws and preserve oyster beds.
Buy boats, like the one operated by Salem Avery, purchased oysters directly from tongers and dredgers who raised a flag when they were ready to sell. Buy boats made 10-15 cents a bushel for freighting oysters to packing houses.
Artifacts - Two Hymnals
Local Methodists acquired and dismantled an old Episcopal chapel in Owensville in 1866 and used the material for their own church, Centenary Methodist, here in Shady Side. Salem Avery served as treasurer. In the early years, a minister led services here twice a month as part of his circuit with Galesville, Mt. Zion, and Owensville.
The Avery Family Bible
The inscription found inside this bible — Presented to Lucretia Avery by Wm. Avery, 1857. — raises some questions: Did Lucretia’s father-in-law give her this bible as a wedding present? Did he know she could not read or write? No matter his intent, William Avery’s gift became a treasured possession and important repository of family history. If American families of the 1800s only owned one book, chances are it was a bible. And, as genealogists will tell you, old family bibles are the best place to start tracing your family history because someone took the time to record their loved ones’ births, marriages, and deaths.
Inheritance - The Salem Avery Will
“Captain Salem Avery, a well known resident of the Swamp, is quite ill with typhoid pneumonia.”
The Evening Capital (Annapolis), July 22, 1886
Salem Avery made out a will in May 1886, sensing perhaps that he did not have long to live. It was witnessed by Joshua Hallock, his childhood friend and Shady Side neighbor and two local men, George W. Hyde, Jr and Richard Bast.
“Whereas the property which I now possess hath been chiefly acquired by joint industry and frugality of my dear wife, Lucretia, and myself, and thinking and knowing that for the best interest of my wife and also of my children and knowing the frugal and economical habits of my wife and her desire to be just after my death, to my children…. [she will] have under her exclusive control of possession and in everything to do as her judgement may dictate…”
Salem Avery died some 14 months later, on July 5, 1887.
A true and perfect inventory... of all and singular goods, chattel, and personal estate of Salem Avery…
Appraised by the subscribers George Hyde, Jr. and Thomas S. Phipps. Certified on February 20, 1888.
This inventory includes:
1 organ, 2 stoves, 1 sewing machine, 3 horses and 2 colts (valued at $245), other livestock, some farm equipment, 1 boat 'Golden Rule' (valued at $600), 1 wagon, and other household items.
Total of appraisement: $1,290.25
Erwood “Woody” Avery said the banjo in our collection belonged to his grandfather. We do not know if he meant Salem Avery or his maternal grandfather Crandall. If it was Salem’s, we suspect that he picked it up on one of his regular trips to Baltimore to sell oysters.
The banjo’s maker, William E. Boucher, Jr., was one of the country’s earliest manufacturers and retailers. More Boucher banjos survive than any other maker.
Was there music in the Avery home? We think so. Salem Avery’s estate inventory included an organ. It is easy to imagine the family gathering around to sing Methodist hymns and popular songs. But we cannot be sure.
Americans fell in love with the banjo during the middle 1800s. New York City alone was home to 10,000 by 1866! This photo of a Civil War soldier shows the banjo being played.
Enslaved Africans made the earliest banjos from memory—and taught white Southerners how to play. The instrument was then reinvented, again and again, by black and white musicians. White traveling minstrel shows spread the instrument’s popularity—and racial prejudice. Civil War soldiers embraced it, creating a “banjo mania.” Variety and vaudeville shows of the late 1800s secured the banjos' place in American life. Ragtime, jazz, bluegrass, country, and folk musicians kept it alive.
The Return of Oyster Festival!
Live Music, Food, Fun, and our $5,000 Raffle!
(rain date Sunday, October 17)
Watch This Space for Details to Come!