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.
This project was begun by the Captain Avery Museum in the Fall of 2014.
"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 mini-grant from the Four Rivers Heritage Area.
The purpose of this site is to provide discovery and access to oral history transcripts and audiovisual clips 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 this button below to enter.