Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Watermen



Above is a work boat just off of Gwynn's Island near the mouth of the Piankatank River. That's Deltaville in the background.

Below is some history about watermen from the book "Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay," by William W. Warner.


"Captain John Smith, discoverer of the Chesapeake, was responsible. His exuberant broadsides on a land with 'the prerogative over the most pleasant places of Europe, Asia, Africa or America' found ready ears among the restless yeomanry of Stuart England. Adventurers invested and settlers came rapidly. Within a few generations of Jamestown's unpromising start, brick manor houses dotted the shorelines of the large and delightsome navigable rivers...

...There also came some called watermen. The term is a curious one; its history, puzzling. The Oxford Dictionary first finds use of the word around 1400...By 1549 there is reference to a Tudor squire who "did bye of John Mareyn, Waterman, oon hunderith and syxe bussels of oysters.'

...Today 'waterman' has limited and archaic use in England. It is heard mainly around the first of August, when the London Fishmonger's Company sponsors an annual Waterman's Race......Why the word took firm root on this continent only along the shores of the Chesapeake is a matter of speculation...But whatever its local origins, the word soon came to be used more generally in the Chesapeake country to separate those who had the resources to acquire land and those who didn't and went out on the waters for subsistence. That it has endured so strongly suggests that the distinction is still sharp. To hear today's watermen tell it, at least, it most certainly is.

"My father raised me a waterman and it's all that I know how to do," they will say. "Follow the water one year same as the next. Ain't no sense in it, but I do it just the same."

By this the listener is to understand that the Chesapeake waterman has much the harder way, an unpredictable existence, he will insist, that offers no real security.

Only those who acquire the smart of it and follow it strong may get by."
(pp. 62-63)


Watermen define Mathews County, and I could write a book on this subject alone. When I was coming along, a man could earn a highly respectable living on the water. Over the years, for a number of reasons--most of which are out of their control--fewer and fewer watermen endure.

Thankfully there are some who persevere and who graciously agree to take boatloads of ladies out for cruises in their spare time. (By the way, spare time to a waterman is called sleep).

Although there's no time to get into it today, the book goes on to talk about how the earliest watermen were folks who wanted to get away from the mainstream, so they settled in marshlands at the mouths of rivers, in places that were..


"full of convicts, bugs, muskeetoes (sic), worms of every sort both land and water, spiders, snakes, hornets, wasps, sea nettles, ticks, gnats, thunder and lightning, excessive heat, excessive cold, and other irregularities in abundance."

Welcome to Guinea, where convicts exist in abundance.

Welcome to Mathews, where irregularities exist in abundance
.

And where sadly the waterman is on the endangered species list.

15 comments:

TSannie said...

And Lauren is going to be there this Friday...I am NOT. This does not make me happy...in fact it makes me very sad. Guess I'll have to endure till next summer. And I can hardly WAIT! xoxoxo to all of you and know I'm there in spirit! HUGS!

Ann Marie said...

well let them stay endangered... we don't want extinct any time soon!

yes I would agree with you free time does in fact = sleep

A good time = MUCH to complain about to someone who will listen and not just say uh huh to the fact that ones foot fell off inside of their boot at 4 am in the freezing cold. (a good waterman's wife always answers with uh huh regardless of the situation)

I just heard the weather forecast for this week... it says we have a chance of convicts scattered all throughout the tidewater area!

ps I love it when you post about something I know something about.. flowers I dont' even bother trying LOL

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

They personify the charm and culture of the Bay region, the Watermen.

Daryl said...

Carlton was the first Waterman I ever met and he was so gracious and fun .. of course a lot of that has to do with his lady ...

I am SO sad not to be able to be there this weekend ... Lauren will be the Ambassadoress for the NorthEast Contingent

WV: imlogg .. as I'm logg(ing) a lot of time on this commeny

Breezeway said...

What's up with slamming Guinea with the convict comment? =) LOL! Are ya'll going to the Fireman's dance Friday night (Oyster Festival)? Supposed to be beautiful weather all weekend! Yay!

W.V. - dishrinf (the strange sound my dishwasher makes halfway through it's cycle!)

big hair envy said...

Can't wait to see my favorite Waterman's Wife this weekend;) Oh, and it will also be nice to meet the Waterman himself!!

Are we wearing "the teeth", or should I leave those at home?

Noe Noe Girl...A Queen of all Trades. said...

Watermen are indeed a rare and special breed. The first waterman I ever met was Captain Watt Herbert from Coles Point. (God rest his soul) I used to go sailing with him and work with him on his oyster boat. I loved the poems and stories he told. Once while sailing home there was no wind. I asked him how we were gonna get back. His reply was just as any good waterman would reply... "Patience and faith in Jesus."

Ann Marie said...

I would say teeth are optional to this outing.. many of our local watermen.. and err hmm their spouses are teethless... however I am sure that many would enjoy a visit from the GS's!!!

word veri : thylivi thylivi in the wrong place thy should livi on the water.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

TSA- You don't have to wait until summer - come any time you want. We'll miss you this weekend, but we'll make lots of phone calls with updates, be forewarned.

AM-There's always a good chance of convicts being scattered all over this area, but our convicts are good ones. The best.

Meg - Amen.

Daryl-You met one of the best watermen - you should meet his brother. I used to have a huge crush on him when I was in high school.

Breezeway - Long time no hear. I was scared to write anything about Guinea, but I couldn't resist. Actually I'm building up to an entire post dedicated to Guinea, but the timing and the wording have to be carefully selected...lest they come get me. (Just kidding, Guinea! Love ya!) I haven't been over to your house in a while, maybe next weekend after I survive the Oyster Festival (assuming I survive). Yes, we will be at the fireman's parade AND the "special entertainment behind the firehouse" friday night. Saturday we go back for more fun and frivolity, then fish fry Saturday night here in Mathews, courtesy of Ann Marie/waterman's wife.

BHE-I'm bringing mine. Teeth that is. The real ones AND the fake ones.

NNG-What a wonderful story - too bad we don't have him around to tell us more. Personally I'd like to do a documentary/videotape of the watermen around here. All I need is some spare time and a producer. That's all.

AM - Teeth are overrated except when biting into a candy apple and applying for a job. Let me know what you need for Saturday night besides what I sent in my last e-mail.

Two more days until Friday and the Oyster Festivities. Cannot wait.

BOSSY said...

Watermen. Sounds sexy. Waterhusbands.

Country Girl said...

I am going to be wishing I was there with you all this weekend. So along with TSannie, I will be feeling not so happy. So drink a toast for me (and for Annie and Daryl) because we'll all be there with you in spirit.

joe blow said...

"Although there's no time to get into it today, the book goes on to talk about how the earliest watermen were folks who wanted to get away from the mainstream, so they settled in marshlands at the mouths of rivers, in places that were..

"full of convicts, bugs, muskeetoes (sic), worms of every sort both land and water, spiders, snakes, hornets, wasps, sea nettles, ticks, gnats, thunder and lightning, excessive heat, excessive cold, and other irregularities in abundance."

Welcome to Guinea, where convicts exist in abundance.

Welcome to Mathews, where irregularities exist in abundance."


Although Mathews is a paradise I have recently discovered the truth in the quote above and the lack of enforcement by the local law of a class 4 felony (min 2 to 10 yr) a person committed against me.

Much worked need in cleaning house of the "irregularities"

Love your blog you say it with great flair and diplomacy!

Pam said...

living at the "top" of the Chesapeake, I love your comments. thanks for sharing

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Bossy - BOSSY!

Country Girl-We need to make that mid-winter blog gathering up North happen. We will definitely miss you. If you change your mind, we'll be in Urbanna...

JB-I haven't heard from you in a while, welcome back. So sorry to hear of your situation. If you'd like, send me an e-mail, maybe I can help. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Pam-Thank you for reading and for commenting. It's wonderful to hear from you.

Am being booted off the computer by Dear Son, and I haven't even written tomorrow's post. Eyes are at half-mast. Not pleased but cannot stand in the way of homework.

Happy Wednesday, all.

foolery said...

Not too many Watermen around these parts, living 100 miles from the ocean with a mountain range in between. But I do feel the pull of the ocean and I hope the Watermen survive.

With teeth.