My family too were involved in the oystering business. Thank you for
sharing this fascinating article.
From: Saartje81(a)aol.com [mailto:Saartje81@aol.com]
Sent: Monday, August 30, 1999 5:54 PM
Subject: [NYRICHMO-L] Oyster Trade
Because so many 18th and 19th century Staten Islanders (including many
DECKERs) toiled in the oyster business, I photocopied this article from the
Richmond County Gazette, 23 Mar 1881.
PRINCE'S BAY OYSTERS
A DESCRIPTION OF THE PORTION OF STATEN ISLAND WHERE THESE FAMOUS BIVALVES
PRODUCED. -- THE MEN IN THE BUSINESS AND HOW THE TRADE IS CONDUCTED--
ANIMATED SCENES IN THE BUSY SEASON.
It is well known that many portions of the shores of this beautiful
island are devoted to the cultivation of oysters; but beyond a mere
of the fact, except among such persons as are directly engaged in the
purchase of seed and the cultivation and sale of the delicious bivalve, it
believed that comparatively little is known, and the information comprised
the present article will prove generally interesting to the reader of The
Prince's Bay, notably the scene of the most capital invested in oysters
in Richmond County, has too many acquaintances to require special mention,
yet a brief description may serve to draw the attention of a visitor to its
natural beauty. We will suppose that it is is somewhat late in the season,
that the trees have put forth their leafy garniture, that the meadows are
green and undulating in the morning breeze, and that we stand upon a little
wood bridge that spans a narrow stream known as Lemon Creek. Turn and glance
Yonder highway curving itself under the bank that skirts the north of
what is known as BUTTERWORTH's old place, is the termination of King Street.
That large brick edifice on the north side of King Street belongs to John H
ELSWORTH, who is engaged in shipping oysters to England under the brand of
"Red Cross." Just observe how the meadows are undulating in the breeze and
what serpentine course Lemon Creek pursues, winding its way past Crab
ELLSWORTH's door and the old lime kiln, where Thomas THOMAS used to burn
oyster shells for whitewashing and fertilizing purposes.
That large white building peeping through the fruit trees yonder is the
residence of Mr ELSWORTH, and was at one time owned by the ex-Supervisor
Henry H SEGUINE, from whose father the lane beside it derives its name. The
old revolutionary relic across the lane, with its old-fashioned roof and
piazza, is the hotel and residence of Stephen J PURDY.
Then more meadow intervenes, across which imagination catches a glimpse
of the ruins of the old Hospital Building, sold to the State authorities by
the heirs of Udolpho WOLFE, of "Schledam Schnapps" fame. Now our view is
obstructed by the dental instrument manufactory of JOHNSON BROS. at the
waters edge, formerly known as the Adamantine Candle Factory. Let us
Yonder is the invisible gate that divides Raritan Bay and the Atlantic
Ocean, our little footpath, as it were, leading to the great commercial
highway of the world. There are the blue hills of New Jersey, distant about
ten miles, and the buoy is distinctly visible. Then various towns and
villages are seen, whose lands can be distinguished quite easily through an
ordinary spy-glass, prominent among which is Keyport, and now we find
ourselves again at home.
Here, just below us, is the Redbank Lighthouse, on a high embankment
against which at times the storm king hurls his waters with a voice of
thunder, carrying back the firm ground. Years ago this lighthouse was
at a considerable distance inland, but the distance has lessened so much
through the influence of storms that on a dark night, a few steps from the
keeper's door would precipitate you down among the rocks many feet below.
Directly off this point is what is known as the Deep Hole, where a
tall-masted vessel could sink and hide its topmast entirely; while a quarter
of a mile nearer to us is what is known as the Flats, where the depth of
water varies from six inches to three feet.
The scene is one of animation, especially during a busy season, when
hundreds of men and boys find employment in the oyster business, upon which
nearly all the population of Princes' Bay, Pleasant Plains, Rossville and
Tottenville depend for a living. There are perhaps, about a hundred sloops
the trade, very few, if any, schooners which are marketing oysters to New
York. These sloops cost from $1200 to $1500, according to size and fitting
out, although the splendid yacht sloop belonging to and commanded by Peter
COLWORTH, of Prince's Bay, and which has won several regattas, cost $4000.
Such vessels, however, are not necessary, Mr POLWORTH (sic) having a taste
for yachting which he indulges when the season is over.
While it cannot be denied that many have amassed fortunes in oystering,
the fact cannot be lost sight of that there is in the trade a great deal of
risk and expense, both of health and money. As a single instance the estate
of John LATOURETTE, of Prince's Bay, was valued at over $60,000 but the
deceased engaged in the business when he had few competitors. Now however,
the ground to plant upon, which then was free to all, costs from $400 to
$1000, according to location. The seed oysters, which are brought from the
shore of Connecticut, Staten Island Sound and Virginia, cost from 40 cents
75 cents per basket, the price varying according to the demand. Then there
the freight on the cargo from Virginia, the planting, shifting, taking up
planting temporarily in Lemon Creek. This last operation is to give the
oysters a drink of fresh water in order to swell them out and five them a
plump appearance, for the oyster will drink greedily of fresh water, and
there are tricks in every trade. Another expense is the wages of the men,
which range from $1 a day for novices and unexperienced hands to $2.50 for
experts, together with stakes, staking, skiffs, baskets, rakes, etc., of
which we shall have something to say another time.
* * * * *
Thomas THOMAS, have you met Winant WINANT and Denyse DENYSE??-- That's my
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