Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Brief Description of Oystering in Eastchester Bay and at Pelham Published in 1881

During the 19th century, many in Pelham including those who resided on City Island (then part of the Town of Pelham) derived their livelihood from oystering and fishing. In 1881, the Department of the Interior oversaw the preparation of "The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries". As part of that study, Ernest Ingersoll prepared an analysis of "The Oyster-Industry" that included a brief discussion of the industry near City Island and along the Pelham shoreline. A transcription of that brief discussion appears below.

"EAST CHESTER BAY. -- The first oyster-ground of any consequence, however, going up the [East] river, is found in East Chester bay, which surrounds City Island. Off Throgg's point, at the southern end of this bay, are great natural banks, which have withstood long and steady raking. In these waters are the oldest artificial beds in the East river, for the regular planting of oysters (inaugurated, according to tradition, by Mr. Orrin Fordham) was begun here half a century ago.

The planters all have their homes on City island, and are almost sixty in number. In addition to these sixty planters, there are perhaps a dozen more men who get their living out of the business. It is safe to say, at any rate, that half a hundred families derive their support from the oyster-industry in this one community.

The total production of East Chester bay, last season (1879-'80), may be placed approximately at 55,000 bushels. In order to catch the seed of these oysters and carry them to the New York market, where all the crop is sold, there is owned here a fleet of one steamer, specially fitted, almost 45 sloops, some 25 floats, and at least 100 skiffs. All of these craft are of excellent quality, and represent a value of something like $35,000, which, with an addition of about $5,000 for shore-property, may be taken as the amount of the investment in the industry at City island, exclusive of the value of the stock now lying under the water, on the various beds, and which is a sum hardly possible even to guess at.

PELHAM TO MILTON. -- At Pelham, New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Rye, and Milton, the business does not attain much dignity, although a large number of families, fully 100, are supported partly by it and partly by digging claims (mainly Mya arenaria), catching lobsters, and in other sea-shore occupations distinct from regular fishing. The ground occupied is embraced in little bays and sheltered nooks, for the most part, and is not of great extent. There are about 20 planters, who, at an average of 250 bushels -- a large estimate, probably -- would furnish a total of 5,000 bushels a year. Nearly if not quite all of this goes into the hands of peddlers, who dispose of it from wagons throughout the adjacent villages. Many of the planters, and some of the summer residents in addition, lay down seed wholly for private use. There is a large seed-bed off this part of the coast, which furnishes small stock, not only for local use, but for the towns both east and west. About $5,000 would no doubt cover the investment between City Island and Port Chester."

Source: Ingersoll, Ernest, The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries, pp. 88-89 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office 1881).

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