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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Early History of Oystering in the Waters Off City Island in the Town of Pelham

Recently I have devoted efforts to researching the history of oystering in the waters off City Island in the Town of Pelham during the early 19th century.  For a few of the many examples of postings to the Historic Pelham Blog that deal with oystering, see, e.g.

Thu., March 11, 2010:  The "Great Oyster War" Between City Island and Tarrytown in 1877 and 1878.

Mon., July 30, 2007:  1885 Report Notes Decline of Oyster Industry Near City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Thu., July 26, 2007:  Pelham's City Island Oystermen Feud with Long Islanders in 1869.

Fri., July 27, 2007:  Possible Origins of the Oyster Feud Between City Islanders and Huntington, Long Island.

Fri., April 13, 2007:  Oystermen of City Island (When It Was Part of the Town of Pelham) Pioneered Oyster Cultivation.

Mon., September 18, 2006:  A Brief Description of Oystering in Eastchester Bay and at Pelham Published in 1881.

Fri., January 26, 2007:  A History of the Early Years of City Island When it Was Part of the Town of Pelham, Published in 1927.

Thu., December 3, 2009:  Pelham News on May 30, 1884 Including Allegations of Oyster Larceny and Meeting of the Pelhamville Improvement Association.

In 1881, the U.S. Department of the Interior published a book by Ernest Ingersoll entitled "The Oyster-Industry" as part of its series on "The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries".  The lengthy history includes much information about the early history of oystering in the waters near City Island when that area was part of the Town of Pelham.  Below are excerpts from the book on the subject.



EAST RIVER DEFINED.--To oystermen, and for all the purposes of the present report, the East river is that narrow part of Long Island sound, at its eastern end, which extends from Hell Gate to the Norwalk islands on the Connecticut shore, and to Port Jefferson on the Long Island side. It is a district very old in the annals of oyster-gathering and culture, and one which contributes largely to the trade.
Early History Of Oystering. -- Traditions concerning the beginning of oystering as a regular industry are very few and faint. I am indebted to Mr. Theodore S. Lowndes, of Rowayton, Connecticut, for some pleasaut reminiscences.

It seems not to have been until about 1814 or 1815 that much attention was attracted to the oyster-beds of the East river, as a source of business advantage. At that time it was considered a degrading thing to rake oysters for a living, yet the father of my informant, Mr. Edward William Lowndes, went energetically into the enterprise, with several of his neighbors -- William Price, Drake Sopers, Stephen Jennings, James Jennings, and Benjamin Totten, the last named having returned from loyal participation in Commodore Perry's victory on lake Erie. All of these gentlemen lived on City island, and their descendants are still to be found among the leading citizens of that community. At that time there was no occasion to plant oysters, the bivalves being plentiful upon their natural beds, and easy of access with dredges, rakes, and tongs, very similar to those now in use. Mr. Lowndes writes me as follows:

The oysters caught nearest Hell Gate were in Flushing bay, between Barien's island and Fisher's point, and I've heard my father say that he had caught oysters below Blackwell's island, on the edge of the flats at Newtown creek, on the Long Island side, but they were only a small lot.

My father was often annoyed, in his day, by local laws and prejudices against oystermen. On one occasion, as I have heard him tell, while he was at work off Shippen point, on Long Island sound, he was taken ashore at Stamford, and had a ride given him into the country. When brought back his vessel was unloaded, and he was told to get out as soon as possible, which he was glad to do. On returning to New York, he went to the collector of the port, General Morton, who sent Captain Calhoun, commanding a revenue cutter in the United States navy, to inform the captains of some packets that plied between New York and Stamford, that if any oystermen should be disturbed again in that locality, he would come up with the cutter and protect them; but there was no further trouble. My father was concerned in several such vexatious adventures.

Mr. Lowndes and his fellow-citizens showed it possible to work at this with so much diligence and pecuniary success, as to put this occupation in a more favorable light, and caused many more of their neighbors to enter it. The result is, that probably two-thirds of the population of City island, to-day, derive their support from the oyster-interests owned there. The same is true of the north shore of Long Island.

Natural oyster-beds once existed in greater or less abundance all along the shore of Westchester county, New York, and the opposite coast. Though the Harlem river and the region near Hell Gate have long been abandoned, through over-raking and the unfavorable conditions which have followed the incessant commercial use of these waters, now within the great city of New York; a little farther up, the raking is still practiced. The passenger on the Harlem and New Rochelle railway, can see from the cars, the boats of men catching oysters in all the little nooks and corners of the coast above Port Morris, and across toward College point. The steamboats run daily across seed-ground, and make landings amid plantations.

East Chester Bay.--The first oyster-ground of any consequence, however, going up the 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 about 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 53,000 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, about 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 clams (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 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.

Port Chester.--Port Chester is the last town in the state of New York, East Chester, just across the bridge, belonging to Connecticut. The exact boundary of the two states was long undecided, and was the cause of much annoyance and dispute among the oystermen of the contiguous waters, who were incessantly charging one another with violation of law and their neighbor's rights, by crossing the imaginary line, and so invading the property of the other state. In consequence of this a joint commission was appointed to settle the boundary between the states, the definition of which, so far as it relates to the waters of Long Island sound, is as follows:

Beginning at a point in the center of the channel about 600 feet south of the extreme rocks of Byram point, marked No. 0 on the appended United States' coast survey chart; thence running in a true southeast course three and one-quarter statute miles; thence in a straight line (the arc of a great circle) northeasterly to a point four statute miles true south of New London light-house; thence northeasterly to a point marked No. 1 on the annexed United States' coast survey chart of Fisher's Island sounds, which point is in the longitude E. three-quarters N. sailing course drawn on said map, and is about 1,000 feet northerly from the Hammock or N. Dumpling light-house; thence following the said E. three-quarters N. sailing course as laid down on said map, easterly to a point marked No. 2 on said map; thence southeasterly toward a point marked No. 3 on said map, so far as said states are continuous. Provided, however, that nothing in the foregoing agreement contained shall be so construed to affect existing titles or property, corporeal or incorporeal, held under grants heretofore made by either of said states, nor to affect existing rights which said states or either of them, or which the citizens of either of said states, may have by grant, letters-patent, or prescription of fishing in the waters of said sound, whether for shell or floating fish, irrespective of the boundary line hereby established, it not being the purpose of this agreement to define, limit, or interfere with any such right, rights, or privileges, whatever the same may be.

At Port Chester and East Chester lives a considerable colony of oyster-planters. In all, about 25 families derive their chief maintenance from this industry; but four-fifths of the planters find it necessary to supplement their profits from this source by other labor, in order to get a living. The total product of the locality was about 9,000 bushels last year, only a fraction of which is sent to New York. The price is now 80 cents for the small and $1 for large size. In 1878-'79 it was 20 per cent., and in 1877-'78, 40 per cent. higher. There are eight sloops, with floats, arks, etc., owned here, which foot up an invested capital of about $7,000.

Before leaving the New York waters of East river, however, it will be well to mention some laws applying to this coast. In the Revised Statutes of 1875, under Title XI, Fisheries, are the following sections applying here, in addition to the general important law prohibiting steam-dredging:

Section 5. Forbids taking oysters in Harlem river during June, July, and August.
Sec. 6. Provides jurisdiction in case of offense against section 5.
Sec. 7. Permits any owner or lessee of lands adjoining Harlem river to plant oysters in front of their property, where the ground is not occupied; but he must put up a plain sign, stating (with owner's name) that this is a private oyster-bed. No person except the owner shall take up oysters on such ground. Penalty, $50.
Sec. 8. Empowers constables of either Westchester or New York counties to seize boats and implements of offenders against section 7.
Sec. 9. Defines how arrests are to be made and offenders prosecuted."

Source:  Ingersoll, Ernest, The Oyster-Industry, pp. 88-89 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1881) (Published by Department of the Interior, Tenth Census of the United States, Francis A. Walker, Superintendent - The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries Prepared Under the Direction of Professor S. F. Baird by G. Brown Goode). 

"New York Oyster-laws, Applicable To East River.--Certain enactments by the legislature of New York must be quoted, applying to the East river and the north shore of Long Island. These are substantially as follows:

Any person who shall * * * in any manner catch, interfere with, or disturb the oysters of another now or hereafter lawfully planted upon the bed of any of the rivers, bays, sounds, or other waters within the jurisdiction of this state, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor. Penalties, fine not exceeding $230, imprisonment not more than six mouths, or both.

No person who has not been a resident of the state for six months may rake or gather clams, oysters, or shellfish, in any waters of this state; but an actual resident may employ any person to gather shellfish for his benefit.

No dredging for clams or oysters within the state 'with a dredge, operated by steam-power', is permitted, and no dredges are to be used exceeding thirty pounds in weight.

In the general statutes the following sections apply to Queens county:

Section 78. Persons who have been for six months or more inhabitants of Queens county, may plant oysters in any of the public waters of that county, except Hempstead harbor, Jamaica and Hempstead bays, and Oyster bay harbor; and may acquire exclusive ownership of such beds.

Sec. 79. Any person as aforesaid may use land under public waters in Queens county, as aforesaid, 'not to exceed three acres in a bed, and on which there is no natural or planted beds of oysters, for the purpose of planting oysters thereon'; but he must clearly mark and define the portion so selected by him, as a notice to the public, and shall not hold possession unless he puts oysters upon it, within six months, to the extent of at least 50 bushels to the acre.

Sec. 80. Forbids any persons taking or disturbing oysters on beds mentioned in section 79.

Sbc. 81. Penalty for violation of section 80, fine not to exceed $100, or 60 days in prison, or both.

Sec. 82. Process of arrest and trial.

SEC. 83. Oyster-ground is forfeited in Queens county by ceasing to use it for one year, or at the end of two years from his removal from residence in the county.

Sec. 84. Forbids dredging for oysters in any waters of Queens county, except in Oyster bay harbor, and in Cow bay; and no person, unless a resident of North Hempstead, shall dredge in Cow bay. Penalty, fine not exceeding $100, imprisonment not over 60 days, or both.• [Footnote * at the bottom of the page reads as follows:  "Section 84 was repealed by chapter 402, laws of 1879, 'in so far as the same relates to the waters of the county of Queens, lying on the north side thereof, except that portion of the waters of Hempstead harbor lying south of a line drawn from the center of Sea Cliff dock, on the east side of said harbor, to the center of Mott's dock on the west side thereof.'"]

Sec. 85. Repeals previous laws inconsistent.

Sec. 86. "The natural growth or bed of oysters in * * * Little Neck bay, in said [Queens] county, is hereby defined as being between low-water mark and a distance of 500 feet therefrom, into the waters of said bay toward its center, beyond which, in the planting of oysters * * * the word 'natural' shall not apply.'

Methods Of Oyster-culture.—The East river is the scene of probably the most painstaking and scientific oyster-culture in the United States, and the methods in use there merit careful notice. It is impossible to ascertain when it first became a custom there to transplant oysters from the abundant natural beds along the shore to staked-in tracts off shore, nor is it of much importance to inquire. Probably the very first of this was done in the Harlem river. Half a century ago, however, City island was populated by oystermen; and in 1853 the New York Herald reported that the largest proportion of all the East river oysters, used in New York, came from there, 'where there are extensive artificial and natural beds'. The same article stated that then City island owned a fourth of the 100 boats engaged in conveying East river oysters to the metropolis, and that 100 men and families on the island obtained a living by oystering. The whole amount of property invested there was estimated at $1,000,000. This included the value of the beds, and was supposed to represent one-third of the capital of all the East river interest. This writer asserts that twenty years previous—which, would make it about 1833—East river oysters were almost  unknown in New York markets; and that it was not until about 1843 that any planting was engaged in. The character of this planting is not indicated; but I have no doubt that, whatever was the date of its origin, the credit of first truly propagating oysters from seed caught upon artificial beds or prepared receptacles, belongs to the men of City island. It had been a matter of common observation, that any object tossed into the water in summer, became covered at once with infant oysters. The sedges along the edge of the marshes, and the buoys, stakes, and wharf piles were similarly clothed. If the circumstances were favorable, this deposit survived the winter, and the next spring the youngsters*  [Footnote * at the bottom of the page reads as follows:  "There is no word in the northern states for infant oysters, except the terms 'set', 'spat', 'spawn', etc. all of which belong originally to the eggs or spawn of the oyster, and not to the young, but are frequently and confusedly applied as well to the half-grown mollusks.  In the south the name 'blister' (referring to its smooth, puffed-up appearance) is given to the infant oysters, and serves to distinguish them from 'seed', 'cullens', and 'oysters', which represent the successively larger sizes and stages of growth."] were large enough to be taken and transplanted. It was only a short
step in logic, therefore, to conclude, that if objects were thrown thickly into the water, on purpose to catch the
floating spawn, a large quantity of young oysters would be secured, and could be saved for transplanting at very slight expense. The next question was: What would best serve the purpose? Evidently nothing could be better than the shells which, year by year, accumulated on the shore from the season's opening trade. They were the customary resting-places of the spawn, and at the same time were cheapest. The City island oysterman, therefore, began to save his shells from the lime-kiln and the road master, and to spread them on the bottom of the bay,hoping to save some of the oyster-spawn with which his imagination densely crowded the sea-water. This happened, I am told, more than fifty years ago, and the first man to put the theory into practice, it is remembered, was the father of the Fordham Brothers, who still pursue the business at City island. In 1855, Captain Henry Bell, of Bell's island, planted shells among the islands off the mouth of Norwalk river, and a short time after, under the protection of the new law of 1855, recognizing private property in such beds, Mr. Oliver Cook, of Five-Mile river, Mr. Weed, of South Norwalk, Mr. Hawley, of Bridgport, and others, went into it on an extensive scale. Some of these gentlemen appear never to have heard of any previous operations of the sort. Discovering it for themselves, as it was easy and natural to do, they supposed they were the originators; but if any such credit attaches anywhere, I believe it belongs- to the City island men. It was soon discovered that uniform success was not to be hoped for, and the steady, magnificent crops reaped by the earliest planters were rarely emulated. Many planters, therefore, decried the whole scheme, and returned to their simple transplanting of natural-bed seed; but others, with more consistency, set at work to improve their chances, by making more and more favorable the opportunities for an oyster's egg successfully to attach itself, during its brief natatory life, to the stool prepared for it, and afterward to live to au age when it was strong enough to hold its own against the weather. This involved a. closer stndy of the general natural history of the oyster.

The first thing found out was, that the floating spawn would not attach itself to, or 'set' (in the vernacular of the shore), upon anything which had not a clean surface; smoothness did not hinder—glass-bottles were frequently coated outside and in with young shells—but the surface of the object must not be slimy. It was discovered, too, that the half-sedimentary, half-vegetable deposit of the water, coating any submerged object with a slippery film, was acquired with marvelous speed. Thus shells laid down a very few days before the spawning-time of the oysters, became so slimy as to catch little or no spawn, no matter how much of it was floating in the water above them. This taught the oystermen that they must not spread their shells until the midst of the spawning-season; that one step was gained when they ceased spreading in May and waited until July. Now, from the 5th to the 15th of that month is considered the proper time, and no shell-planting is attempted before or after. This knowledge of the speed with which the shells became slimy was turned to account in another way. It was evident that the swifter the current the less would there be a chance of rapid fouling. Planters, therefore, chose their ground in the swiftest tideways they could find.

The mere manner of spreading the shells was also found to be important. If they are rudely dumped over, half their good is wasted, for they lie in heaps. The proper method is to take them from the large scow or sloop which has brought them ashore, in small boat-loads. Having anchored the skiff, the shells are then flirted broadcast in all directions, by the shovelful. The next boat-load is anchored a little farther on, and the process repeated. Thus a thin and evenly-distributed layer is spread over the whole ground. Just how many bushels a man will place on an acre depends upon both his means and his judgment. If he is shelling entirely new ground, he will spread more than he would upon an area already improved; but I suppose 250 bushels to the acre might be recommended as an average quantity. Having spread his shells in midsummer, the planter, by testing them early in the fall, can tell whether he has succeeded in catching upon them any or much of the desired spawn. The young oysters will appear as minute flakes, easily detected by the experienced eye, attached to all parts of the old shell. If he has got no set whatever, he considers his investment a total loss, since by the next season, the bed of shells will have become so dirty that the spawn will not take hold if it comes that way. Supposing, on the contrary, that young oysters are found attached in millions to his cultch, as often happens, crowding upon each old shell until it is almost hidden, what is his next step?

The ordinary way in the East river and elsewhere, is simply to let the bed remain quiet, until, in the course of three or four years, such oysters as have survived are large enough to sell, when the bed is worked—at first, probably, with tongs and rakes, getting up the thickest of the crop. This done, dredges are put on, and everything that remains--oysters, shells, and trash--is removed and the ground left clean, ready for a second shelling, or to be planted with seed, perhaps right away--perhaps after the area has lain fallow, exposed uncovered to the influences of the sea for a year. Oystermen have an idea (probably well founded, though badly theorized upon) that this improves the bottom for oyster-culture, as much as a similar rest would the soil of an upland field for agriculture.

In the process of growth of the young oysters lodged upon the fields of cultch, when left undisturbed, there is, and must of necessity be, a great waste under the most favorable circumstances. Leaving out all other adversities, this will arise from over crowding. More 'blisters' attach themselves upon a single egg than can come to maturity. One or a few will obtain an accession of growth over the rest, and crowd the others down, or overlap them fatally. Even if a large number of young oysters attached to a single stool do grow up together equally, their close elbowing of one another will probably result in a close, crabbed bunch of long, slim, unshapely samples, of no value save to be shucked. To avoid these misfortunes, and, having got a large quantity of young growth, to save as much as possible of it, the more advanced and energetic of the planters, like the Hoyts, of Norwalk, pursue the following plan: When the bed is two years old, by which time all the young oysters are of sufficient age and hardiness to bear the removal, coarse-netted dredges are put on, and all the bunches of oysters are taken up, knocked to pieces, and either sold as "seed", or redistributed over a new portion of bottom, thus widening the planted area, and at the same time leaving more room for those single oysters to grow which have slipped through the net and so escaped the dredge. The next year after, all the plantation, new and old, is gone over and suitable stock culled out for trade, three-year-old East river oysters being in demand for the European market. This further thins out the beds, and the following (fourth) year the main crop of fine, well-shaped, well-fed oysters will be taken, and during the succeeding summer, or perhaps after a year, the ground will be thoroughly well cleaned up, and prepared for a new shelling.

All these remarks apply to a reasonably hard bottom, which requires no previous preparation. In portions of Long Island sound, especially off New Haven, it has been needful to make a crust or artificial surface upon the mud before laying down the shells. This is done with sand, and has been alluded to in the chapter on New Haven harbor.

Just what makes the best lodgment for oyster-spawn intended to be used as seed, has been greatly discussed. Oyster-shells are very good, certainly, and as they are cheap and almost always at hand in even troublesome quantities, they form the most available cultch, and are most generally used. Small gravel, however, has been tried on parts of the Connecticut coast with great success, the advantage being that not often more than one or two oysters would be attached, and therefore the evil of bunchiness would be avoided Where scallop shells, as in Narraganset bay, or, as in northern New Jersey, mussels and jingles, Anomia, can be procured in sufficient quantities, they are undoubtedly better than anything else, because they not only break easily in culling, but are so fragile that the strain of the growth of two or more oysters attached to a single scallop or mussel-valve, will often crack it in pieces, and so permit the several members of the bunch to separate and grow into good shape, singly. I am not aware that any of the elaborate arrangements made in France and England for catching and preserving the spat have ever been imitated here, to any practical extent. The time will come, no doubt, when we shall be glad to profit by this foreign example and experience.
Although the effort to propagate oysters by catching drifting spawn upon prepared beds has been tried nearly everywhere, from Sandy Hook to Providence, it has only, in the minority of cases, perhaps I might say a small minority of cases, proved a profitable undertaking to those engaging in it; and many planters have abandoned the process, or, at least, calculate but little upon any prepared beds, in estimating the probable income of the prospective season. This arises from one of two causes: 1st. The failure of spawn to attach itself to the cultch; or, 2d. In case a 'set' occurs, a subsequent death or destruction.

The supposition among oystermen generally has been, that the water everywhere upon the coast was filled, more or less, with drifting oyster-spat during the spawning season, whether there was any bed of oysters in the immediate neighborhood or not; in other words, that there was hardly any limit to the time and distance the spat would drift with the tides, winds, and currents. I think that lately this view has been modified by most fishermen, and I am certain it greatly needs modification; but, as a consequence of the opinion, it was believed that one place was as good as another, so long as there was a good current or tideway there to spread shells for spawn, whether there were any living oysters in proximity or not. But that this view was fallacious, and that many acres of shells have never exhibited a single oyster, simply because there was no spat or sources of spat in their vicinity, there is no reason to doubt.

Having learned this, planters began to see that they must place with or near their beds of shells, living mother-oysters, called 'spawners', which should supply the desired spat. This is done in two ways, either by laying a narrow bed of old oysters across the tideway in the center of the shelled tract, so that the spawn, as it is emitted, may be carried up and down over the breadth of shells waiting to accommodate it, or by sprinkling spawners all about the ground, at the rate of about 10 bushels to the acre. Under these arrangements the circumstances must be rare and exceptional, when a full set will not be secured upon all shells within, say, 20 rods of the spawners. Of course fortunate positions may be found where spawn is produced from wild oysters in abundance, or from contiguous planted beds, where the distribution of special spawners is unnecessary; yet even then it may be said to be a wise measure.

The successful capture of a plenteous 'set', however, is not all of the game. This must grow to salable maturity before any profits can be gathered, and it so often happens that the most promising beds in September are utterly wrecked by January, making a total loss of all the money and labor expended, that more than one planter has decided that it does not pay to attempt to raise oysters upon shells, so long as he is able to buy and stock his grounds with half-grown seed--a decision which may be based upon sound reasoning in respect to certain localities, but which certainly will not apply to all of our northern coast.

To what causes the well-filled artificial beds of infant oysters owe the destruction which seems often to overtake them in a single night, cannot always be told; we are not sufficiently acquainted either with the oyster or the conditions under which he lives, to detect the fatal influence. It is easily perceived, however, that these propagation beds offer an unusual attraction to all the active enemies of the oyster, such as winkles, drills or borers, and starfishes, since they find there food not only in a superabundance, but thin shelled and tender, so as to be got at in the easiest manner. It has very frequently happened in the East river, that starfishes alone have not only eaten up many acres of young oysters in a single season, on shelled ground, but so colonized there as to ruin utterly that tract for any further use, so long as they remained. It is certain that the half grown transplanted seed is less attractive to oyster-enemies than the propagation-beds; but when, as frequently occurs, the latter survive misfortune and attack, the yield of profits is so great as amply to compensate for the risk. Those who do not catch any or sufficient seed for their purposes, upon areas of shells or other cultch, annually procure young oysters of natural growth, or 'seed' with which to stock their beds. To this end they send their sloops from Norwalk eastward to the Housatonic beds, as has been described in a previous chapter, out into the sound off Bridgeport and to Shippen point, while the more westerly planters get their seed in the East river and off the Long Island shore. There seems to be little lack of supply, but the scene of good dredging and the amount gathered are continually changing. On the whole, however, there is a decrease of supply brought about by the largely increased number of boats now fishing every fall. More or less of the seed gathered here is sold by those who catch it, to local planters, and some goes to beds in Rhode Island and New York bay, or the south shore of Long Island. On the contrary, some little foreign seed, chiefly from the North river, is brought to Connecticut beds. The deep-water sound seed is the best. The seed is not usually culled, but is sold to the planter at about 25 cents a bushel, and distributed upon his grounds just as it is caught. In a bushel of it, consequently, not more than one-fourth (in a fair run) will consist of living oysters, the remainder being dead shells and trash of all sorts. Of this mixed stuff from 300 to 400 bushels are put on an acre lot. If it were culled, even roughly, it would bring from 40 to 50 cents, and one-half the quantity would be enough for the same ground, since the danger of planting top thick must be avoided. Frequently this is done. Some planters here never disturb their beds until they begin to take them up for market; but others make a practice of shifting their transplanted oysters, when two or two and a half years old, to a new spot. There they lie for one year, and are then ready for sale. The cost of shifting is from 10 to 15 cents a bushel; but the increase, both in size and flavor, is thought to compensate for this extra outlay.

The great drawback to East river oyster-planting of every kind, is the abundance of enemies with which the beds are infested. These consist of drum-fish, skates, and, to a small degree, of various other fishes; of certain sponges and invertebrates that do slight damage; and of various boring mollusks, the crushing winkle, and the insidious starfish or sea-star. It is the last-named plague that the planter dreads the most, and the directly traceable harm it does amounts to many tens of thousands of dollars annually in this district alone. Indeed, it seems to have here its headquarters on the American oyster-coast; but as I shall devote to it a special description in my chapter on the Enemies of the Oyster, I will only mention here the fact of its baleful presence, which has utterly ruined many a man's whole year's work.

Destruction Of East River Oysters.--Nearly all the East river oysters are sold in the shell in New York. Those from the Connecticut shore and City island are generally taken to the city in the sloops of the owners, and sold to dealers at the foot of Broome street. This is partially true also of those raised on the Long Island shore; but there the New York firms, themselves often co-planters with the countrymen, send boats to buy up cargoes at the beds at a small discount from city prices."

 Source:  Ingersoll, Ernest, The Oyster-Industry, pp. 94-97 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1881) (Published by Department of the Interior, Tenth Census of the United States, Francis A. Walker, Superintendent - The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries Prepared Under the Direction of Professor S. F. Baird by G. Brown Goode). 

"New York Markets In 1853.--In the spring of 1853 there appeared in the New York Herald a series of articles on this trade in the metropolis, which bore the impress of accuracy to a greater degree than is usual in such communications.  It asserted that then the oyster trade might be called only thirty years old, yet that there were a thousand vessels, of from 45 to 200 tons, engaged in winter in supplying the dealers in Oliver slip and other depots with Virginia oysters. The value of these vessels, on an average, was $3,000 each. This statement must, of course, have included all bringing southern oysters to any portion of New York bay, and, at best, seems exaggerated. 'The crew,' continues the account of these vessels, 'is composed generally of four hands and the cook, and the monthly wages given to each person varies from $12 to $30 * * *. Unlike the fishermen of Fulton market, they do not own shares in the boats upon which they are employed.'

The account continues:

The amount received for Virginia oysters, sold by the dealers in Oliver slip alone, is estimated at $250,000 a year. This, however, is not more than one-third of the quantity disposed of in the vicinity of Catherine market; for the space in the slip is so limited that the business of the dealers is greatly retarded and cramped. In consequence of this the principal supply is furnished direct from the boats to the retail-dealers throughout the city. About $300,000 worth of all kinds of Virginia oysters arc sold by the boats, which, added to the sales of the dealers, make a total of three-quarters of a million of dollars.  This is an immense amount of money, but it is not more than one-eighth part of the value of all the oysters sold during the year in this city.*  [Footnote * at the bottom of the page reads as follows:  "Here, again, I should say the estimate was large--two or three times too high, at least.--E.I."]

During the months of December, January, February, and March about $500,000 worth are sold from the boats at Coenties slip. There are no scows or oyster-stands at this place, on account of the transient character of the trade there, and the dealers are consequently obliged to sell them off the boats. There are some days when from 20 to 30 vessels are in dock together, and * * * the wharf is thronged with wagons waiting to receive their loads, while the hands on the boats are straining every nerve to supply the incessant demands of customers. The business of the day commences about six o'clock in the morning, and continues until four in the afternoon.

Of East river oysters alone about $500,000 worth is sold during the year in Oliver slip. The supply comes from Bridgeport, Norwalk, Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Sawpits, City island, and a few other places along the western shore; and from North port, Oyster bay, Lloyd's harbor, Huntingdon, Cold Spring, and Cow bay on the southern side. The largest proportion come from City island, where there are extensive artificial and natural beds, which furnish some of the best oysters obtained in the East river.

The reporter then mentions that of the 100 boats employed in carrying East river oysters to Oliver slip in 1853, 25 belonged to City island, where 100 families were supported by this industry. "The whole amount of property invested in the oyster-trade with this island," he states, 'including the boats of the oystermen and of the dealers, the value of the beds, etc., is estimated nt $1,000,000. And this is not more than one-third of the whole amount invested in the entire trade of the East river.'

The same writer mentioned that the annual sales of a single dealer in East river stock amounted in 1852 to $100,000; and complained that the conveniences offered by the city to the business at Oliver slip was very inadequate, although a fee of $75 a year was paid as scow-wharfage. He enumerated nine scows there then, valued at about $4,000, total. These scows were 30 by 12 feet in dimensions, and would hold from 1,000 to 1,500 bushels each. Out of these scows, he says, is sold yearly about $500,000 worth of oysters, exclusive of the amount bought from boats direct, which dealers estimate at $1,000,000. 'This estimate is derived from a calculation of the number of boats arriving during each year, and their capacity.'

At Washington market, according to the same chronicle, there were at this time twelve scows, having a total value of about $15,000. They had not even the scanty wharf accommodations vouchsafed at Oliver slip, but lay exposed so that they were knocked about by every high wind with great force, and damage was done which now and then amounted to total wreck, and always caused bitter complaints against the city. The total sales in and about Washington market were estimated at $3,000,000 annually, which, again, I must beg the reader to regard as an overestimate.

'It is only within the last five or six years,' says this writer, 'that the dealers commenced shipping in the shell, and at present a most extensive trade is carried on with Cincinnati, St. Louis, and several other western cities. Before this they were sent in kegs hermetically sealed * * * as far as California * * *. Pickled oysters are sent to every part of the United States by our dealers, and immense quantities are bought for shipment by vessels.'

The recapitulation with which these newspaper reports closed is annexed:
Number of boats of all sizes (50 to 250 tons) in the Virginia oyster-trade......1,000
In the East and North river trade.....................................................................200
In the Shrewsbury trade...................................................................................20
In the Blue Point and sound trade...................................................................100
In the York bay trade....................................................................................200
Sales of Virginia oysters, including those planted in Prince's bay...............$3,000,000
East and North river oysters.....................................................................1,500,000
Shrewsbury oysters.....................................................................................200,000
Blue Point and Sound oysters......................................................................200,000
York bay oysters........................................................................................300,000

Total sales...........................................................................................5,200,000"

Source:  Ingersoll, Ernest, The Oyster-Industry, pp. 123-24 (Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office, 1881) (Published by Department of the Interior, Tenth Census of the United States, Francis A. Walker, Superintendent - The History and Present Condition of the Fishery Industries Prepared Under the Direction of Professor S. F. Baird by G. Brown Goode).  

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