The Workboats of Smith Island

Overview

"The people of Smith Island need their boats. They depend on their boats to make a living. They depend on their boats to go back and forth to Crisfield... That's what keeps Smith Island going, these boats these people have around here. It's the only way." — Larry Marsh, Smith Island

Smith Island, the largest Maryland island in Chesapeake Bay, remains one of the most interesting communities on the Atlantic coast. Smith Islanders speak a sort of Tidewater English, are devoted to the Methodist faith, and maintain an...

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Overview

"The people of Smith Island need their boats. They depend on their boats to make a living. They depend on their boats to go back and forth to Crisfield... That's what keeps Smith Island going, these boats these people have around here. It's the only way." — Larry Marsh, Smith Island

Smith Island, the largest Maryland island in Chesapeake Bay, remains one of the most interesting communities on the Atlantic coast. Smith Islanders speak a sort of Tidewater English, are devoted to the Methodist faith, and maintain an intense relationship with the waters of the bay. For generations, they have relied on fishing, oystering, and crabbing for their livelihood and have developed workboats that reflect the conditions — both natural and cultural — of local waters.

In The Workboats of Smith Island, Paula J. Johnson looks extensively at the remarkable variety of boats — documenting in fascinating detail their design, construction, and use — and the watermen who depend on them. Johnson identifies the three vessel types most common on Smith Island today: crab-scraping boats, deadrise workboats, and skiffs. Every Smith Islander, she notes, owns at least one workboat, and many have two or even three, requiring each for a different purpose — harvesting "peelers" (blue crabs in various stages of molting), oystering or crab potting, and providing basic transportation.

Johnson talks with Smith Island's watermen and boatbuilders, as well as their families and neighbors, about the history and future of the island and about the boats that dominate the island's cultural landscape. She includes dozens of photographs and drawings of Smith Island's distinctivewatercraft. The result is a singular portrait of a community inextricably linked to the water.

"Paula Johnson has made a meaningful and substantial contribution to the literature of Chesapeake Bay maritime culture. Focusing on the community of Smith Island and its dependence on the Bay, Workboats of Smith Island will surely attract a variety of audiences, from scholars to general readers with an interest in the Chesapeake region and its maritime heritage." — Quentin T. Snediker, Mystic Seaport Museum

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
A maritime specialist at the Smithsonian Institute, Johnson offers a broad view of the boats used on the largest Maryland island in Chesapeake Bay. She documents their design and construction, and how the residents gain their livelihood by fishing, oystering, and crabbing. Black-and-white photographs accompany the text. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801854842
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1997
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 12.35 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula J. Johnson is the maritime specialist in the History of Technology division of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. She edited and contributed to Working the Water: The Commercial Fisheries of Maryland's Patuxent River.

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