December 10, 2018

Wendell Chesser Continues Tales of St. George Island 1920s

St. George Island
Photo Courtesy of Bryan Swann

In a second excerpt, Wendell Chesser tells of his life on St. George Island, MD, starting when he was 12 in 1920 when his father purchased a new Pungy boat, named Joe Smith. The first excerpt is linked below.

St. George Island is positioned 6 miles up the Potomac River from Point Lookout, MD, and traditionally home to some 200 families. Almost up to when these oral histories were compiled, in 1994, most families were supported by commercial fishermen and used boats for commerce and as avenues to travel around the Chesapeake Bay.

Excerpts below from Who’s Who of St. George Island, by Mary Gale Adams, April 1994, St. George Island, MD.

Mary Gale Adams’ “ Who’s Who of St. George Island has been called “a true oral history;” conceived, produced, typed, written, hand-bound, and covered by Ms. Adams. There are home remedies, recipes, lineages, and tales stretching back to days before deep water wells were dug and cleaning day meant hauling the laundry over water to St. Mary’s City, before electricity, before automobiles. Here is the second excerpt from:

The Nineteen Twenties

by Wendell J. Chesser

In the [pungy] Joe Smith, we freighted herring after they were salted and packed in barrels. The barrels weighed more than two hundred pounds, and five hundred barrels was a full load for the Joe Smith. We usually made two trips of fish to Norfolk in April. During early May we made one or two trips to Crisfield, Maryland, to load oyster shell lime for the farmers. This work was pure drudgery. Bags of lime weighed two hundred pounds, and were hoisted from the hold by hand. From the hold they were loaded into a small boat which unloaded ashore to a horse drawn wagon that had been backed into the water. Again Papa and I loaded the two hundred pound bags into the wagon from the boat.

Late May and early June was boat painting and railway time. The Joe Smith could be handled by two railways on Breton Bay, near Leonardtown: Werheims or Ewells. Uncle Jim Brown lived near Ewells on Combs Creek. The only good thing about railway time was the availability of  soft crabs (which were worth less than 25 cents per dozen). I will never forget the look on Papa’s face each time I served up a platter of soft crabs on the forward hatch. I served them along with coffee and a golden pone of bread. Seldom did Papa compliment me personally, but many times he bragged to others within hearing distance of me. I should also note here that April, May, and June were busy months ashore. There we worked at gardening, yard work, and white washing (mixture of lime and water used to paint houses and fences), just to name a few of the springtime activities.

After the railway and painting, the Joe Smith received little attention except for preparation for one or two trips to Baltimore with wheat. The first of July was wheat threshing time and it usually interfered with our Fourth of July celebration. Because it was poured loose into the hold, Papa had to make sure that the hold was dry and waterproof. He did this by caulking all of the cracks in the sheathing.

Before loading arrangements were made with the farmers whose grain we were to carry. The wheat was hauled from the thresher to the waters edge by oxen or horse drawn wagons. As with the lime, the wagon was backed into the water and the wheat was loaded by hand from the wagon to a small boat. The wheat was is in bags that contained one-and-a-half  bushels, much lighter than the bags of lime. We ferried the wheat to the Joe Smith which was anchored nearby. Unloading, we lifted each bag from the boat to the deck of the Smith. Papa dragged the bags to the hatch and with a sharp pen knife cut the string closures and emptied the bags into the hold. We always had a third man for this chore.

Occasionally, a farm would be near a steamboat pier, and we could load from the pier. Most of the time we loaded in Smith Creek from one of the “Priest” farms. Several farms in Smith Creek were owned by the Catholic Church, and they were commonly called “Priest” farms. We could carry 1,500 bushels of wheat in the Joe Smith.

(J.S. Smith’s capacity for other types of cargo was 50 tons.)

The Lexington Park Leader brings tales from local history; stories from the SlackWater Center; and Message From the Cap’n, a compilation of important information we might not even know how much we need. We hope you enjoy them. We encourage you to use the comment section or email artster694@gmail.com to fill in missing details, or correct inaccurate ones.

To learn about the lore, as well as tours and trips involving the Chesapeake, get more information on Fins + Claws’ Leader Member Page. Or contact Cap’n Jack Russell at the email address above or 240-434-1385.

Comments
3 Responses to “Wendell Chesser Continues Tales of St. George Island 1920s”
  1. Joe & Virginia Royston says:

    We enjoyed the information very much . It is very interesting and I forwarded to my friends. Have Gale’s book.
    Thanks
    Joe & Virginia

  2. Fay Russell Lumpkins says:

    Living out here in Colorado, I always enjoy information/pictures about the prettiest and lace on earth, St George Island.

  3. Sal Pistachio says:

    Thank you so much for providing the narrative in a manner that the public can take advantage of its content. I love reading about St. Mary’s County and how it was before us new-comers populated the area. I came to the county fifty-nine years ago and my first view of the Bay was standing up to my knees in the water at Cedar Point. My younger Brother John had taken me there and my first words to him after seeing the bay was, “This place is paradise, I’m never leaving. Things have changed a lot in St. Mary’s Co. in fifty-nine years but it is still paradise in places where the people have preserved the rural atmosphere and the “old county ways”. Now I live land-locked in Helen where we are still mostly rural and I feel a sense of home and belonging to this beloved land. If God willing, this is where I will spend the rest of my days and my children and grandchildren will do the same.

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