FISHING IN OYSTERPONDS
From earliest times fishing has been an essential aspect of Oysterponds life, first as sustenance and later as a commercial enterprise. With manuscripts, photographs, and intriguing objects this exhibition provides a brief outline of fishing on the East End of Long Island.
The OHS collection of documents includes significant materials relating to fishing. Among the most important are two manuscript notebooks, or diaries, kept by the lighthouse keepers at Little Gull Island and Plum Island in the 1830s and 1840s. They both refer frequently to fish and fishing. On Little Gull Island, the keeper recorded fascinating lists of how many fish were caught in a given year.
From earliest times, menhaden, or bunker, were prized for their oil and used as fertilizer. In the nineteenth century, the menhaden industry was a major aspect of commerce in Orient. The abundance of menhaden in these waters was immense – often numbering in the millions. Oysterponds historian, Augustus Griffin (1767-1866), frequently mentioned bunker in his diary. In 1820 he wrote: “within the last three days the seine has took 200,000 bunkers.” Then in 1845 he entered: “Jackson Seine took about 250000 Boney fish this afternoon – Yesterday they took about 100000.” The fish was indeed very bony and difficult to eat, but provided a lot of oil, and was an excellent fertilizer.
Two important families of fishermen – the Vails and the Brooks – are featured in the exhibition. The Vails owned what was perhaps the best-known fishing boat in Oysterponds - the Black Eagle – which they acquired in 1866. George Maxon Vail was captain and the crew included many family members. Fortunately for us one of the crew, William H. Vail, was also a photographer, and as a result we have excellent documentation of life on a fishing boat in the early 1900s. Jeremiah Vail, who owned the house you are in, was George Maxon Vail’s brother and was himself a fisherman.
Elliott, Richard, and Frank Brooks (always known as the Brooks Brothers) came from a long line of seafarers and fisherman, and were popular members of the community. (Elliott was also an artist whose work is on view in one of these galleries). Rounding out this glimpse of fishing in Oysterponds are a few items illustrating the non-commercial side of this pursuit – fishing as pleasure.
A sample from the exhibition