Oystering in the Old Days

Footnotes to Long Island History


FEB 2,1950


Thomas R. Bayles



Great South bay may safely be called the home of the Blue Point gates.For it is form this section that they have been shipped to markets in the United States and Europe.In the early 1840's when Sayville was a mere hamlet of a dozen or pore houses,oystering first became a real industry, The following description of those days has been handed down in his own words from Uncle Willet Green,one of the pioneer oystermen .I remember hearing my father tell how Squire Edwards found a bed of oysters,great large ones the use of your hand,and how he conceived the idea of taking them to the market and loading his ox wagon,started for New York.He quickly departed of his road, receiving five cents each for all the oysters he had. After that regular trips were made with a ready market for all that came along.At that time there were very few oysters to be found and soon the bay was completely cancel out. A short time later it appears that a schooner loaded with oysters from Virginia came to New York, but being unable to dispose of her hand, and the weather becoming warm, was compelled to hoist her sails and seek a suitable spot to dump her precious load to prevent it from becoming a total loss.So down the Great South bay she sailed and spread her entire load along a muddy bottom, and thus started a industry that has made the section famous as the shipping point for the Blue Point oyster. This was in the year 1838, and from that time on the oysters continued to increase in a wonderful manner and in 1842 there were about 17 boats engaged in catching oysters on the bay. During the years when almost everyone turned his thoughts towards the gold field of California, the father oyster bed that has made many people rich was discovered in the bay on account of the great number of oyster that spawned and grew on the 500- acre bed, and because of the peculiar yellow tint of their shells the oystermen called it the California gold be. There was a fee for men to travel to far off gold fields when there were such rich oyster beds at home.As the years passed and the success of the oyster industry became known, so did the population of Sayville increase, and every year more boats appeared on the bay, At that time the oystering was done with tongs and most of the oysters were sold for spawn in other localities. Every day during the oyster season,schooners arrived in the bay from Long Island sound ports and hoisted a basket as a sign they wanted to buy spawn.It was an easy matter for a man to net from 75 to 100 tubs of oysters a day, for which he received 12 to 15 cents a tub.Soon the people of Sayville began to realize it was time to stop selling seed to other localities, and to spread them over the South bay instead.At that time most of the oysters were found on what was known as Green's bed, the California bed,  and some smaller beds near Patchogue.A meeting was called and everyone interested was paid a certain amount for a grant of land under water which he could stake off and plant for his private use.In 1842, William Tucker crossed the ocean on his way west to seek his fortune,Landing in New York he heard of the oyster industry off Sayville, and having been engaged in that business in his native land,decided to go there.He settled in what is  now the thriving community of West Sayville.Many Hollanders and their families followed him and all located in the same neighborhood,For many years West Sayville was called Tucker town, in honor of its first setter.For several years the oysters were shipped to New York by boat and a great many sloops were engaged in this business.After the Long Island railroad came through, most of the oysters were shipped by rail.In 1894, about 90,000 barrels were shipped from this section of which about 70,000 barrels went by rail and 20,000 barrels by boat. The average price in that year was $0 a barrel.The king of the oyster shippers was Jacob Ockers,who shipped thousands of barrels annually to NewYork and Europe .During the winter when the bay was frozen over for weeks at a time shipping continued,as the shippers had bought up great quantities of oysters before the bay froze,and dumped them in the water near their oyster houses. Holes were cut in the ice and the oysters removed during the winter, which made continuous employment and kept the shipments going. In 1895 over 500 boats and 1,100 men were employed in oystering. During the summer many of the oyster boats were fitted out for the use of sailing parties.Their masks were scraped and varnished, and a summer cabin took the place of the winter cabin .Hundreds of city dwellers who came to Sayville to spend their vacations, took trips during the summer months in the Perry Belmont,Adelia Lucas that were engaged in oystering at other seasons of the year. 


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