Friday, August 16, 2013

Oysters Abundant in Colonial Boston

Three years ago, two of our terrific interns did great work identifying references to oysters in Colonial Boston noting that an oysterman was stabbed at the Boston Massacre and that oyster shells were thrown at the British Redcoats in several altercations including the final one that led to the Massacre.

In reading through Richard Archer’s book on the British occupation “As If an Enemy’s Country” there are several references to oysters. He confirmed the stories of oysters being thrown. But he included one very intriguing reference. On page 185 he mentions that Boston Streets were paved with oyster shell. We are seeking to track him down for his source for that comment. If early Boston was paving the streets with oyster shells, then there had to have been a lot of oysters. This was a time when moving heavy loads took effort. Historically, one sees oyster shell roads when there is large amounts of oysters nearby.
Oyters Colonial Massachusetts Richard Archer
Richard Archer's  Book "As If an Enemy's Country"

Yet in the records, there are few mentions of oystermen in Colonial Documents. One possible reason could be that oystermen were not from the highest segment of society and thus you don’t hear them mentioned in the same breath as John Hancock merchant or Paul Revere silversmith. Interestingly there were only a few tradesmen at the Sons of Liberty dinner celebrating the reduction of the Tarriff’s. The dinner was largely attended by the elite merchant class. There is an interesting segmentation here as the majority of those injured at the Boston Massacre were of more humble origins- sailors and people who worked in the manufacture of rope.

While the oystermen may not have been of the noble class, they were there with a significant business harvesting oysters from the Charles and Mystic River estuaries as well as Chelsea Creek and other spots.
Those interns were Laura Olivier and Shira Bleicher.  Thanks again for the great work!
If we are going to fully restore Boston Harbor- oysters should be part of the picture.