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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
Collage of Local Legacies
Homer Tyler uses a power dredge for oystering, 1992
Homer Tyler of Ewell uses a power dredge to bring oysters aboard his vessel during the winter months Photo: Elaine Eff

Smith Island

Maryland's only inhabited offshore island is home to 350 men, women, and children who are descended from the original settlers who arrived in 1659. The original English and Welsh settlers inhabit the three villages of Smith Island, possibly Maryland's most isolated and intact enclave of traditional culture. Families are said to be able to trace their genealogy back 12 generations. Islanders speak a distinctive dialect that they call a "backward language" - they employ certain turns of phrase that only an islander would understand correctly. Once an island of farmers, today's inhabitants make a living crabbing and oystering in the Chesapeake Bay. It is a hard occupation, sometimes involving 12-hour days. No local government or police maintain order on the island, but each community has its own Methodist church where local decisions are made, thus providing political as well as religious cohesion. A 20-minute videotape, "Land and Water, People and Time," and 23 color slides show the islanders at work and at worship. The text of 12 interviews with the inhabitants is included, and a five-page essay and cookbook provide a colorful evocation of life on the island.

Originally submitted by: Wayne T. Gilchrest, Representative (1st District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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