The Folk Traditions of the Tidewater: Documenting the Chesapeake Region

October 22, 2014

Mathews Memorial Library

251 Main Street, Mathews Courthouse, VA

Clementine Macon Boyd, Jon Lohman, and Deborah Pratt
Jon Lohman (center) poses with sisters Clementine Macon Boyd and Deborah Pratt, world-champion oyster shuckers who reside in Middlesex County. 

Virginia State Folklorist Jon Lohman will discuss documenting the folk traditions of the Chesapeake on Wednesday, October 22 at 6:30pm at Matthews Memorial Library in Mathews Courthouse, Virginia.

The presentation is part of a folklore research project being conducted by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida. From October 21-26, UF history students will travel to eastern Virginia to discuss folklore, traditional crafts, and rural development with residents of Mathews and Middlesex Counties. The inaugural trip will feature two oral history open houses in Virginia, a methods workshop, and an interdisciplinary panel open to the public. Oral history research conducted during the week will build on a foundation of 45 interviews conducted on the Middle Peninsula by graduate coordinator Jessica Taylor over the past two years.

During the research trip, students will explore past and present oral traditions in eastern Virginia as well as economic challenges unique to the area. Mathews and Middlesex, once centers of production for ship captains working with deadrise fishing boats and dredge nets, have suffered economic decline in recent decades paralleling the erosion of the wider Chesapeake’s marine environment.

As the repository for archival collections of foundational American folklorists Stetson Kennedy and Zora Neale Hurston, the University of Florida is poised to expand the study of folklore and tradition. Conducting interviews with residents in Virginia will gives UF students a chance to see the places and lifeways around which local folklore grows and survives, with firsthand access to resources like vernacular architecture, boatbuilding, and local fishing technologies spanning three centuries, all in the setting of familiar national folklore like Jamestown’s settlement, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the Nat Turner slave revolt.

“A Festival of Oral History and Folklore,” one of the trip’s major initiatives, will take place over two days at the Mathews County Memorial Library.