The Maryland State Arts Council gave Captain Kermit Travers of East New Market, its achievement in Living Traditions and Arts award. Travers has spent a lifetime as steward for one of the area’s most treasured traditions.
At first, Travers used his skill in shucking oysters to help with family finances, but eventually, it was the harvesting of the mollusks aboard the skipjack, The Lady Katie, that would solidify his place in oystermen history. The boat’s captain tried him out for a week.
“I said, I got to show this man I want to stay on this boat because it was making money, so sure enough, captain came to me and he said ‘where in the heck have you been?’ I said what do you.. he said ‘you done beat two men 30 some bushels, you by yourself. Where in the world… why haven’t you been on this boat.’ I said, I don’t know, I was just doing what I was taught,” Travers says.
Travers was assigned ‘jib man’ and that’s where he stayed for 25 years. In the late 60’s, while racial tensions were heating up in Cambridge, Travers was given an opportunity that only five other African American men have been offered in the Chesapeake Bay area – that of skipjack captain.
Captain Travers said he has seen a lot of changes over the years in the Chesapeake oyster industry. Over the years, Travers also realized that the harsh life on the water was catching up with him. A back injury was the last straw.
Travers says, “At the end of that season I threw my boots overboard, I threw my rain paints over board and they said ‘what you do that for?’ I said I’m finished.”
You won’t find Captain Travers too far from the water. He said he enjoys looking over the river because it reminds him of times on the boat.