Oyster Families Remember Life In The Northern Neck

Nov 24, 2017

It's wild oyster season around the Chesapeake Bay. In Virginia's Northern Neck, at Belle Isle State Park, a new exhibit slated to open early next year will feature stories from people who lived and worked there during the 1940s and 1950s.


Two families, the Boatwrights and the Pollards, co-owned the 1000-acre farm and nearby oyster grounds in the Rappahannock River.  These are some of their stories: 


Catherine Bundy holding a photo of her with husband Thomas, who perished out on the Rappahannock River while oystering in December 1953.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

  Catherine Veney Bundy

"I am Catherine Veney Bundy. My husband, Thomas L. Bundy, lived on the farm. We was married two years. He was working on the oyster boat. And the night before, Thomas and I had gone down to the Tides Inn for the Christmas assembly. We served down there. So we went to bed, fast asleep and the next thing when we knew, there was Herbert Swann knocking at our window, “Thomas, Thomas, man, it's time to go. You still in the bed!” So, he jumped up and he said, “Well, good-bye sweetheart, I'll see you later today.”

That's a time when other people's calls would come into your house and so when the phone ringed at Belle Isle I answered the phone and Tollie Jackson said, “Catherine, is there anybody else there with you?” Why is he asking me that I said to myself, you know. I said, “no.” So, I stood there by the telephone and thought, what in the world did he want.

The telephone rang again. I picked up. I don't know why I picked up. Evesdropping you know. He was calling up to the store. And he said, J.C. I don't know what to do.” And J.C. said, “What's going on.” He said, “Thomas fell off the boat and drowned.”


Albert Pollard Sr. whose family built and lived in Bel Air House, the second of two homes that still exist at the Belle Isle State Park.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

  Albert Pollard, Sr.

"I'm Al Pollard. My dad and Uncle Lee bought the farm together. There was a light house that dad and Uncle Lee built then on the end of Belle Isle to overlook the oyster ground to try to deter the poachers. Uncle Lee bought a huge surplus searchlight, a little bit of deterrent if you had the light on you. What else could they do, you wouldn't want to shoot at them because if you hit them  it would put you in pretty big trouble."







Betty Hall Beane holding some pipe stems she found as a teenager living at Belle Isle Farm.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

  Betty Hall Beane

"I'm Betty Hall Beane. I was living in the lighthouse for most of my years. People would try to oyster on your private shore at night. Daddy would get up at different times and look out and flash this big light, the spotlight. The funny thing was, down on that end of the farm, we didn't have a telephone. So, he'd have to get in the car to go up to the Boatwrights to find a telephone, or tell him. As soon as they saw Daddy's car lights they knew he was going to get (laughs) you know everybody learned that. And so then, Daddy would just drive up the road sometimes and turn around and come back and then take another look to see if they were still there (laughs). So, you know this was the way it went. The whole thing was to get them to leave. So, it seemed to work at any rate."


Albert Pollard, Sr.

"The income from that was very good and it paid for my education and I'm sure my siblings also. And then back, I don't know, when was it, Hazel. I remember dad came home one day after having gone out to figure out what they were going to harvest that year and said, “everything is dead.” And there's 300 acres. And that was the end of the oyster business for him, at that point." 


The exhibit was made possible by a grant from River Counties Community Foundation.