On Wednesday we arrived in Deal Island and headed right to work. We met up with Professor Wiest and Zach Hall ’13 who are working on the restoration project of the Skipjack Kathryn built in 1901. We started working on the boat doing a number of things, evening boards, painting, tarring, and drilling. I loved every second of working on the boat, how many people can say they helped restore a national historic landmark? After a few hours of working on the boat, Captain Stoney, Kathryn’s owner, took us on a tour of Deal Island. The first place that we stopped was at a Methodist church. We quickly learned that Joshua Thomas came to the island and converted to church from predominantly Presbyterian to Methodist. A waterman himself he came to Deal and brought Methodism to the community. Captain Stoney explained that Methodism set fire to the community and changed the way religion was integrated into the island culture.
Stoney said that the population of Deal is approximately 500 with half of them being permanent residents and the other half “come heres”. A lot has changed on the island like the number of working skip jacks on the island.
In the 1950’s there were roughly 60-65 working skipjacks in the Chesapeake Bay. Today there are only 6 left, 5 of which are found in Deal Island. Walking through the cemetery at the Methodist Church I got a sense of how small the island really was. Two last names dominated the majority of the headstones, Webster and Wilson, it was then I realized that generations of families inhabited the same land. The island itself has not changed in size very much due to the entire thing being rip wrapped. We continued on our drive and passed the oldest house on the island and then traveled through the black community. Captain Stoney explained that “they lived to themselves and we lived to ourselves, but we all worked together on the boats and interacted on the workplace because we worked, ate and slept together”. Back on land the two communities separated, historically attending separate schools and churches but the segregation was not as clear on an island community where you must work together to be successful.
I really enjoyed Deal Island, walking into Lucky’s the general store we were welcomed with genuine smiles and great food. On our last day Mr. Mike Vlahovich gave us an assignment to identify and take a picture of what we consider to be a cultural marker of Deal Island. Our last night we had dinner at Lucky’s, we ate oysters on the half shell, oysters rockefeller, pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw. It was a great meal made better by the people we shared it with. We had a number of residents of deal island come and watch our presentation of our cultural markers and they were able to give us a better idea of what life is like on the island how it has changed over time. Just like I felt on Smith Island I felt welcomed and knew that the experience I had was something I would not have ever known without Chesapeake Semester. Visiting the Island communities and experiencing the inner workings of their cultures make me realize that there is something to be desired there. Growing up there is generational but the Deal Island community like many other islands is a small group of people, congregated together by work, education, experiences and religion. Sounds like a pretty perfect world to me.