Maryland Traditions Folklife Area
East New Market, Maryland
photo credit: Edwin Remsberg Photographs
Captain Kermit Travers has had a far-reaching impact on life along the Eastern Shore of Maryland and throughout the Chesapeake region as a notable African American waterman and skipjack captain. Working with community scholars, Captain Travers co-created a rich photographic essay book about his personal history, titled Captain Kermit Travers, Skipjack Captain: Last but Not Least ….
Skipjacks became the state boat of Maryland in 1985 as a way to recognize what are considered the last working sail boats in the nation. Though named for many of the finfish caught in the Chesapeake Bay—for example, skipjack herring and skipjack mackerel—these boats are perhaps most commonly associated with dredging oysters. The oyster industry was of utmost importance in the development of many Chesapeake Bay communities, and skipjacks once dotted the seascape of the Eastern Shore. During the Jim Crow era, and even into the present, it was and is unusual for persons of color to hold high-ranking positions on workboats. Nevertheless, African American communities contributed significantly to the development and maintenance of the way of life associated with skipjacks and the oyster industry.
Captain Travers, quite possibly the last of the Chesapeake’s black skipjack captains, possesses vast knowledge of skipjacks and maritime work. Now in his early 80s, he is a remarkable waterman; he also represents and shares stories of unsung people who built the Eastern Shore through the oyster industry, on fleets of skipjacks. In 2015, the Maryland State Arts Council recognized him with a Maryland Traditions ALTA (Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts) Award.