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  • The Fishing Village of McClellanville, South Carolina
  • Vennie Deas Moore (bio)

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"Moose," hardened by the sea, 1998. All photos in this essay are by Vennie Deas Moore, and are housed at the South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina. Copies of Deas Moore's photographs are exhibited at the Village Museum in McClellanville, South Carolina.

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"The Fishing Village"An environment of stillnessA force field of uninterrupted time and spaceA place of tranquilityHeld in time

Vennie Deas Moore, 1999

mcclellanville, fishing village

McClellanville, a seaside fishing village, was founded in the early 1850s by rice planters from the Santee Delta. The little village became the summer home of these wealthy planters, who left their plantations for a few months each year to escape illnesses like malaria. The village contained modest "shotgun" houses and some very fine, large homes of grand architectural detail. Several oyster and crab factories were built along Jeremy Creek.

Here, I've gathered photographs and my journal entries from 1998 to 2010, as well as the thoughts of my fellow author and colleague William "Billy" Baldwin. This is my humble attempt to capture a vanishing culture in the fishing village of McClellanville, South Carolina.1

the salt marsh

In the South Carolina Lowcountry lie alluvial regions and much swampland. The coast is a labyrinth of bays, inlets, and streams draining into the rivers from the mainland. North of Georgetown, a half-moon of unbroken beach extends to the North Carolina boundary, and south of Georgetown, to the Savannah River, two thirds of the coastline is a border of barrier islands with lovely beaches. The salt rivers separating these islands from the mainland furnish a safe inland waterway from Winyah Bay to Savannah. The Intracoastal Waterway runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. Some lengths consist of natural inlets, saltwater rivers, bays, and sounds; others are artificial canals. It provides a navigable route along its length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.

South Carolina salt marshes are flat, expansive landscapes of green during the summer and brown during the winter. At low tide, creeks sketch zigzagging scenes. As high tide comes, dark waters flow into the paddy. To view this from above is breathtaking, yet the wetland can be more hostile than beautiful. The cane-like marsh grass beats your body. Walking the spongy gray bogs along the massive salt marsh requires caution. The oozing mud clings to your feet and sinks you to the waist.

The abundance of food in the marsh sustains shrimp, crabs, oysters, and fish. These inhabitants must maintain a salt balance. Mud dwellers burrow into the [End Page 84] mud at high tide to avoid predators. At low tide, they move over the muddy surface for feeding. The mud is a hazard as well as a haven. Lack of oxygen is a problem at low tide, when the burrows become dry or fill with stagnant water. While most creatures can adapt to slight changes in salinity, the water in the marsh is subject to abrupt changes. During storms, salinity at high tide approaches that of seawater, while after a heavy rain, particularly at low tide, the water of the estuary may be almost fresh. Stationary or sessile animals, such as oysters and clams, are forced to slow their metabolisms to reduce their oxygen needs.

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Small shrimp boat at the Santee Delta, 2000.

Traditional fishing ways here are as diverse as the coastal waterways. Of the more than 150 species of saltwater fish inhabiting the coastal waters, some twenty are valuable for food, as are economically important invertebrate fauna, including shrimp, oysters, and crabs. According to Billy, McClellanville native Jack Leland has said that, when he was a boy in the 1920s, each Saturday morning Big Creek would be lined with black families in oyster bateaus, gathering their seafood for the week, casting, picking oysters, fishing for croaker and spot. Long Creek, which entered in the edge of the Bay, was called the Psalm because it was the answer to people's prayers.

Jeremy Creek runs through Cape Romain. Along the...