Elizabeth Stockley Sidbury Bishop’s Kids

Oyster Shells by Wendy Harty 2011, ink with a watercolor wash

Woodman (Stoakley or Stockley) Sidbury Jr. was my 5th great grandfather. Born in 1714, that same year his father died and his mother Elizabeth remarried George Bishop Sr who lived, I believe on the next plantation in New Hanover County, North Carolina. From Wills and Probate Records I found this misspelled list of the relatives and from this I am going to take you hunting for oysters!

This was George Bishop Jr will of Dec 20, 1743, calling Woodman Stoakley Sidbury and James his brothers (1/2). Comfort and Moses were children of James, a brother named Stoakley Bishop, sister Sarah and Betty (Elizabeth married Christoher Dudley) Bishop and Esther (Elaster) and five slaves named Molllthim and Sarah, Jo Besse and Cupid listed as One Indian Man

Woodman Sidbury was the first to reach the puddle. Amongst the bending reeds he reached into the goop and brought out the dirty, paw like husk. He proudly waved his two shelled scum sucker at the others. It was going to be grand day at Stump Sound with his family, looking for oysters. His step-father, the only father he’d known, was supervising the slaves, Moll and Jo to slip the boat into the lagoon. They had come to Stump Sound, a seven mile murky sound of water between Sneads Ferry and North Topsail Beach. Soon they would have a feast!

Moll was instructed to nudge the boat with a pole, careful to not disturb the silt. “You have to keep the water clear so you can see them on the bottom” said George Sr. to George Jr. George Jr. replied, ” I can see them, I can see them, they look like lips”, as he caught the glint of the shells mantle poking up from the mud. George Jr. plunged his hand in and came up successful. Within the hour, each of the boys, Woodman and James Sidbury, George Jr. and Woodman Stokeley Bishop had taken turns being poled by Moll and within the first hour had a bushel of “Stumps”. George Sr. took on the job of sorting the oysters into mature and spats with the help of Jo.

Margaret Elizabeth Bishop, Woodman’s half sister 2 years his junior when his mother remarried to George and her mother Elizabeth joined the happy group of father and boys when they returned to their beach. Here they would start their own garden. It would be their family oyster garden. They would “plant” the spat, the baby oysters they had caught and tend this sea life in their own salt water part of the Bay. They would keep an eye on this oyster seed they had collected during the natural spawning cycle. All winter they would try to keep them covered with a foot of water. Oysters will die if they become smothered in silt or freeze if out of the water. The brackish waters allowed the oysters to loiter and drift and the next year they would grow long and leggy.

Now, they would taste the ocean! Between the narrow shells, the brine of a fat oyster would deliver a divine experience. A salty treat awaited, but with a little work. The trick Woodman learned was to keep the oyster liquor in the shell, while shucking it loose from its home. He would hold it with the flatter side up and holding a thin edged knife began to pry near the hinge and “pop” with a little twist. A little cutting detached the oyster from the top shell. Woodman’s reward slid down his throat with a noisy slurp. The shells were put back in the water for the baby oysters to grow on.

Elizabeth Bishop would teach Margaret Elizabeth who they all called Betty to make oyster stew. With milk and butter from their own cows and the fresh oysters it would cook and bubble all day into their satisfying supper meal.

I have taken artistic license to mark a day in the life of the Bishop’s. Today at Stump Sound the landscape has changed with development. Storm water runoff pollutes and the sound is often closed, but commercial fishermen still pull “Stumps” and technology has allowed spats to be grown in controlled scientific oyster farms. Stump Sound needs its oysters to clean it up. One adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of impurities. Their rocky shells also provide hiding places for other fish and plants. Plump Stump Sound oysters from the goop are said to be the tastiest. A google search says a 100 piece bag of local Carolina oysters sells for $129.99. It also tells me of an oyster called Stump Sound, a large salty meaty oyster available October through March harvested at Stump Sound near Topsail Island. Stump Sound is found on the northwest side of Topsail Island, near enough the Atlantic to create a salty oyster but sheltered from strong currents. Near enough for Elizabeth Stockley Sidbury Bishop and her son Woodman Stoakley Sidbury to have eaten them raw, baked, and in the soup?

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