Shrimp Tales: Small Bites of History

by: Beverly Bowers Jennings

Shrimp tales Book


The Hudson River

Hudson’s Seafood Restaurant, Hilton Head 2015 a year before Hurricane Matthew – (Andrew Carmines)


  • 2-page picture and an introduction followed by more photographs and descriptions.
  • A section on Operations such as Boat Building and Repairs, TED s (Turtle Excluder Devices), Ice, Nets and Doors, Dumping the Bag, Net Sewing.
  • Sketches and Tools
  • Quotes
  • A Gullah word
  • A Recipe at the end of the chapter
  • Side bars: Hand signals, Stock Island, Tokens, White boots, Smoking Shrimp, Lead Line

Sketch: An early 1900s wire basket adapted for shrimp – (Stephen Moscowitz)

Town of Port Royal 11th Street dock is a public shrimp dock.

Butch Hudson’s Be Brief 89-foot shrimp boat – (Marianne Elizabeth Hudson)

Lead Lines were the original depth and sounding tools. – (Courtesy of Davidson Fine Art Devon UK)

Let’s Go off St. Helena Island at sunset – (Jeannine Boulware)


Overview of Shrimp Tales: Small Bites of History

This book is an extension of exhibits I created at the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center on the history of Shrimping, Oystering and Crabbing. It is a history of the commercial shrimping industry of today using lots of photographs and short descriptions. Over the course of my research, I have filmed and transcribed interviews with over 65 fishermen. Their personal photographs, many never before published, are also included. Quotes and thumbnail head shots of many of them accompany their history in the book and the stories they told. In addition, approximately 75 people in the fishing industry have contributed information during my over 3 ½ years of research.

My goal is to preserve the history of this industry. All proceeds of the gross book sales will be donated to the South Carolina Seafood Alliance.

Toomer Boats, Thunderbolt – (Thunderbolt Museum Society, Inc.)

The Beginning of the Shrimping Industry

Shrimp was not a popular food in America until the 1900s after the Sicilians’ and Portuguese arrived in St. Augustine and Fernandina. Those fishermen considered them worms and did not eat then. They had used them to feed animals or for fertilizer in the old country. North Carolinians had referred to shrimp as bugs.

People living on the coast had always eaten what they caught but not sold shrimp. During a shortage of fish and a large quantity of shrimp, the fishermen sold the shrimp cheaply and bars bought them to give to patrons to encourage their lingering. Slowly a taste for the delicacy of today was acquired. Railroads were built and icing capabilities allowed shrimpers to send their shrimp to markets such as Fulton Market in NYC.

1950 Fulton Market – (Ray Whitlin)

The early shrimping industry began in Florida and soon the shrimpers began traveling up the east coast to Thunderbolt, GA, Port Royal, SC and Beaufort, SC following the shrimp season and settling in those locations. The major boat building was in St. Augustine and Fernandina mostly by the Greeks. Shrimp began to become a very popular food. You can read more about this start to the shrimping industry in Chapter 1.

Sicilian fisherman, Salvador Versaggi’s dock and fleet of boats in 1909 – (Amelia Island Museum of Histort)

Versaggi Flee – (Versaggi Shrimp Corp.)

Meet Shrimper Jack Chaplin

Shrimp Tales: Small Bites of History provides numerous details of the industry in Beaufort County including this story about a Beaufort shrimper. Many of the shrimpers who I interviewed shared that Beaufort shrimper, Jack Chaplin, was famous for his shrimp burgers. Shrimpers liked to tie-up next to Jack and go to his boat for a burger. He would mash the shrimp with the bottom of a coke bottle before making them into patties and cooking them. Jack’s wife Sally said, he loved what he did. He got up at 3 am to go to work. She said he described every day as usually beautiful and he never knew what he would bring up in the net. He called it a surprise package. Shrimpers, like Jack, enjoyed the freedom of working for themselves.

A key part of this freedom was having a boat, or shrimp trawler, as they are called. There is no set building pattern for a shrimp trawler. Jack’s Essie Green is a good example. One of his first boats was a war surplus hull the Coast Guard was getting rid of. She was a 26’ wooden boat with a mast and 1 net, no winch and his depth finder was a lead line (described in a sidebar). The hulls, the paint, the rigging and the wheelhouses are unique. Shrimp boats now have steel hulls and are 80-100’ with state-of-the-art electronic equipment and modern winches.

Jack’s favorite shrimp boat was the Royal Flush, a medium size boat. The boat was named when he got it. The story says the boat was won in a poker game, and that’s how it got the name. He said if he could build a brand new boat he would build it like the Royal Flush. Maybe that boat always felt lucky for him.

Jack Chaplin mending a net on the Essie Green – (Sally M. Chaplin)

Royal Flush – (Ed Samuels artist)

Blessing of the Fleet