- Written by Joseph B. Barnes, Esq.
Cultivator of Oysters
William Merwin has the distinction of being one of the most successful businessmen of the 19th Century. He was one of the pioneers in the local oyster cultivation industry and an innovator who changed the industry.
Oystering began in 1751 Milford. Oystermen's huts dotted the shoreline especially along the sandy beaches west of the Harbor and along Gulf Beach. Housatonic Indians native to the area summered on Milford Point for the shellfish windfall. Many areas of shoreline along much of the Connecticut coast is often referred to a Peconic or Pequanic, roughly translated from the Algonquin language as "place of shells."
Oystering was so popular that in 1763 laws were passed to prevent oystering out of season. Though long popular, Milford shellfish was pretty much a gift of nature, not an industry. William M. Merwin sought to build the oystering industry by growing oysters in Milford’s Gulf Pond. Many had failed before him. Silt, especially in shallow waters, like the Gulf Pond, could choke the young shellfish. A severe storm in 1875
pushed sand into the oyster beds of the outer waters of the Gulf bay almost wholly
By trial an error and dedication “Through successive attempts in ever deepening water, he found oyster cultivation was most fruitful in depths of 20 to 50 feet.” He initially raised oysters on 200 acres off Pond Point in water from 20 to 60 feet deep, upon which they planted, on gravelly bottom, full grown oysters and shells.
Merwin was soon joined by his sons to found William M. Merwin and Sons. In 1888 William M. Merwin & Sons had a capacity of 950 Bushels of Oysters with their boat(s) captained by E.I. Ford (another descendant of Milford's early days). Over 10 years the company was yielding one million bushels of native oysters that saw a ready sale to home market and a large export trade to Liverpool, England. The Connecticut State Shellfish Commission in November 1891 listed William Merwin and his company as Owners of 1972 acres of Oyster grounds off the Milford shore.
William began his career in the coastal trade then moved onto garden seed cultivation before turning his lights to the Oyster industry. He succeeded with, what his contemporaries described, his excellent habits of living and business and indefatigable energy, worthy ambition and ceaseless labor to overcome difficulties that would have discouraged a less sanguine person.
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