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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fifth generation waterman follows forefathers on the bay

Fifth generation waterman Tommy Lou Hallock stands beside his 42-foot boat called Grace, at Discovery Village

By E.B. FURGURSON III, Staff Writer
Published February 09, 2008
The only thing Tommy Lou Hallock ever wanted to do was work the water. After all, it is in his blood.
He is the fifth generation of Hallocks working as watermen out of Shady Side.
Mr. Hallock's great-great grandfather Joshua Thomas Hallock moved from Long Island to Shady Side after the Civil War at the behest of an old friend, Captain Salem Avery, whose home now houses the local historic society.

It was there at a winter luncheon of the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society that Mr. Hallock told tales of his life as a waterman. One of little more than a handful who ply local waters for a living anymore.

"I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a waterman," he told the packed room on Wednesday. "I just wanted to be out there fishing."

Mr. Hallock said he recalled being about 3 years old, hanging over the top of the rail on his father's boat.

But his father died too young, when Tommy Lou was in eighth-grade.

"They let me out of school. And I have been on the water ever since."

In the 30 years since, he said he has seen lamentable changes both out on the water and in his beloved Shady Side.

Early on he crabbed, oystered and fished. Now he just does the latter, pound netting mostly with some gill netting in winter. It's loads of rockfish, white perch, alewives, and other fish.

At about 4 a.m. Mr. Hallock is out, aboard his 42-foot boat, Grace, named from the Bible passage Ephesians 2:8 - "For by grace are ye saved through faith ... ."

He tends his pound nets, set with poles in the same spots on the bay that Hallocks have set nets for generations. With a crew of four in peak season from spring through summer, he will usually be done by 2 p.m.

"It's hard out there, you have to love it," Mr. Hallock said. Finding young help is a challenge he said. "They go out once and learn they don't want to do it."

When he was younger, just coming up, he was able to learn from the old timers. "I learned the old-school way. How to fish, navigate," he said. "But most of all they taught me how to work."

In Shady Side virtually everyone worked the water or farmed what had been know as the Great Swamp. A few had city jobs.

"Everybody knew everybody. Not like it is now," Mr. Hallock said. "It used to be you would hear a car coming down the road and you knew who it was by the sound. It was the same with boats coming in Parrish Creek. It's not like that now."

It was a relatively sleepy Huckleberry Finn sort of existence that has since changed into today's bedroom community with all the new folks moving in. "They move here from the city and then expect to have everything they had back there," Mr. Hallock said.

Mr. Hallock is a big history buff. Part of that might come from being able to trace his family roots back to Peter Hallock, born in 1585 in England, who moved to Long Island in the mid-1600s, settling in what is now called Hallock's Neck.

And he can rattle them off too. "Peter had a son William, who had a son Peter, then there was Peter II, who had a son William. William's son was Benjamin Franklin Hallock. His son was Thomas Jefferson Hallock. His son, Joshua Thomas Hallock, was the one who moved to Shady Side."

He would love to find correspondence between Joshua and his friend Capt. Salem Avery, who coaxed Hallock to move down to Shady Side, and to it's plentiful oysters.

"I can imagine him writing to Joshua Thomas telling him to come help him take all the oysters that were coming out of these waters."

A few generations kept after those oysters until they were depleted. Heavy harvesting, pollution then disease wreaked havoc on the prized mollusk.

Now, although he is able to catch plenty of fish, enough to eke out a living, he wonders if the Chesapeake Bay is beyond repair.

"We still are adding all that runoff, and sewage, and they continue to let them build, build, build, without the infrastructure to handle it," he said. "It's like they use a Band-Aid instead of fixing the problem."

Demographic changes, environmental degradation and other changes make it harder to connect to the life he and his recent relatives came to know as a way of living - not a lifestyle.

But he will never give it up because his life on the water helps keep him in touch with those roots.

"I get to see the sun rise about 300 days a year, and that is good," he said. "If you don't love it you can't do it. And I look forward to getting to work every day."

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