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The Bounty of the Sea

New England's Shellfish

CLAMS (Soft shell, Surf, Mussels)

Mya arenaria

Spisula solidissima

Mytilus edulis

Size: Up to 6"; up to 7"; up to 3"

Habitat: Intertidally, gravelly muds; shallow water: intertidal

Diet: Filter feeder

Method of Capture:Hand collecting at low tide

Seasonality:Year round

Uses:Food, fresh or smoke dried


Weymouth 1605

149: saw mussels, cockles

Pring 1606

60: June- August saw mussels

Edward Winslow 1621-1625

164: December 18, Plymouth harbor, innumerable store of mussels

211: July 6, Back to plymouth, stopped at a town close to Massasoit's and had fish and dried shellfish as big as oysters,

208: July 4, women with dried shellfish

233: Fresh cod in summer, lobster all summer, September, hogsheads of eels in Winter they can be dug out of their beds, mussels and other shellfish

294: June 1622, shellfish substained many in May and June before the crops come up.

306: January 1623, Manomet with oysters, mussels, clams, quahog, razor clams,

329: March 1623, ate clams, mussels

John Pory 1622

09: Mussels and clams they have all the year long; which being the meanest of God's blessings here, and such as these people fat their hogs with at a low water, if ours upon any extremity did enjoy in the South Colony, they would never complain of famine or want, although they wanted bread. (Not but that, by God's blessing, the South Colony using their industry may in few years attain to that plenty, pleasure and strength as that they shall not need much to envy or fear the proudest nations

in Europe).

Emmanuel Altham 1623

25: clams present in Plymouth

William Wood 1634

44: racoons feed on clams at sea shore (as the Indian women do) therefore of all the English cattle, the swine are the most hatefull to all natives, and they call them

filthy cut throats.

56: clamps or clams not much unlike a cockle, great plenty

56: Mussels in great plenty, are left for the hogs, would be esteemed of the poorer sort in England

Thomas Morton 1637

90: Mussels- infinite store at Wessaguscus, so fat and large.

90: Clams- seen sold in England 12p the skore. These our swine feed upon. Every shore

is full of them, the savages are much taken with delight of them.

91: Razor clams- there are

91: Freeles, cockles, scallops- there are, very good food.

Roger Williams 1643

182: Sickissuog Clams

This is a sweet kind of shellfish, which all Indians generally over the country, winter and summer delight in; and at low water the women dig for them: this fish, and the natural liquor of it, they boil, and it makes their broth and their Nasaump (which

is a kind of thickened broth) and their bread seasonable and savory instead of salt: and for that the English swine dig and root these clams at low water wheresoever they come, and watch the low water

John Josselyn 1674

79: Mussels of two sorts sea and river, the sea mussel dried and pulverized and laid upon sores of the piles and hemorroids with oil will perfectly cure them

100: Their fishing follows spring, summer and fall of the leaf. First for lobsters, clams, flouke, lumps or plaise, and alewives, afterwards for bass, cod, rock, bluefish, salmon, lampreys and such.

Natick Dictionary

10: *anna a shell, shellfish

149: sickissuog from sohkissu he spits or squirts the clam

192: wokkogke a shell

Archaeological Sites

Too numerous to mention


Homarus americanus

Cancer irroratus

Size:5 1/4" wide: 34"

Habitat:on rock, sand or gravel bottoms in estuiaries and open water to 2600': on rock bottoms near shore to continental shelf

Diet:fish, rotting animal matter

Method of Capture:spear or by hand

Seasonality:year round but especially in spring around May (Josselyn's lobster Time)

Uses:Food, bait, Lobster claws used for tobacco pipes


Gosnold 1602

48: saw lobsters, crabs

Pring 1603

60: June- August saw crabs, lobsters

Weymoth 1605

110: May, St. George Island Maine, caught with a 20 fathom net caught lobster

124: tobacco pipes of the short claw of Lobster.

127: men took lobsters, very great which we had not before tried

149: saw lobster, crabs

Hudson 1609

183: caught 59 lobsters

John Smith 1614

242: Cape Cod, saw crabs, lobsters

Edward Winslow 1621-1625 1620-22

164: December 18, Plymouth harbor, innumerable store of crabs, lobsters.

233: Fresh cod in summer, lobster all summer

John Pory 1622

09: in the same bay, lobsters are in season during the four months-so large, so full of meat and so plentiful in number as no man will believe that hath not seen. For a knife

of three halfpence, I bought 10 lobsters that would well have dined forty laboring

men. And the least boy in the ship, wiith an hour's labour, was able to feed the whole company with them for two days, which if those on the ship that come

home do not affirm upon their oaths, let me forever lose my credit!

Emmanuel Altham 1623

25: ....and lobsters such infinite that when we have them the very multitude of them cloys us.

William Wood 1634 1634

56: great store of salt water eels, especially in such places where the grass grows, taken in eel pots made of osiers, baited with a piece of lobster, take a bushel in a night

au soh aunouchoc he goes from his cover (he sheds his skin)

Thomas Morton 1637 1637

90: Lobsters- infinite store of them in all parts and very excellant. use them for bait to

catch bass. Savages will meet 500 to 1000 at a place where they come in with the

tide to eat and have dried a store, abiding in the place for 4-6 weeks feasting and

sporting together.

112: all ones the best, plenty makes them little esteemed and not much eated. Indians get many of them in a day to bait their hooks, and to eat when they get no bass.

113: another job of the women is to get lobsters, men use it for bait for bass and cod. This is an everydays walk be the weather hot, cold, rough or calm water. They must

dive over head and ears sometimes for lobster. They trudge home 2-3 miles with

100 pounds of lobster. Husband catch fish and bring it to shore for the wife to


114: In summer when lobster is plenty they take it and dry it for winter, erecting scaffolds in the sun, making fires likewise underneath

Roger Williams 1643

Ashaunt/ Ashaunteaug Lobsters (The one who sheds his cover)

John Josselyn 1674

79: I have seen some that weigh 20 pounds. The Indians feed much upon this fish, some they roast, some they dry as they do lampreys and oysters which are a delicate breakfast meat so ordered,

93: Their diet is ....lobsters roasted or dried in the smoke....

100: Their fishing follows spring, summer and fall of the leaf. First for lobsters, clams, flouke, lumps or plaise, and alewives, afterwards for bass, cod, rock, bluefish, salmon, lampreys and such.

The lobsters they take in the large bays when it is low water, the wind still, going out in their birchen-canoes with a staff two or three yards long, made small and sharpened at one end, and nicked with deep nicks to take hold. When they spye the Lobster crawling upon the sand in two fathom of wate, more or less, they stick him towards the head and bring him up. I have known thrirty lobsters taken by an Indian lad in an hour and a half.....

Archaeological Sites

None discovered so far


Lunatia heros

Busycon carica (Knobbed whelk)

Busycon canaliculatum (Channeled whelk

Size:1 1/2-5"; 4-9"

Habitat:in sand intertidally to water 1200' deep in the southern part of its range; on sand

in shallow water 6-12', (Channelled) intertidally to just below low tide level

Diet:clams; scavengers, mollusks

Method of Capture:dig for or collect at low tide

Seasonality:year round

Uses:food, whelk used for wampumpeag


Roger Williams 1643

Meteauhock the periwinckle (whelk)

Of which they make their Wampum or white money of half the value of their


John Josselyn 1674

79: the whore (moon snail) is a shell fish, the shells are called whores eggs, being fine round white shells in shape like a mexico pompion, but not bigger than a good

large hens egg, they are wrought down the sides with little knobs and holes very prettilly, but are but thin and brittle

Natick Dictionary

56: meteauhock whelk from mehtauog an ear or ear shaped shell


Crassostrea virginica


Habitat:on hard or soft bottom in water 10-40', usually in areas of low salinity


Method of Capture:collecting with hands from oyster banks

Seasonality:year round

Uses:food fresh or smoke dried


Weymouth 1605

149: saw oysters.

John Smith 1614

242: Cape Cod, saw oysters

Edward Winslow 1621-1625

208: July 4, women with dried shellfish, ate oysters and other fish.

233: no oysters around Plymouth, have to buy them from the natives when they will sell.

306: January 1623, manomet with oysters, mussels, clams, quahog, razor clams,

329: March 1623, ate clams, mussels, oysters

John Pory 1622

09: Oysters, there are none, but at Massachusetts, some 20 miles to the north of this place, there are such huge ones, by savages report, as I am loth to report. For ordinary ones, of which there may be many, they make to as broad as a bushel, but one among the rest they compared to the great cabin of the Discovery, and being sober and well-advised persons, grew very angry when they were laughed at or not believed! I would have had Captain Jones to have tried out the truth of this report. And what was the reason? If, said I, the oysters be so great and have any pearls in them, then must the pearls be answerable in greatness to the oysters, and proving round and orient also, would far exceed all other jewels in the world!

Emmanuel Altham 1623

25: oysters present in New England

William Wood 1634

56: great oysters up to a foot long

Thomas Morton 1637

90: Oysters- great store in the entrance of all rivers have seen an oyster bank 1 mile in length.

John Josselyn 1674

79: some they dry as they do lampreys and oysters which are a delicate breakfast meat so ordered, the oysters are long shelled, I have found some 9" from joint to toe, containing an oyster that had to be cut in 3 pieces to fit in the mouth, sweet and fat

Natick Dictionary

14: *apwonnah oyster (apwou roasted (a)nna the shellfish that shellfish is roasted)

25: *chunkoo oyster

110: opponenauhock plural, oysters from apwonat to roast M

Archaeological Sites


Mercenaria mercenaria

Size:2 3/4-4 1'4"

Habitat:in sand and mud in bays or inlets to 50' deep


Method of Capture:Digging out of mud, diving for

Seasonality:Year round

Uses:Food, purple part of shell used for making sukahoc, medicine


Edward Winslow 1621-1625

306- January 1623, manomet with oysters, mussels, clams, quahog, razor clams,

Josselyn, Rarieties

36: coccle- indians make wampumpeake and mohaiches white beads very good to staunch blood.

Roger Williams 1643

182: Sequnnock, Poquauhock Horse fish

This the English call hens, a little thick shell fish which the Indians wade deep and

dive for, and after they have eaten the meat there (in those which are good) they

break out the shell, about half an inch of the black part of it, of which they make

their Suckauhock, or black money, which is to them pretious.

Natick Dictionary

131: poquauhock from pohkeni in the sense of closed kuppogki thick, hogki shell


Salmo salar

Size:to 4 1/2'

Habitat:usually survives after spawning to return to sea


Method of Capture:Spear, net

Seasonality:Spring in fresh water, rest of the year in salt water



Emmanuel Altham 1623

25: Great abundance of salmon

Thomas Morton 1637

88: Salmons- there is great abundance.

John Josselyn 1674

78: The salmon likewise is a sea fish , but as the bass e come into rivers to spawn. a

salmon the first year is a salmon smelt; the second a mort; the third a spraid; the

fourth a soar; the fifth a sorrel; the sixth a forket tail; and the seventh year a

salmon. There are another sort of salmon frequent in those parts called white


100: Their fishing follows spring, summer and fall of the leaf. First for lobsters, slams, flouke, lumps or plaise, and alewives, afterwards for bass, cod, rock, bluefish, salmon, lampreys and such.

119: Alewives common on Merrimac river in Concord, along with Salmon

140: salmon and lamprey taken at Saco river falls

Natick Dictionary

59: mishquammag (mishquammaguock) salmon red fish mishqui-amaug

Roger Williams 1643

180: Mishquammauquock Red fish, salmon (Red caught on line fish)

Archaeological Sites

Kidder Point Site, Penobscot Bay, Maine (Speiss and Heddon 1983)

Linquist Site, Sebago Lake, Maine (Yesner et al 1983:29)


Argopectans irradians

Size:to 4"

Habitat: On muddy sand in eelgrass; in water 1-60'

Diet: Filter feeder

Method of Capture: Net or by hand

Seasonality: Year round



Archaeological Sites

Simmons Shell heap, Eel River