Waterman Dwight Marshall at his Tylerton crab shanty. Photo: Jay Fleming

Bay Mourns Longtime Smith Island Waterman Who Passed While Crabbing

Smith Island lost one of its finest watermen last week, when Dwight Marshall crossed the bar while crabbing in his skiff just south of his home village of Tylerton. He was 76 years old, doing what he had loved for all of his life.  His memorial service on Tuesday filled Tylerton’s Union United Methodist Church sanctuary, basement, and churchyard with family and friends from near and far.

“The turnout was testimony to the impact that man had on the community,” said Norah Carlos, a longtime Chesapeake Bay Foundation educator who managed CBF’s Smith Island Environmental Education Center for several years. “The service was a sad occasion, but a celebration of a life well lived. Dwight and [his wife] Mary Ada have been so important to many CBF educators. They welcomed us–and our students–into their home and their family.”  “His passing marks a turning of the tide for Smith Island,” remarked Kathleen Davis, another CBF educator.  

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Dwight Marshall graced the cover of photojournalist Jay Fleming’s new book, seen here.

Over his long career on the water, part-time while in school and full-time beginning with graduation from Crisfield High School, Dwight Marshall mastered the skills to harvest and market all of the seafood resources available in his home waters. Tom Horton, the noted environmental writer, gave the eulogy at the service. He and his family had lived next door to Dwight and Mary Ada for three years in the late 1980s while he was managing the CBF center.  In his book, An Island Out of Time, Horton noted how deeply attuned Marshall was to the ecosystem of the Chesapeake, especially Tangier Sound. Tom spoke about how adept Dwight was at the difficult challenge of capturing diamondback terrapins in winter, when they are semi-dormant, buried in creek-bottom mud. When harvesting terrapins was banned because of population decline, he offered that skill to assist terrapin scientific research.     

Dwight Marshall was known also for his expertise in boat handling.  His well-loved 35’ workboat, Miss Marshall, has been a fixture of the Smith Island and Crisfield waterfronts for fifty years, and his proficiency in handling her has been well documented. He won Crisfield’s first boat docking contest in 1971and kept winning for many years. He also served two terms as President of the Tangier Sound Waterman’s Association, which inducted him into its Waterman’s Hall of Fame.  He is the subject of the cover photo of photographer Jay Fleming’s upcoming book, Island Life.

Marshall served his community faithfully as an active member of his church, as a Lay Reader, and as its Camp Meeting Chairman. He was also a life member of the Tylerton Volunteer Fire Department. You can read his official obituary here.

Dwight Marshall was fortunate in his 56-year marriage to Mary Ada, herself a community leader best known for her role in making the seven-layer Smith Island Cake the Official State Dessert of Maryland.  Together with their family, they have embodied the best of the Smith Island community, as reflected in the Bay Journal film An Island Out of Time

-John Page Williams