Deborah Pratt’s parents first met while working in one of the many small oyster houses that dotted the Northern Neck coastline, and she has been shucking since 1976 when her sister Clementine Macon taught her.
- Four Time World Oyster Shucking Champion
- Jamaica, Virginia
For communities on Virginia’s Northern Neck, the oyster fishery was perhaps the largest and most influential industry from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Men and women employed by the industry worked a variety of jobs, from boat cook, captain, and crew to shore-based scow gangs and shuckers. Shucking, in particular, provided many employment opportunities for African Americans throughout the Chesapeake Region. Deborah Pratt’s parents first met while working in one of the many small oyster houses that dotted the Northern Neck coastline, and she has been shucking since 1976 when her sister Clementine Macon taught her. Though the oyster industry has experienced a dramatic decline since the mid-1990s, the art of shucking has continued as a highly competitive sport, where competitors race to shuck two dozen oysters. Deborah, who can shuck two dozen oysters in less than three minutes, began competing in 1985, and she quickly established herself as one of the top shuckers in the world. She has won the prestigious Virginia State Championships held each year in Urbanna, the National Oyster Shucking Championships in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, and has had impressive finishes in international competitions in Boston and Ireland. Deborah is known on the oyster shucking circuit for shucking a particularly “pretty oyster.” She says, “If you go into the oyster at 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9, you will always get in.” From there it’s just about how fast you get in, and how little damage you do to the fragile oyster within.
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