William’s Wharf Oyster Company, as it exists today, was started in 2016 by Robin & Billy Hooper. However, it has its origins much further back in time. Oysters were loved by early American colonists as a readily available source of food, often being able to be collected 9 months out of the year, depending on locations. Virginia family gatherings in colonial times often centered around local apple cider and fresh oysters, eaten raw or roasted.
Started here on the shores of the East River of the Mobjack Bay, the William’s Wharf Oyster Company exists on the site previously occupied by various oyster houses over the last 200 years. Williams Wharf on the East River was an official Port of Entry to the United States for over 10,000 vessels in bygone days. William’s Wharf and Mobjack Bay were first referenced formally in US history in the record of the 3rd continental congress. It was at this time that the money for a formal point of entry for the US was set aside by Thomas Jefferson to be placed at the end of what would become known as William’s Wharf road. The building still stands today, and overlooks the original oyster lease for Mobjack Bay Oyster Company, now known as WIlliam’s Wharf Oyster Company. When harvesting our oysters at William’s Wharf, our deadrises move over the exact same waters as the sailing ships of the early 1800’s that brought trade goods and people back and forth to the US. In fact, oysters were often shipped right from William’s Wharf.
During the same time (1801) Jefferson set aside money to construct the New Point Comfort Lighthouse at the mouth of the Mobjack Bay. This lighthouse is still in the use, and is the 10th oldest in the US. Another of the harvest area for William’s Wharf Oyster Company is located just off the shore of this lighthouse. During the civil war, this was an area of great interests to both sides of the conflict. The Mobjack Bay was an area that blockade runners would attempt to reach during the early days of the war. The many coves and inlets made it impossible to be completely policed and batteries were installed in key areas so that the confederacy was able to repel advances from the Union troops along the bay.
At the mouth of the York River and Mobjack Bay, there was large confluences of troops and several battles during the Civil War. Troops on both sides often found sustenance in the oysters of the area, which were so plentiful they could be picked up from the shore at low tide, with beds often extending for hundreds of yards on the open bottom. The photo to the right is from 1862 at this junction in the bay. The land adjoining the William’s Wharf Oyster Company lease was originally deeded to the Williams family, in the early 1700’s. The son of Mr. Williams was himself a well respected sea captain, who built his home, Cedar Grove, on the point of land containing our original oyster lease. William’s Wharf would routinely see sailing ships in the 1700’s and later steam ships in the 1800-1900’s carrying goods and people to and from the Mobjack Bay area.
This is the Steamer Mobjack of the Old Dominion Line. In this photo she is seen taking on passengers and freight in Long Island, NY. Circa 1903. Cedar Grove still stands today, occupied by only the third family to live in it. The Eley family purchased the home in 1975 and immediately began to restore it to its original beauty, along with adding a few modern touches for convenience. Into the home, Robin Hooper came at the age of 10. Billy, as a young man, was a commercial fisherman, oystering on his own in the bay since the age of 12. He first visited Robin at Cedar Grove at the age of 15, and noted the 3 story piles of oyster shells at the end of road by her house. Robin and Billy live next door to Cedar Grove now, and have a portion of the oyster land for William’s Wharf Oyster Company attached to their home as well. The oyster hatchery and grow out zone is in the creek directly behind their home. Experts in marine biology have declared this area the “Best they have ever seen” for this activity.
The William’s Wharf Oyster Company was the original concept of Robin and Billy as way to do several things. After years of chasing the corporate ladder, and having a good climb working for companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and BOSCH, these two decided to come back home to Mathews and do something different. Oyster farming is playing a large part in the cleanup efforts of the Chesapeake Bay. Chesapeake is actually the Algonquin Indian word for shellfish. In pre-colonial times, oyster reefs and grounds in the Chesapeake were so large and plentiful that they were charted as navigational hazards for ships. Each oyster can filter about 60 gallons of water per day. It is estimated that when the Europeans first arrived in the bay to colonize the Americas at Jamestown, the entire bay could be filtered by oysters in 3.3 days. Today’s oyster population takes 325 days to do the same thing. By the 1880’s, approximately 50% of all the worlds oysters were supplied by the Chesapeake Bay. William’s Wharf Oyster Company wants to help with the clean up and restoration of our vital natural resource, and through its efforts help bring the oyster of the Chesapeake back to worldwide prominence in a way that is sustainable for generations to come.
William’s Wharf Oyster Company is committed to working with the environmental needs of the bay, as well to providing the best oysters you can get, anywhere, bar none. Our product is sorted for size and cup depth several times per month. Mechanical tumbling technology is used to uniformly maintain a new growth pattern that will yield the best cup depth, and richest oyster taste possible, while still allowing the oyster to grow uniquely. This ensures that anyone sampling our oysters will see uniformity in taste an general size, yet still yielding each product in a unique shape and color to be visually pleasing and as close to a “Wild” appearance as possible.