The Blacks of the Chesapeake Project (BOC) was founded by Vincent O Leggett in 1984. The BOC documented this historically close relationship between the bay and its surrounding land which has existed for centuries in Maryland. The Black watermen/farmer was an important partner to this lifestyle. Blacks were working the water during the oyster, clamming, crabbing and fishing seasons, and the farms during the summer. Crops, such as tobacco, being shipped via the bay enabled blacks to work as laborers, longshoremen, and seafood, vegetable and fruit packers throughout the Chesapeake region. These packing houses provided work opportunities for the entire family, including women and children. Innovative black men “sharecropped the bay”, where the riverbed was used as a farm, the men brought young shellfish and planted them by hand. The crop would then be harvested and sold at market. The men worked hand-tonging for oysters and served on Skipjacks as they dredged for oysters. Black watermen also served as captains and crew on other bay-built boats fishing, crabbing, clamming and harvesting oysters. In some cases, blacks piloted schooners and bugeyes up and down the bay hauling seafood, farm supplies, and produce to distance markets. During the steamship era blacks worked as stokers, firemen, stewards, and deck hands to support the bay activities. Some of the best oyster tongs in Maryland and Virginia were crafted along the bay settlements by African American blacksmiths who supplied many other tools for use on land and sea. To the surprise and fascination of many, blacks were sail makers, boat builders and owners of seafood processing plants.
On May 23, 2000, members of the Blacks of the Chesapeake were among those honored in Washington, D.C. at the Library of Congress’s Bicentennial Celebration. The Foundation submitted two books, Blacks of the Chesapeake: An Integral Part of Maritime History (1997) and The Chesapeake Bay Through Ebony Eyes. (1999) Congressman Wayne Gilchrest nominated the research, writings, and artifacts of the BOC’s work to become a permanent part of the American Folk Life Center for bringing to light the significant contributions of African Americans in the maritime and seafood related industries.
In 2003, Leggett was appointed and commissioned an honorary “Admiral of the Chesapeake Bay” by then Governor Parris N. Glendening. This is the highest honor a Maryland Governor can bestow on a private individual in the environmental arena.
The BOC represented the state of Maryland in 2004, at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, held annually on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The BOC was a featured presenter of the festival themed “Water Ways Mid Atlantic Communities.” In 2005, the BOC worked with the Maryland Public Television’s Education Division to create “Bayville” an interactive program targeted toward students and teachers addressing natural and cultural diversity along the Chesapeake Bay.