Interview with William "Ben" Richardson, 2014 October 25

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Interview with William "Ben" Richardson, 2014 October 25
Richardson, William Benjamin ( Interviewee )
Thelusma, Jennifer ( Interviewer )
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Oral history interview


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Tidewater Main Street Development Project
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Virginia -- Mathews


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To access audio version of this interview, click the Downloads tab at the top of the page.

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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
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TMP 070A William Benjamin Richardson 10-25-2014 ( SPOHP )


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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz Office Manager : Tamarra Jenkins 241 Pugh Hall Digital Humanities Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 35 2 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness acc ounts of economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists, and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, S POHP recommends that researchers refer to both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Suggested corrections to transcripts will be reviewed and processed on a case by case basis. Oral history int erview t ranscripts available on the UF Digital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript i s written with careful attention to reflect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and form at I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information abo ut SPOHP, visit or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. May 2015


TMP 070 Interviewee: William Benjamin Richardson Interviewer: Jennifer The lusma Date: October 25, 2014 T: Good morning. My name is Jennifer Thelusma. T oday is Octob here with Mr. R: Ben Richardson. T: Ben Richardson, and where and when were you born? R: I was born in Hampton, Virginia, September 28 1960. T: Okay, and have you lived in Hampton all your life? R: Well, I was ju st born there but I lived in Ma thews all of my life. T: Okay. R: Which is, that was where one of the big hospita ls was back in the earlier days. T : M m hm. S o tell me a little bit about your parents. T ell me a about your childhood growing up, wha t your parents did for a living. R: Well had a v ery good childhood growing up. W e had a neighborhood full of kids, probably abo ut a dozen of us in the neighb orhood, and my father was a captain of a tugboat and a docking pilot. W hen the ships would come in he would board nd that kind of sparked me for my interest wanting to go on the sea, which I did when I got out of school. A


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 2 life. So I did that for like twenty years a m more or less a sta rving artist. T: [Laughter] So tell me a little R: And my mother. T: R: She was a homemaker. I have a brother and sister, both older and so she pretty much she catered parties to make extra money to help suppleme nt and she was s what she did to help supplement income. T: Did you ever as child help either your father or your mother with their occup ations? R: Well mother but I observed her in the kitchen a lot. A nd I went on the tugs a couple times with my father when I was young just to kind of see what was going on. But people in Mat hews it was one of the careers that you choose to do. I of employment here in Mathews S o, during the early days a lot of the b oys, they got on the tugboat or a ship and that is what they did. T: Tell me a little bit about, I see that you are st ill working on your duck head. C an you talk to me again about the process of carving? R: Well, you just remove everything that do carving [Laughter] but you gotta have it in your mind. I just like I can look in the wood


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 3 and kinda see the shapes on what I want to get. Just, you have to have a feel fo r it. Y ou can feel your pieces kind of coming to shape also. T: Okay. C an you tell me more about when you f irst started working on the tug boat just like what your tasks were? R: Well you start out basic with you know the cleaning of the boat and the paint ing of the boat and standing a watc always supposed to have two eyes in the wheelhouse to keep an eye on things. T hen you learn that trade and they show you what they do. So, T: Okay, you did mentio n in our previous conversation that your family has lived in Mathews since 1760, I believe R: Yeah, yeah. And we are direct descendants of Sir George Yardley, who was the first Governor of Virginia, so our history goes way back I have a copy of my tree T: R: One of my ancestors, a couple of my ancestors were very good into genealogy very lucky that I know my background cause that was one of their things that they like d to do. I have both sides of my family tree tr aced back to the earlier days on my side, too. So both of them. On my father side I was related to John Smith, back in local history.


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 4 T: Okay. H ow has your family kind of built thei r lives here in Mat hews since they ha ve settled down a nd established? I know you said you had an ancestor who was a governor, but what were their crafts? R: Well ruggist and built tore on the co af. But th at they were mostly merchants. M y father ended up running the service station and sold appliances and propane to the home s around. Not a fancy lifestyle, bu s what he enjoyed and liked to do. T: C an you t alk to me more about your childhood, maybe your education as a child, where you went to school, your family traditions, holidays ? R: Well my brother went to college and my sister went to college and like I said I wanted to T: Well even before then. R: Before then? Well we had just a whole neighborhood of kids that j ust liked to play outdoors. W e were always getting into some kind, a little bit of trouble nothing major you know. Christmase s everybody used to get together and just a lot of people, good food, relaxation, and just a simple life. We used to get a lot more snow back in the days when I was younger. We always loved to get out and play on it. W


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 5 things up and down a road. Always had a li ttle boat ve been on the water my whole life. W hen I was a certain age I could take the boat out by myself and so. T: How old was that? R: When I was like thirteen. T: Oh wow R: I had different points where I could go that far out into the river. I could only go in the creek when I was a certain age, and then when I got a little older I could go a little further down the river. T: ve been on the water all your life. R: Yep, born and raised on water. We lived on a little cr eek there, so had water right at the back door. T: What was the most I know Halloween is coming up so I am a little bit biased, but was the most fun holiday, or your most cherished holiday tradition? R: Well, hard to say I just like to eat food s and we never really had much except for around the holidays. T you know? I used to like to hunt and being in the woods and I like being out doors and that type of thing, always been exploring and like d to go to the beach and look for thi ngs. Aro und here we have a lot of arrow heads and Native American stuff. T: How did you acquire those arrowheads?


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 6 R: Well I found a lot and a lot of these are a friend of mine had found. H is health got bad and so he knew I had this shop up here and he wa nted to kinda keep i t local so I ended up purchasing most of them. T: Good morning. R: Yep. Excuse me one second. S ometimes my cousin gets my mail, they deliver it to his house instead of mine. S ee that is my first cousin. T: R: Tri mum, Trimmy we always call him, Clark is his real name. But his nick name is Trimmy. T: name came. R: one that had the drug store. T: Okay. R: And this was ou the drugstore. So this was my grandfather s. T: What year did the drugstore open? R: It was probably around the 1920s. Before he built this one he had one down in Port Haywood which is down the county he re a little ways and the n he moved up closer into town. A nd it was one of the first brick buildings that was built in the


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 7 Courthouse, but this was his drug store down at Port Haywood which is a couple of miles down the road. T: May I take a picture of this? R: You can, yep. T: So you were talking about how the arrowheads were acquired from you r friend before he got ill. R: Yeah. T: D id you, or did you and your friends have very many encounters with the Native Americans or was it just you found them? R: Well, yeah they were all dead and gone. T hey do have a couple reservations around. But i people s kinda to do on Sunday afternoon: go to the beach and walk around, and always like to loo k f or driftwood and things myself. B ut he was do ing it almost as a profession. H e just really loved it and they would go out during the wintertime and all the time. A nd after storms the new erosion and earth is turned up on the beach s when they wou ld like to go s new territory. T: And they are very beautiful, very intricate. R: Oh there are some wonderful pie ces in there, there really is. S ome o f them are very prehistoric. T unplu gged there.


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 8 T: Oh it can. R: He was scalloping and while he was scalloping off the Atlantic Ocean he found this piece. T hat is a petrified snake s head so that shows that the Atlantic Ocean was dry back earlier prob ably before the Big Bang T heory or wha tever and it was actually s an amazing piece. T: Wow, I cannot stop looking at it. R: Some people if they have a guest or family and he had been thinking about them he would give the one a lot just cause, just to show that he was thinking ab out the family and everything. T hey are r eally treasured pieces. Fortunate ly, you were very lucky to have them. T: Now what abou t these down here? These figure heads? R: usband was in the service and they were stationed over in Turkey. T came from actually T his is an oil lamp. T: And you can actually . R: They would p ut oil in it and it had a wick. S o this was an old fashioned flash light to the Turks T would use B ut they carved them very ornamental and they are very old. T: Can you talk to me a little bit abou t maybe your relationship with or talk to me ve been here all of


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 9 your life and your family is here, mayb e kind of community traditions oh sorry thank you. R: l right. T: Maybe, because it seems like you have a very good relationship with a lot of the people who live here. I imagine you guy s are all very close. R: W ell it is a pretty tight knit little community and the community, a lot of the older people are dying off so not as much as it used to be. T he town populatio n has never changed a whole lot. I always been about, around n ine thousand people over a few years it ll go up a little bit because there is no employment here. B ut just everybody used to know everybody in town which now not the case. B ut things change and storefronts are like a lot of other places: a lot of the small towns are hurting because bigger cities are growing and you have more malls an d things. A nd so the little small towns . T: Kinda s uffer? R: They kind of suffer. Mathews Coun ty is a dead two roads in but it go anywhere. Y ou have to go off the beaten path to get to Mathews It just not a thoroughfare spot always going to stay small. T: Okay. W hat do you think since your childhood here to know have been kind of either for better or for worse?


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 10 R: Well I would say, when I was younger in the [19]70s Mathews was a lot more booming than what it is now. Part of the reason the watermen ind ustry was still as prevalent as it used to be. A lot of the storms have damaged a lot of the waterfront and the fish docks. T he been a dying off tradition. Mathews the county I mean the seafood industry was a big moneymaker and still is. Farming used to be bigger, too, a lot of farms. So it was pretty much the people around here mad e their living off of the land. T: Mm hm. And no w more people are R: A nd now more people are sitting in front of their office desks and on computers and that type of thing. T: How do you feel about that? R: And man has made literally putting his own self out of work by modernization and techniques I t and so good and bad. T: Yeah : that this is one the cities that lot of people made their living off the water and off the land re finding that a lot of t heir crafts and a lot of their skills not many people have them or are not being passed down to their children. R: Right.


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 11 T: Is that something that . would you say that you maybe acquired some of those crafts or learned a lot, ily seeing it? R: Well, we have an educational art school down the road and they are trying to maintain some of the traditions and things. But, myself, I like for peo ple to watch hard for me to watch people fight a piece of wood. A good carver makes it look easy. A nd dangerous; you can slip and cut yourself. And watching people do that, taking the chance of getting hurt its really kind of nerve wracking for me. T eaching it is I have taught a few people, not really interested in it, l ike the girl who doe s the wood spirits and things. W hen she first started carving she came to me and I gave her a little bit of advice and everything. I nt her to just learn my style, but she liked doing the faces and that so she has done her own thing. just basically, give them some information, on books, where you can get a good knife. I have magazines from carving supplie rs and just things to look at. S o, peop T hey wanna jump right and do somethi ng before they know what they are doing seem like they want to listen. T hey still want to do it their w ay and until you know what re doing you need to kind of listen to what people have to say. T: So what would you say is the most important lesson that you would give, maybe my generation or generations that come after me in terms of work? R: Well, you have to obs re doing and from that ask your questions, and do ut you have to look


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 12 sometimes and observe a litt le bit before you do your hands way apprenticeships used to be. You used to work for a cabinet maker, you swept floors and cleaned the shop for like five years before they ever let you really get doing t hings. T hey wanted you just to be there and observe and maybe help sharpen the tools and things. Y ou have a little bit of a training process that you went through almost like going to school. T: Mm hm. on me. R: Okay. T: R: No, those actually came from Highland T: And this one though? R: of cork. T: Wow, yeah R: A lot of decoys back in the day were made out of cork. I t was a good floating material T: Okay, so what R: If you notice this piece here, you see how the bird is interpretive and is catching the fish?


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 13 T: M m hm. R: But when I was doing this piece I focused on using the natural knot for the eye. T: Oh yeah. R: So I mean if you look, the piece is actually looking back at you, even the fish has an eye. T: M m hm. R: And if you look on this side s eve n an eye on that side. T: Wow. R: So not many people pick out where branches come out to make their eyes just out of the s kind of where I have a good gift to be able to do. T: R: Hey how you doing? If you have one of my special g ve never seen any other carver do. T: Yeah, I have not really noticed that. R: just using the natural knots for expression. T: And this is? R: I used copper for the cr own.


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 14 T: what is this? R: This is going to be a duck decoy. T: I was g s going to be something. R: separately I got it to this Sometimes you get going, you do two or three pieces at a time, you get a little bored with one, you pick up another one, and you g o on, keep a few t hings going. B finishing anything. T: Oh yeah. R: Some people never. kind of a fine line. T: Sorry. Was there anything else that you wanted to talk about? R: really think of much else. Would you like to see my family tree? Have you ever seen one? T: [Laughter] R: Okay, show you some of the history. [inaudible 20:45] T: What are so me of the different processes for using the cork as opposed to the wood? R: just another medium to work with.


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 15 T: And how does it . R: The cork is actually used you can shape that with like a rasp, a very rough file lot of people do to shape cork. A nd a lot of people prefer it because it is easier e joined the Jamestown Society a great many years ago. A nd in order to be a member of the Jamestown Society you have to prove your lineage to James town, and this is the lineage that he did from and it goes back all the way to, see, 1615. T: Oh wow. So then we have William Richardson Sr. R: There was a child of Robert Richardson born 1615 in England, died in So merset Maryland, and a lot of rate down here from Maryland; Anne Arundel County wa s part of it. But, and which is laid out the way your own tree would be. T: Oh. R: Yep, yep, and it goes all the way back to Engla nd. Sir George Yardley arrived in Jamestown on the ship Deliverance in 1609. Jamestown was settled in 1607. T: W ow. R: So he was T: From the beginning. R: Yeah.


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 16 T: read this. R: Yep, yep. T: And you mentioned that one of your ancestors was governor? Where i s when R: He was, he was, I think it was the House of Burgesses was the first legislative branch in Virginia and he was elected governor of that branch, by I guess the King of England, and then when t hey declared their independence . T: I think I might lay it flat. This is so cool. I feel like, it that something how do you feel like the tradition s of your family, cause you said this is all because your brother wanted to join the James town Society that you found this out or was it something that your parents kind of talked to you about when you were younger? R: Well, no T hey never really taught, told us much about the history until care abo ut it much when we were younger. T h en after a while you want to know liked real estate and things and that was the market he wanted to be in. M y sister she ended up she has four children, and her husband is a baby doct or and she studied psychology. T hat was the field she went in My brother still lives here; m y sister lives in Richmond. T: Do you have any children yourself? R: T: No?


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 17 R: be a hard person to live with. [Laughter] A nd going to sea was not a good life for married people a lot. three weeks then gone three weeks and raising children was something I jus o I may regret it but I hav e nieces and nephews who I pass things on down to. T: And you said you were going to sea for about twenty years before you became a starving artist? [Laughter] R: Yep, right, yep. I have travelled from the Bay of Fundy, Canada on dow n to Guatemala on boats on tug boats, pulling gasoline and crude oil barges. T: Okay, well. R: So pretty high risk industry in the petroleum. T: Did you have anything else that you wanted to talk about? One last thing that you wanted to say? R: Well, no a ll stopped by Mathews cause Mathews is one of the only counties to ever have a naval warship named after it because Mathews has been known for sea people going to sea J ust, you used to say you could in any port in the world and find somebody from Mathew s compliment. I T: Well thank y ou so much for talking with us.


TMP 070; Richardson; Page 18 [En d of interview] Transcribed by: Kathryn Gresham April 15, 2015 Audit edited by: Jessica Taylor, April 19, 2015 Final edit ed by: Jessica Taylor