“If anyone wants to understand what it is about this nearly vanished lifestyle that has created such a fiercely dedicated following, here it is, explained in a way that makes you feel the sun, the lap of the water, the cries of the shorebirds or the smell of freshly cut cedar...But readers don't have to be fans of pinelands and bay culture to enjoy Ridgway’s almost musical text.”

— The Beach Haven Times

222 pages, 23 chapters,
38 photographs, index.

Hardcover $26.95
ISBN 978-159322-62-5

ISBN 1-59322-019-7

Winner of the 2001 N.J. Studies Academic Alliance Author's Awards. “An outstanding depiction of life along the Jersey Shore.”

The Bayman

A Life on Barnegat Bay

By Merce Ridgway

“...an accurate, colorful account of the waterman's trade...a clear view of life in the pines and on the bay before the population boom started.”

— Asbury Park Press

For hardcover, please allow additional time for delivery. Also available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.


The Bayman is an insider’s chronicle of a culture that has all but disappeared...a native son who traces his family’s roots in New Jersey to the 17th century, and whose great-grandfather was first keeper of records of the Barnegat Life Saving Station, shares an account of his own, recalling the life and lifestyle of one who abided on renowned Barnegat Bay. It is a story that celebrates the bay, the Jersey Shore, and the Pine Barrens in a more genuine and deeply felt creed than any of the region’s contemporary protectors can evoke.

The baymen and Pine Barrens natives of southern New Jersey’s shore are rapidly becoming a cultural artifact. Many of the rural traditions are already lost or threatened by suburban sprawl and development. But in a few locales, and in family histories, they live on.

Merce Ridgway, bayman, musician, and store house of folklore and philosophy, opens our eyes to a beautiful, simple way of life barely imaginable to most Americans at the dawn of the new millennium. The Bayman shares with all who will listen a lifetime of wisdom, values, generosity, and truth — all of it bounty from the bay.

Nowhere else has the bayman’s life been so accurately detailed, and no other account of a waterman’s trade includes such scope of folklore and family. Merce’s story is a scrapbook of pinelands lore and philosophy as much as it is a diary of a bayman’s view. As Merce leads us through the steps of building a garvey, the traditional Barnegat Bay work boat, he starts at the beginning—hearing the sound of a bear growling beyond the sawmill. In his quest that we come to know and love Barnegat Bay, The Bayman shares secrets that we could learn only from a lifetime of sitting on the docks, hoping to talk at the end of the day with these men whose experience runs deep. We learn by getting closer, by tracing the life of the scallop, by weathering a whipping nor’easter. We come to understand the fellow baymen’s unwritten “code of the bay.”

As you find yourself in the Pinelands’ woods with young Merce, you’ll smell the cedar chips as they fly freshly cut from his father's axe. You’ll hear his father, a folk musician celebrated by the Smithsonian Institution, warbling through a radio that is powered by a car battery. You’ll want to pull up a chair and join in as the Pinelands Cultural Society is born of Saturday night sing-a-longs.

The author laments not just the loss of an authentic American folk culture, but the decline of the environment and natural resources the culture survived on. His experiences divulge some reasons for that. When a living came from the bay one clam at a time, or from each pull of 16-foot oyster tongs, baymen knew the water intimately and recognized when outside forces were doing wrong.

At times witty, at times candid without nonsense, The Bayman presents a unique view. Whether or not Merce ever found his elusive treasure in the bay, he left us with one in this book that will be recognized for years to come.

excerpts | review 1 | review 2 |


A Young Boy of the Pines
Bayman Beginnings
The Boat
Baymen I have Known
Family Ties and Times
The Dark Side
The Hard clam
The Crab
The Scallop
Other Shellfish and Marine Life
The Meadows
Boat Design: Evolution of the Garvey
Dad Builds a Garvey
Ice on the Bay
Clam Transplant Programs
The Code of the Bay
Politics and the Shellfish Council
Treasures from the Bay
Philosophy of the Bayman
The Bayman’s Wife
Recipes from a Bayman’s Kitchen
The Music

Merce and the Pinehawkers at the new Albert Hall.

Right: A days catch in the clam rail of a garvey.

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