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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Catherine Via

Payne's Crab House (Closed)

In 1933, a massive flood on Tangier Island, which sits in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, sent Avery Payne and his family to Urbanna, a coastal town due east of Richmond. A crabber all his life, Avery spent his days out on the Rappahannock River. In the 1950s, Avery purchased J.W. Hurley & Son Seafood on Urbanna Creek and changed the name to Payne’s Crab House, where the family sold both hard- and soft-shell blue crabs. Growing up, Avery’s daughters, Catherine Via and Beatrice Taylor, spent their summers working alongside their father. In 1977, Payne died of a heart attack while working on the river. Together, Catherine and Beatrice kept the business going in order to keep their father’s memory alive. Each morning, Catherine rose early to tend to the crabs. Beatrice would take to the river, dropping and pulling peeler pots. Beatrice was the only woman in Virginia with a commercial crabbing license. The business became a centerpiece of the town, and the family was so respected that Beatrice later became Mayor of Urbanna. In 2012, Catherine and Beatrice retired and Payne’s Crab House closed. Today, three of Catherine’s four sons operate crabbing and oyster businesses nearby.

Date of interview:
March 8, 2013

Sara Wood

Sara Wood

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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