Janice Laird Marshall, a sixth-generation Smith Islander, was born in the community of Tylerton on Smith Island. Like all islanders of her day, Marshall boarded on the mainland to attend high school, and came home at age 15 to marry Bobby Marshall, a waterman who, like generations before him, harvested fish, crabs, and oysters from Tangier Sound and the Chesapeake Bay. As a waterman’s daughter, wife, and mother, she has spent much of her life sorting soft shells and picking hard crabs for their luxury meat to send to markets in Baltimore and New York and to feed her family and community.
Income derived from the crab picked by island women in their backyard “outhouses” from June to October has always been vital to the Smith Island family, inseparable from the men’s work of hauling in the daily catch. Island women, steeped in the Methodist Church and the social life of Ladies Aid and Fireman’s suppers and religious observances, have long assumed the mixed blessing of providing entertainment, whether it be choreographing Christmas pageants or writing and performing “little skits” which poke fun at themselves.
Marshall is deeply connected to the traditional lifeways of Smith Island, including crab picking and the famous Smith Island cake. She is an experienced demonstrator and speaker who can engage an audience while teaching them about a way of life that may be entirely unknown to them.