Skip to main content

One winter day a few years back I drove out to St. Michaels, Md. to hear a presentation at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum by a panel of local folks whose families were involved in various old canneries that used to be so central to the economy in the mid-Shore region–and all around the Delmarva Peninsula. One of the presenters passed around a copy of this poem, written during the World War II years by a worker at the old Defender Cannery in Trappe, Md. That presenter said he didn’t know who wrote it.

But that mystery was solved four years after this post went up. In 2022 the Rural Life Museum in Trappe linked to this very post on Facebook and a community member named Cynthia Miles weighed in to solve the mystery. The author of the poem is on the left in the photo below. Her name is Ruth Miller Sullivan, and her descendants are still living in the area. (Here is where you can go to follow the Rural Life Museum’s page.)

Below is the poem. Be sure to keep scrolling past the end. I threw in a bunch of cool old cannery photos down there.

At the Canning House

Red tomatoes a-laying in the pan
Hurry there, my sisters, skin as many as you can
Encased in pasteboard boxes
And loaded on the van

Pick the good tomatoes
Pack them best you can
Soon they’ll be a-sailing
To your soldier-man

Shiny cans a-sliding down the shoot
When ’tis moon-time, sisters,
We’ll hear the whistle toot

Then we’ll go a-runnin’
To get our candy or our cake
Our sandwiches and soup
Hard-earned money it will take

Our F.D.R. has ordered
Many cases for the boys

Ruth Sullivan of Trappe, Maryland. She wrote Canning House Poem

Poet Ruth Sullivan at left, with Evelyn Ornett Carter

Soon Talbot-grown tomatoes
Will be among their joys

Lines of patient workers
Waiting in the sun
For their well-earned checks
When the week’s work’s done

When the summer’s over
With canning-house closed tight
Let’s have the satisfaction
Of all our work done right

–Posted by Jim Duffy on Sept. 21, 2018 and updated on Aug. 13, 2022 and updated again on Oct. 2, 2022

Tomato pails line up in a cannery in Federalsburg, Maryland

Tomato pails lined up in a cannery in Federalsburg, Maryland

 

Scene at the Phillips Packing Company in Cambridge, Md.

Scene at the Phillips Packing Company in Cambridge, Md.

 

Scene at the Phillips Packing Company in Cambridge, Maryland

Scene at the Phillips Packing Company in Cambridge, Maryland

 

Tomato Cannery in Hurlock, Maryland

Tomato Cannery in Hurlock, Maryland

Peeling Tomatoes in Federalsburg, Md.

Peeling Tomatoes in Federalsburg, Md.

6 Comments

  • Kathryn says:

    Do you know of a RICHARD E. DEAN canning Co. 1880-1920 And location? I have 3 tokens enclosed coin like protector stamped with red ink stating the name and dates. Also says 1 bucket tomatoes peeled: 1 token.the token itself stamped R.E.D. C.C. What is approximate worth.? I’m glad I found your website. It is interesting history if nothing else.

  • Tom Bassett says:

    Hello—– I have approx. 40 of these “tomato” tokens . Have you found any info. ?? Tom Bassett —- Lincoln NEBR.

  • Donald P Mariner says:

    Do you have any information on the cannery that was in Pocomoke City, Maryland?

  • Linda Elben-Adams says:

    Cynthia G. Miles: This is a poem written by Mrs. Ruth Sullivan . She and her husband Ed.lived at the corner of old Trappe rd. And whitemarsh rd. . She was from An Affuent family in N.j. and fell in love with the quiet mr. Ed Sullivan on a visit to the Eastern shore .. her poems and love of family and friends were often shared .. her Grandson is Ed. ROY Sullivan, and a fan of the Rural Life Museum . Many area folk worked at the cannery,Defender Packing Co. Year after summer year .

  • Linda Elben-Adams says:

    Via Edwin Roy Sullivan on the Rural Life Museum of Trappe, Inc. FB page: “thanks Cynthia. Well said. Both Nona & Mom worked in the canning houses .I believed Mom worked at the one on Lovers Lane.”

Leave a Reply