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Exhibit recalls LI clam canning pioneer

The Islip Art Museum hosts an exhibit in

The Islip Art Museum hosts an exhibit in East Islip about the .Entrepreneur J.H. Doxsee, who was a farmer with 500 acres on the south shore in Islip in the mid 1800s. Then, he became the first person to ever successfully can clams - and from there, his canning fame exploded. (May 9, 2012) Credit: John Roca

A common misconception is that Islip native James Harvey Doxsee invented canning, says Vicki Berger, president of the Historical Society of Islip Hamlet. He did not -- but he did concoct a process for canning clams, and a popular hangover cure.

After six months of research, Berger compiled the legacy of the famed 19th century farmer and entrepreneur, which has been put on display at the Islip Art Museum, through June 30.

"Everyone in the area knows the Doxsee name, and they associate it with Islip," said Berger, also a program assistant with the Islip Arts Council. "But very few actually knew the true root history of the Doxsees here, and why their industry became so important to the area."

Doxsee was born in Islip in 1825. As a farmer, he owned 500 acres on the Islip coast, where he and his family grew and canned tomatoes and corn.

When two failed clammers sold their operation to Doxsee in the 1860s, he got the idea to can clams, which had never been done successfully because the bacteria in the clams spoiled them and made the cans bulge.

"He spent countless amounts of time doing trial and error," Berger said. A year later, he created a method that allowed clams to be canned safely -- but he never filed a patent.

Canned clams exploded in popularity nationwide -- and Doxsee, a resourceful businessman, even found a way to profitably market its byproduct: clam juice.

According to the label on display at the museum, J.H. Doxsee & Sons Pure Clam Juice tasted great as a snack but would also cure hangovers, headaches, upset stomach and even morning sickness during pregnancy.

"They claimed you could feed it to babies and it would calm them," Berger said. "They were very boastful medicinal claims. Whether or not they were actually true, who knows?"

Clamming on Long Island dried up about the turn of the 20th century, and Doxsee sent one of his sons to open a cannery in North Carolina. The Islip factory, at the Maple Street Docks, closed in 1905.

But the Doxsees' presence in the Long Island seafood industry loomed large until last year -- Doxsee's great-grandson, Bob Doxsee, closed the generations-old seafood operation in Point Lookout.

That made the exhibit time sensitive, Berger said. "Bob Doxsee has just finally closed his seafood company, and the more time goes by, the more people forget and the details get lost."

Now 81, Bob Doxsee donated old photos and guided Berger through the family history for the exhibit. Along with several family members, he attended the reception at the art museum Wednesday evening.

"It was wonderful," he said, adding he was impressed by the effort to preserve his family's slice of Long Island history. "I'd just say it was an era of Americana -- something that's gone now. But it was something in its day."

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