Tommy Ward

Location of Interview
Collection Name

Florida's Forgotten Coast


Florida's Forgotten Coast oral history collection includes twenty-one interviews documenting the seafood industry in Franklin County, FL, with an emphasis on Apalachicola, plus two interviews relating to tupelo honey. Original Collection Housed at Archives & Special Collections at the University of Mississippi and online at

Date of Interview

Shelley Chance

Principal Investigator
Biographical Sketch

Born in 1961, Tommy Ward grew up with an appreciation for the place he still calls home. His parents, Buddy and Martha Pearl Ward, raised Tommy in the business out at their seafood house, 13 Mile. The remote location, thirteen miles west of Apalachicola, gave Tommy a hands-on education in his natural surroundings and life on the bay. As a teenager, Tommy left home and spent some time away at college. He also paid his dues working at some other seafood houses in Apalachicola. Eventually, he returned to the family business. But 13 Mile is not just his business. It's his heritage. Hurricane Dennis practically destroyed the place in 2005, but with the help of his friends and family, he rebuilt. Today, the freshly painted building that stands along the water's edge is a monument of sorts. It's a monument to a place, its past, and to a man. Buddy Ward passed away in April of 2006.

Scope and Content Note
In this interview conducted by Amy Evans on December 2, 2005, Tommy Ward, the owner of 13 Mile Oyster Company, discusses various topics related to oyster farming and the local environment. Tommy talks about the history of St. Vincent's Island and the presence of Indian artifacts in the area. Tommy explains the process of oyster cultivation, including the use of shells for seeding and the advantages of using a cultivator over traditional tonging methods. He also mentions the acquisition and management of oyster leases and the productivity of his beds. The interview touches on the factors influencing oyster growth and quality, such as water flow, nutrient availability, wind-driven bay, salinity, freshwater, and temperature. Tommy expresses concerns about development and its potential negative effects on the seafood industry and the environment. The interview delves into Tommy's personal life, including his family's involvement in the seafood business. He talks about his father's health issues and their partnership in the oyster business. Tommy discusses his wife, Patty, and their three children, Kevin, Thomas Lee Jr. (TJ), and Sara. He shares anecdotes about his family's interests and accomplishments. Tommy also discusses the impact of Hurricane Dennis on his business, his decision to rebuild, and the effects of red tide on the community. Tommy emphasizes his pride in the quality of his seafood products and his commitment to providing a safe and high-quality experience for customers. He discusses his family heritage, including Native American and Irish roots, and his connection to the local area and its traditions. Tommy expresses his preference for the simplicity and beauty of his natural surroundings over modern technology. He talks about the challenges of finding good employees and the financial constraints of the oyster industry. The interview briefly touches on the challenges of attracting young oystermen to work in the industry due to lower wages and demanding conditions. Tommy mentions some oystermen who own their own boats and work on days when he has orders. He introduces Reggie's nephew, who runs one of his boats and is skilled at catching oysters. Tommy explains the shucking and packaging process inside the oyster house, highlighting the refrigeration room he has built to maintain oyster quality. He sells his oysters in multiple states and discusses his long-term customers.

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