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William Cruso

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, William Cruso migrated to Biloxi in 1904 and, as many children of that era, he began working in a seafood factory picking shrimp and shucking oysters. To earn additional money, he caught crabs and peddled them on the beach, saving until he could afford a bicycle. As he grew, he was able to find additional work as a deckhand on a shrimp boat and soon he had saved enough to buy a horse and wagon. William worked with seafood until he bravely volunteered to fight in World War I.

In 1919, having safely returned from the war, William married Lillie Toche and together they build a small factory on Point Cadet on the east end of Biloxi. Living in a space above the crab shop, William would catch the crabs and Lillie would pick them. Over time, he was able to dig a small canal and later hire someone to help him build a pier and then incorporate oysters into his market. The business began booming when he was able to add fish and then later shrimp to the market’s offerings, so he expanded his factory to a shrimp steaming and canning facility.

As his office staff grew, so did the Cruso family, which now boasted ten children, so they built their home next to the factory. William worked right alongside his employees, never asking them to do something he wouldn’t do himself. He even helped provide lodging to his employees by building ten small 4-room houses and renting them rooms for 50 cents per month and whole houses for as little as five dollars per month.

In the 1930’s, Cruso Canning Co. was running five tall-masted schooners which were docked in Pascagoula due to the depth of the water that was required for these large vessels. Cruso’s was one of the largest distributors in what was known as the “raw” business which shipped seafood on ice and was among the first to pioneer into the frozen seafood business. At one time, William’s fleet consisted of 16 shrimp boats in addition to a fleet of snapper boats.

William Cruso was dealt two heartbreaking blows – in 1968 he lost his wife, Lillie and in 1969, Hurricane Camille devastated the Gulf Coast. Mr. Cruso passed away in 1975, leaving behind his ten children, 50 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.

Mr. Cruso had a special love for people, especially children. For many years, he provided seafood and made other contributions that assisted Father Flanagan with “Boys Town”, an organization of which he was made an honorary member. He was a very generous man, both to his Catholic faith, which he and Lillie were both devoted, and to his community. He generously donated to the nuns that helped educate his children and he never turned anyone in need away, hiring more men to shuck oysters during The Great Depression than any other factory. He is still remembered today by many Biloxians for his great charity.


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