Maryland’s Shipbuilding Past – the Steward Shipyard Dogshore


The Stephen Steward Shipyard (18AN817), located on the West River in Anne Arundel County, is one of state’s best-documented and preserved eighteenth-century shipyards.  Steward’s thriving enterprise was both large and complex, including workshops and storage buildings, as well as housing for the free craftsmen and laborers, indentured servants and slaves employed there.  During the second half of the century, Steward and his workers constructed seagoing vessels ranging from 20 to 270 tons for both the transatlantic and Caribbean trades.

The MAC Lab’s Chief Conservator Nichole Doub takes measurements of the Steward Shipyard dogshore.

The MAC Lab’s Chief Conservator Nichole Doub takes measurements of the Steward Shipyard dogshore.

Archaeological excavations conducted at the site in the 1990s revealed this impressive artifact – a dog-shore.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines dog-shore as “each of two blocks of timber used to prevent a ship from starting off the slips while the keel-blocks are being removed in preparation for launching”.  This dog-shore, fashioned from a branching tree trunk, is an ideal object to represent the shipbuilding industry in our state.

Thomas Paine perhaps most clearly stated the importance of our nation’s shipbuilding industry in Common Sense (1776):  “Shipbuilding is America’s greatest pride and in which she will, in time, excel the whole world” (Paine 2008:53).  Because they benefited from the colony’s ability to produce seaworthy craft, shipbuilding was the one colonial industry that England did not attempt to regulate (O’Neill 2010).  Building and owning ships was also appealing to American colonists, not only for the economic benefits of the industry, but also because it provided American merchants with greater commercial independence from the British.  In the Chesapeake, ships were important for transporting the region’s primary crop—tobacco—to Europe.

Maryland’s environment was well-suited for the successful establishment of shipbuilding endeavors. Trees favored for ship construction (oak, chestnut, cypress and pine) and naval stores like tar and turpentine (pine) grew in great abundance in her forests, and navigable waterways were plentiful.  While colonial Maryland’s shipbuilding industry was conducted on a smaller scale than the industry in New England, Maryland became known for her distinctive single-masted sloops and two-masted schooners (Brugger 1988:64).  During the eighteenth century, some ships were built specifically for transatlantic voyages, while others were constructed for the New England and Caribbean trade.

Searches of Maryland land records have revealed that there were at least 44 shipyard owners in Maryland prior to the mid-nineteenth century (Ford 2002:73).  Shipbuilding centers were located on the eastern and western shores, with Talbot County as an important early locus for the industry, with other centers situated along the Potomac (Ford 2007). Baltimore came a little later to shipbuilding, beginning production in the mid-eighteenth century,  becoming established by the American Revolution and eventually becoming the leading shipbuilding center in the state (Ford 2007:268).  Shipyards ranged in the size of their labor force, from several men to upwards of twenty employees, and some of the larger yards could often complete more than one vessel annually.  Over time, Maryland’s shipbuilding industry transitioned from multiple, small shipyards to larger yards (Ford 2007:268).

The Pride of Baltimore II has visited over 200 ports in 40 countries as an ambassador of our state.  Photo from http://www.pride2.org/history/index.php.

The Pride of Baltimore II has visited over 200 ports in 40 countries as an ambassador of our state. Photo from http://www.pride2.org/history/index.php.

Although the advent of steamships eventually diminished the importance of wooden sailing ships, wooden boatbuilding is still important in the state today (Ford 2002). Maryland’s State Ship, the Pride of Baltimore II, is a reproduction of an 1812-era two-masted topsail schooner, also known as a Baltimore Clipper.  She was commissioned in 1988 as a memorial to her predecessor, the original Pride of Baltimore, which went down off Puerto Rico in 1986 (Pride II 2013).

References

Brugger, Robert J.   Maryland; A Middle Temperament 1634-1980.  The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1988

Ford, Ben.  Wooden Shipbuilding in Maryland Prior to the Mid-nineteenth Century.  The American Neptune.  2002  Volume 62, Number 1: 61-90.

Ford, Ben.  A Geographic History of Maryland Shipbuilding, 1631-1850.  Maryland Historical Magazine, Winter 2007: 259-275.

O’Neill, Stephen C.   Shipbuilding in Colonial America.  In Encyclopedia of American History:  Colonization and Settlement, 1608-1760.  Edited by Billy G. Smith and Gary B. Nash.  New York:  Facts on File, Inc.  American History Online.  2010  http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?

Paine, Thomas.  2008  Common Sense.  Reprinted by ARC Manor, Rockville, Maryland.

Pride of Baltimore II. History, The Pride of Baltimore II.  Website www.pride2.org/history/index.php. Accessed November 20, 2013.

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