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.
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. Continue reading