Search billions of records on



R. Barrie & G. Barrie


George Barrie, Jr.

Reprinted from "The Cruiser," New York.


CHESAPEAKE, from the Algonquin K'tchisipik, meaning Great Water, is truly a fitting name for the noble Bay whose sparkling waves lap the shores of Maryland and Virginia.

This magnificent sheet of water is nearly two hundred miles long and its greatest width is about one-eighth of its length, but the Bay itself is not all; numerous rivers, such as the Potomac, Rappahannock, Choptank, Chester, with many others of less imposing size and innumerable creeks -- seemingly unnamable, too, as many names are duplicated -- total up a greater number of square miles. These latter, really little estuaries, are misnamed, as the word creek is apt to bring to one's mind a dirty little stream running between muddy banks; but this is not the case. They are beautiful, placid indentations with green fields or bits of woodland coming almost to the water's edge and only a narrow strip of beach intervening. Some are very narrow at the mouth, but inside spread out and branch off in different directions. Nearly all of them end abruptly, and one may think he has some distance yet to go before reaching the head, when one is suddenly confronted with a little piece of marsh through which runs a small brook, and that is as far as one can go.

The Bay would lose a large part of its fascination if there were no long rivers to explore, no bays to sail about in, no snug little creeks or coves in which to drop anchor at night. Providence must have made the Chesapeake early in the morning after a good night's rest and the Delaware late in the evening after a long, hard day, as the latter is all that is mean, unpleasant, low, and aggravating, while the former is the direct antithesis.

Gradually more and more yachts are seen on the Chesapeake, especially since gas engines have become so popular. Few yachtsmen realize the beauties of this great Bay -- a perfect paradise for the cruiser. A short dash outside now and again is very proper to relieve the monotony, but offshore, with its banging and slapping, the necessity of many lashings, long days without a real meal, cabins battened down, dampness and evil smells below, faces crusted with salt, eyes bleary with night watches, and above all nothing but a wilderness of tumbled waters with once in a great while a faraway sail, cannot compare with the beautiful, ideal, peaceful existence of the cruiser who takes advantage of this perfect mixture of water and land.




To thoroughly explore the Chesapeake and its tributaries, one should have a vessel of not more than three feet draft -- that is, if one wishes to look into every nook and cranny, to investigate places never seen and for that matter never imagined by the great majority of yachtsmen. Any draft up to ten feet can find good harbors and lots of them, but as the draft increases the limit of ground explorable decreases. With five or six feet one can keep going for some time and never anchor in the same harbor twice. A small launch or sailing dinghy will be found an aid and will afford much interesting amusement in looking into the little nooks which surround the night's anchorage; the latter preferably, as who can be thoroughly in harmony with the beauties of a fine sunset while having your teeth rattled by the vibration of one of those canned devils?

In the matter of provisions one need have no qualms; neither from fear of their lack or the use of canned ones, which are unnecessary in this land of plenty. Butcher's meat, and very good beef at that, can be found in all the towns; chickens and eggs at all farmhouses; the same applies to vegetables and milk; ice nearly everywhere. The headquarters for larder filling are so conveniently situated as to allow three or four days of sauntering between each one; while farmhouses abound on all sides. Fish and crabs are at your own front door. Varieties of game are fairly plentiful, although not so much so as when the legislature passed a law forbidding owners to feed their slaves on terrapin more than twice a week. That annoying necessity of the modern cruiser, gasoline, can now be had everywhere, as will be testified by the rapid fire reports to be heard in the most out-of-the-way places.

The lover of things colonial will find much to interest him.

Many notable specimens of colonial architecture are scattered over the shores of the Bay, while Annapolis is strewn with them. The Brice, Paca, Chase, Harwood, and Scott houses are the most striking, and copies of portions of them are seen in many of the present day colonial residences; a door from the Harwood, the arched triple window from the Chase, or the cornice from the Brice. Here came the landed gentry as the days grew shorter, leaving their pleasant waterside plantations, and rumbled into town in their great coaches followed by a horde of servants in less pretentious vehicles; or those from the Eastern Shore sailed over in their private vessels; many of which were kept expressly for pleasure. Then followed a season of revelry. While the fathers attended the solemn meetings of the Assembly, the younger generation followed the fox over the rolling inland country, or, if the weather had been severe, glided on the ice of Spa Creek. In the evenings there would be a ball at the governor's mansion, or a rout at one of the hospitable residences, where punch flowed freely and many hogsheads of fine Orinooko were lost and won at langtry loo.




Many of the country establishments were as substantially built and as lavishly furnished as those of the town. Governor Paca's house, which stood on the upper end of Wye Island overlooking the Narrows, is said to have been one of the finest. The tradition is handed down that in order to keep his son John from going to sea he gave him carte blanche as to the design and building, and, if all accounts are true, John took him at his word, for a veritable palace with porticoes and galleries, surrounded by many terraces, was erected on the banks of the placid Wye.

Wye House, which has been in the Lloyd family since Philemon came with the early colonists, is an eldorado, and although the original was burned by the British during the 1812 differences, there still remain the beautiful old formal gardens with their box edged paths, the graveyard with its collection of well carved stones, the large orangery standing at one end of a broad, grassy sward, lined on each side with tall privet bushes, while at the other end is a long, low, white mansion, within whose walls are treasures to feast the eye of the connoisseur.

Tulip Hill is one of the finest; a big, square brick structure, with wings somewhat larger than are usually found, standing on a hill overlooking West River. Two broad terraces, with unobstructed view, are on the river side, while the front is approached through a park made up of immense trees, most of which are of the tulip variety. A wide hall extends through the house, on the west side of which is a dining room and a music room, while on the east side are two large parlors with walls wainscoted to the ceilings. The west wing is given up to the kitchen, while that on the east contains a library and offices.

Whitehall, near Annapolis, with its portico supported by large white columns is somewhat out of the usual design of tidewater mansions.

A chaplain of the Revolutionary Allied French Army remarks on the differences between life in New England and in Maryland; in the former a scant living was made by trade, and the colonists collected in villages, their homes were small and built mostly of wood; while in the latter there were hardly any villages or towns -- in fact, in early years there was only one: St. Mary's, and the houses were built, in nearly all cases, from brick, not imported as many suppose, but of brick whose size was known by the term English. The inhabitants lived on broad plantations, some of which contained ten or twelve thousand acres, where a living was drawn from the rich soil, and each one was independent, with its own food supply to satisfy the inner man, and weavers to make rough cloth from wool sheared from home raised sheep to cover his body. Private windmills ground the wheat into flour to make bread for the planters' tables, and the maize into meal from which evolved the hoe-cake of the field hands.

At first life was exceedingly rough, and only barest necessities prevailed. Hospitality was always extended to everyone, even the Sot-Weed Factor, who found fault with everything else in the colony, acknowledged this and transforms the Cockerouse's words of welcome into his doggerel verse:

"Whether you come from Gaol or Colledge
You're welcome to my Certain Knowledge
... found them drinking for a Whet
A cask of Syder on the Fret,
So after hearty Entertainment
Of Drink and Victuals without Payment."

Many of the old mansions are inhabited by the descendants of the builders and are still kept up, but the majority have passed out of the hands of the original families and are in a sad state of repair and desecration. Think of whitewashing a mahogany staircase and wainscoting as was done lately in one which belonged to one of the most celebrated colonial families, or of a stately mansion in which probably were entertained the red heels of the time, now being used as a county almshouse. But no matter its condition, a substantial, square brick building with long, low wings, finely situated, back of broad terraces, overlooking some placid stream, is more of an ornament to the landscape than most of our modern abortions.

Swift currents are unknown and the annoyance of a rise and fall of six to forty feet is not encountered. The average rise and fall for the whole Bay is one foot; at Old Point it is two and one-half feet, while at the Elk River it is three, and at Annapolis less than one foot, which is accounted for by the fact that there are two tides within the length of the Bay and they meet at this point. The wind effect is greater than the tidal, ranging quite high; three or four days of a steady, whole sail north or south wind will make three or four feet difference in the level, and if the wind changes directly from south to north the current of the ebb in the Bay will be very noticeable.

A reputation for squalls and heat during the summer months appears to frighten off a good many cruisers. Wonderful tales are told of the heavy gusts; for instance, we read of a British frigate on the Potomac during the War of 1812 having her jib boom blown away while the quarterdeck was in complete calm, and also of the capsizing on the Patuxent of two of their schooners under bare poles; but on the average they are no worse than those encountered at other points along the coast or on the Great Lakes. The heat is also much overestimated. I have felt just as warm in Boston as in Norfolk, the difference being that the "spells" last a day or two longer; and there is also the advantage of having scarcely any fog -- in fact, in summer it is almost unknown.

On coming out of the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal it is, if in a sailing vessel, advisable to tow down Back Creek to Elk River, a distance of two miles; tugs are generally on hand for this purpose. A launch can be guided down the serpentine channel by means of bushes put out by the canal company to mark the various points and bars.

The Elk River, with its shores of tree-covered hills, here and there dotted with prosperous-looking farms, is easy of navigation for its seven miles of length to Turkey Point, where its waters join those of the Susquehanna and Northeast Rivers. It was on the north shore of this river, near Turkey Point, that Lord Howe landed with the British forces before the battle of the Brandywine. What a sight it must have been to see a fleet of square riggers anchored in the mouth of the river, with a pack of small boats crowded with "lobsters," as the redcoats were called, bumping alongside. Several coves along this shore afford moderately good anchorages for small craft, while the southern shore line is broken by the Bohemia River and Cabin John's Creek, the former being a broad stream of short length whose clear, clean water is perfectly safe for drinking.

The Sassafras River empties into the Bay just below the Elk and its southern shore is very high, running out to Howell's Point, which is seven knots exactly from Turkey Point. Betterton, a summer resort very popular among Baltimoreans, is also on this shore, but as the anchorage is very exposed from the north and west it is unwise to stay here over night. Two miles up, however, is Turner's Creek, inside the mouth of which you are completely landlocked.

Below Howell's Point is Still Pond Harbor, a deep indentation; but the place, as far as security goes, belies the name of harbor except for craft of three feet or less draft that can run into Churn Creek and there find shelter. Still Pond drains into the "harbor" through a narrow gut which has across its mouth a bar, and over this not more than two feet can be taken. Worton's Cove, a few miles farther south and directly opposite Poole's Island, is a bay somewhat deeper than Still Pond Harbor and therefore affords fairly good protection for drafts up to eight feet, while a creek which is hurricane proof can be entered by vessels drawing five or six feet. It was on the shores of this cove that two Germans, in early colonial days, while stopping at a house near by were witnesses of the extreme rage and chagrin of their host's son, because he bagged only twelve ducks at one shot.

The western shore from Havre de Grace to the Patapsco River is very low and inclined to be marshy, while long flats protrude well out into the Bay and as the main channel keeps to the eastward, the rivers, i.e., Bush, Gunpowder, Middle, and Back, which empty into the Bay are very poorly marked.

Below Poole's Island the Bay widens considerably and no more harbors are to be found until Swan Point is reached, back of which is a creek of the same name, where lies Rock Hall, a great oystering headquarters. The Chester River here flows into the Bay from a southeasterly direction, and the Patapsco, directly opposite, has a northwesterly slant, thus making quite a stretch of open water. On the south side of the latter, about seven miles up from Bodkin Point, is Curtis Bay, on which is the home of the Baltimore Y.C. From the Bodkin to Annapolis, a distance of fifteen knots, the only harbor intervening is Magothy River, whose narrow mouth gives no idea of the broad sheet of water lying hidden from view behind a row of hills which separates it from the Bay. The shores of this river are one large truck garden, from which quite a fleet of sail and power boats carry the produce to market in Baltimore.

The upper Bay has a deserted appearance, very few craft being seen; but when the Patapsco is reached and passed the sails of bay craft are seen everywhere, together with a fair sprinkling of ocean steamships and coastwise schooners. The various rigs and models of the Chesapeake are extremely interesting. The pungys are descended from the famous Baltimore clippers: their keels are cut away very much like the old English cutter, with the greatest draft, usually six or seven feet, at the rudder post. No board is used and they are fairly beamy, but not so much so as an ordinary centerboard schooner; the freeboard is low and, curiously, the topsides are nearly always painted pink with dark-green wales or bends. They are schooner rigged, masts well raked, and no foretopmast. Pungys have long since gone out of favor, and none have been built for years; consequently those few stragglers that are seen look much the worse for wear. The ordinary two-masted schooner is the vessel most used for cargoes and differs not particularly from those of other localities.

The most popular rig and model is that of the "bugeye," or "buckeye," which of the two terms is correct will never be decided, neither will the derivation; but the first spelling is the phonetic representation of the bayman's pronunciation. Bugeyes and canoes are of the same family. Undoubtedly the canoe came first; originally hollowed out of one log, then for larger ones two logs were used, and as big timber grew scarce three and four, until now under the term of "chunk built" seven or nine are used.

No more graceful and picturesque craft can be found than the canoes and in those of today we would hardly recognize that described by the Sot-Weed Factor who came to the province of Maryland early in sixteen hundred:

"The Indians call the Watery waggon
Canoe, a vessel none can brag on,
Such a shinning odd invention
I scarce can give its due Dimention.
Cut from the Popular-tree or Pine
And fashioned like a trough for swine."

Their wonderful turn of speed is much bragged of, but whether it is as great as we are led to believe is still undecided and will be until one of the crack canoes is tested against one of our modern machines. In favor of the former is the fact that, besides displaying great speed, they will not only outlast but will also outlive the latter in a seaway. Great sport and skillful handling are seen at their interlocal races. Here the use of movable ballast in the shape of men on sliding boards is still practiced, and very expertly too, as some of them will not stand right side up unaided when their racing spars are shipped. As trees large enough could not be found to keep up with the ideas of man, the plan was conceived of building up with ribs and planking from a log bottom and decking all over, with a small cabin aft of the foremast, but this combination did not satisfy; so that frames and planking throughout are now used for those of over forty feet.

Canoes and bugeyes are everywhere to be found. On the oyster bars are seen great fleets of the former and it is wondered from where they all come; but if during a cruise one will explore some of the little out-of-the-way creeks one will realize the thousands of them that there must be. Everywhere are canoes found tied to a stake in front of the owner's house or hauled out on two logs under a bit of overhanging bank. Oystermen will be found tonging well out in the Bay in pretty rough weather. There they stand, perfectly balanced on the narrow washboard, handling their tongs, the canoe violently bobbing up and down. Often they are caught out and unable to beat for home, but must run before the winter's gale. Only last winter a sudden vicious northwester scattered over the Bay a fleet of more than two hundred which was working the bars off West River; many sought shelter by scudding before it for the Eastern Shore, others were dismasted or had their sails blown away.

The lasting quality of a small log boat is wonderful; canoes twenty-five or thirty years old are common and some are said to be at least a hundred. The lack of ceiling or covering of any kind which would prevent the free circulation of air or form a pocket for water to lie in and thus cause rot, is in a great way responsible for their lasting qualities.

A new model built of planks has for the past few years gradually been coming into favor, the deadrise bateau, as the smaller sizes are called, while the larger, which run up to fifty-five feet, are called skipjacks. Being very easy and cheap to build, they are in many instances superseding the bugeyes. Their weatherly qualities are well spoken of and the very shallow draft is an advantage. Seeing the chances for room and comfort that a boat of this type offers I became a convert from the deep draft and had one built by C. E. Leatherberry, of West River. She is forty-six feet over all, sixteen feet breadth, and three feet draft; the entire deadrise amidships being nine inches. Jib and leg-o'-mutton mainsail, with a small engine, makes her very easy to handle. The luxury of real bedsteads in the staterooms is the piece de resistance. This will no doubt make the old shellbacks scoff; I was a disdainer of such myself at one time, but no more hard bunks; and I notice the spare bed is a bone of contention among the slaves.

The nearly flat bottom gives much more floor space than would be had in a round bilge boat of the same length and breadth. She has a large main cabin, two staterooms as big as those generally found on a seventy-foot schooner, a toilet room with running water, and a galley in which it affords one pleasure to dabble in the culinary art. When going to windward with a certain size sea running she sometimes jars one when landing on the top of a wave and this has a tendency to sag her to leeward, but on the whole she does very well and has shown her ability to claw off. A still later model of this type has the bilge rounded instead of an angle and this lessens somewhat the banging in a seaway.

The important water industries of the Chesapeake are oystering, crabbing, fishing, and the transportation of farm products. Under the first of these the most men and vessels are employed, as during their season the other three are almost at a standstill, and practically every inhabitant of the surrounding shores is engaged in some way, either tonging, dredging, or in the packing houses. In the early spring, as the oyster season is on the wane, the fish begin to run; of these the most numerous are the shad, herring, and rock. Pound nets are found everywhere; some of them in the lower Bay are veritable forests, and the piles are of such a size as to be extremely dangerous to any vessel colliding with them. Great quantities of menhaden are also caught, as will be testified by the numerous fish factories found below the Potomac. The toothsome crab next puts in his appearance, and it is miraculous that they have not been exterminated by the thousands of lines set every day all over the Bay. When the oyster season is over, the vessels either lay up until the next month with an R in it or else a general overhauling is gone through before the gatherings from the soil are ready to be shipped to Baltimore.

From any of the well-protected harbors may be seen a fleet of ten or fifteen sail slip out while the "rosy-fingered dawn" is just appearing in the East, and generally square off before the fresh southerly breeze; the captain at the wheel, a sleepy-faced, barefooted fellow sloshing down decks, while a nigger fusses around an old dry goods box containing a stove and by courtesy might be called the galley, from which is now coming forth clouds of rosin-laden pine wood smoke. There are bugeyes, schooners, pungys, and now and again a skipjack -- but these latter are not very often used as freighters -- loaded with wheat, watermelons, tomatoes, boxes in shooks, lumber and cordwood. The vessels carrying the last-named article are generally the most dilapidated, and never attempt to go to windward on account of their high deck loads; while the bugeyes are the most shipshape and show a variety of color.

But we must return to our progress down the Bay.

After passing Magothy, Sandy Point is rounded, and five miles further on lies Annapolis, where there is a fine harbor and excellent markets. It is situated on a point of land between the Severn River and Spa Creek, just outside of the mouth of which is the best place to anchor, as from here one can see out across the Bay and also be more apt to catch the cooling breezes. A day is well spent inspecting the Naval Academy, whose buildings overawe the quiet, sleepy town, and in admiring the fine old colonial residences. If time can be found to run up the Severn to Round Bay the journey will not be regretted.

Just below Annapolis are South and West Rivers, while below the latter is Herring Bay, a deep bight good only as a shelter in westerly winds and very exposed to easterly, unless one runs up to the head, where there will be found a creek which has a bar across the mouth with three feet at low water: inside is six feet and one can lie here in complete safety behind the low point which shelters but does not obstruct the view of the Bay. The two rivers are certainly worth looking into. Opposite these on the Eastern Shore is Eastern Bay, a broad sheet of water fed by many creeks and rivers, the prettiest of which is the Wye and the largest is the Miles, near whose head is Easton, the home of the Chesapeake Y.C., while near its mouth is St. Michael's, where will be found a good shipyard.

Tilghman's, Greenwood, Cox's, and Shipping Creeks, with a string of others, will entice the cruiser to linger. Poplar Island, just below here, has a fine harbor entered from the eastern side and affords complete shelter for vessels drawing up to five feet. Twelve houses are scattered over its surface, one of which is also a store and post office, whence departs a mailbag every day whether or not there is a letter.

The Choptank, a river the mouth of which is really a bay, next opens out. It runs up into back country for some sixty miles. Cambridge, a thriving oyster town, lies on the south shore about twelve miles up; while Oxford, at the mouth of the Tred Avon, is about five miles nearer the Bay. Behind Cook's Point or in Black Walnut Cove, according to the wind, are suitable stopping places for the night. Creeks and coves everywhere on each side lend enchantment to this magnificent stream. Sharp's Island, which lies at the mouth of the river, is surrounded on all sides by extensive shoals and it is rapidly washing away; statisticians say at the rate of an acre per year. At one time it was covered with a fine growth of timber, which has all been cut or blown down, and now the island is almost bare; a deserted hotel and some tumbledown buildings being the only landmarks. One of the oldest inhabitants of the vicinity is said to have heard his grandfather say it was at one time part of the mainland, but a map dated 1666 shows an island. The channel which separates it on the eastern side from the mainland was at one time called Trip's Bay, and by using this passage, when bound south, some little distance is saved; it carries you past the mouth of the Little Choptank, with lots of wild country, where very snug anchorages can be found in Slaughter Creek on the south side or Brooks Creek, which is just around Ragged Point, on the north side.

From here it is best to go back to the western shore, as south of this point the Eastern Shore becomes very low, mosquitoes are of Jersey abundance, and rivers and bays are rendered difficult of navigation by long bars and shoals.

Below Herring Bay the western shore is unbroken for thirty miles: high bluffs rise up from strips of yellow sand, and back of them a beautiful rolling country, tree-clad, with patches of cleared land, keeps one constantly using the glasses.

Cove Point marks the north mouth of the Patuxent River while Cedar Point, on the south side, lies five miles away. Solomon's Island, a village situated on the shores of an island of the same name and whose harbor draws forth encomiums of praise from all visitors, sleeps calmly on in the certainty that some day the natural advantages of the Patuxent mouth, with its ninety feet of water, will be realized. Here is one instance where the chart is misleading; as a rule those of the Chesapeake are very exact and the soundings correct. To enter Solomon's Harbor, instead of following along the north shore from Drum Point and past black buoy No.3, pass outside of red buoy No.4 and cross the oyster bar just where the chart shows four feet and bear off to port into the harbor. The depth is nearer four fathoms than four feet.

The Potomac River, emptying into the Bay twenty miles lower down, has an evil reputation; its ten miles of breadth is said to be the lurking place of violent calms or fierce northwest squalls. Cornfield Harbor, under Point Lookout, will shelter one in northerly winds, but good harbors some distance above can be found on each side, that to the north being St. Mary's River, on whose banks was the first settlement made in Maryland; on the south is the Coan River, while just around Smith's Point is the Great Wicomico, of fish factory fame.

Numerous creeks indent the shore from here to the Rappahannock River, most of which are available as shelters for shoal draft vessels, but when this river is reached a cove back of Windmill Point makes a good anchorage in northerly or westerly winds, while by going a few miles more the tropical-like shores of the Piankatank will give a good haven in all weathers.

Mobjack Bay, on whose shores lived the man who soon tired of "The Life Worth Living," is a broad estuary having many feeders; a sort of miniature Chesapeake, but the only shelter for the passing voyager is behind New Point Comfort and a discomfort it would become in a southeaster. The same may be said of York River, so it is best to make one run from the Piankatank to Old Point, where an anchorage will be found inside the bar and just back of the Hotel Chamberlain, or over behind Willoughby's Spit, on which is the Hampton Roads Y.C.

A run on shore which is well worth while may be made to the old historic town of Hampton, situated on the site of the Indian village of Kecoughtan. A fine old ivy-clad church, said to be the third oldest in the state and some curious old tombstones will interest the antiquarian. Quite a contrast to this sleepy town are the shipyards at Newport News.

Over in Norfolk, now called a city, are some fine old houses, while Portsmouth, with the navy yard, is as peaceful and as casual as are all places contaminated by the Government.

Visit this land of Canaan and you will fain take the advice which Alsop gave in 1666, and "dwell here, live plentifully, and be rich." 



© 2000 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission. Go scan your own damn article.

Go to: • Barrie & Barrie TOC • the Cheap Pages • Sinepuxent Ancestors •