The Museum was founded in 1990 as the Eastport Historical Committee; in 2000, the scope was expanded to cover all of Annapolis. The Museum Campus is the site of the last historic oyster packing plant in the area, the McNasby Oyster Company. The McNasby building was severely damaged by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. In December 2008, the Museum re-opened the newly restored McNasby’s building and today provides the Annapolis area with a waterfront educational facility, an exhibition gallery, and an assembly hall that is in daily use for classes, history and heritage programs, lectures, concerts, and community and business meetings.
A Brief History of Maritime Annapolis
When the first English settlers arrived in Annapolis in 1649, they found the pristine Chesapeake Bay and a Native American population that had been living from the bounty of the Bay for centuries.
From their small, hand-built boats, the first Europeans gathered oysters, caught fish and crabs, and grew their own crops to feed their growing families. They also grew tobacco for trade. In these early days, growing “sot-weed” was the way the wealthiest Annapolitans made their money.
Port of Call
Founded in 1695, Annapolis became an important port for shipping barrels of tobacco to England. Sailing ships returned from across the Atlantic Ocean and up the Bay to Annapolis Harbor with an amazing assortment of goods for sale. Some ships also brought slaves, like the one in 1767 that brought a man from Africa named Kunta Kinte.
After the Revolutionary War, the smaller, shallower Annapolis Harbor gradually lost most of its shipping business to the growing Port of Baltimore. The large, ocean-sailing ships that once packed Annapolis Harbor were replaced by smaller boats that were used to harvest oysters, crabs, and fish in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake.
Oysters were the biggest money-maker from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Watermen gathered oysters with dredges and long-handled shaft tongs and brought their catch to one of the many oyster packing plants surrounding the harbor. Men and women, and sometimes even children, shucked the oysters and packed them in cans. Packing allows oysters to last longer, so they could be shipped by railroads and steamships to as far away as the Rocky Mountains.
Boatwrights and craftsmen worked in boatyards surrounding the local creeks to build and repair boats for watermen. Many of these were located on the Eastport peninsula, across the harbor from Annapolis proper. Earlier on, the little peninsula was devoted to farms for raising crops and racehorses. Founded in 1868, most of the working residents, both black and white, made their living from the seafood industry, in the boatyards, or at the Naval Academy.
A Love of Sailing
During World War II, boats were built in Eastport for the British and Russian navies. Later, the Trumpy family built world-renowned luxury yachts there. As the oyster business ebbed, the watermen’s workboats were replaced by sailboats and powerboats used for having fun out on the Bay.
Known as “America’s Sailing Capital,” Annapolis hosts major national and international sailing events and the harbor is filled with vessels of all sizes and shapes year-round. Tour boats and boat rentals provide opportunities for families without boats to spend a day on the water. Water taxis are a fun way to get a boat ride across the Harbor. Telling stories of the Chesapeake Bay explains the history of Annapolis. The Annapolis Maritime Museum tells the story of our connection to the water.