Location: Fourth Street at Back Creek
As you gaze out past hundreds of modern sailboats and powerboats docked at piers and marinas in Back Creek, venture back 50 to 100 years ago when there were just a handful of African-American watermen launching their hand-built wooden boats to go tonging for oysters.
During the 1920s, the houses on this street belonged to African-American families. Most of the men living here worked on the water, launching often home-built boats from their back yards. They harvested oysters from September to April, and crabs in the summer.
Hand-tonging for oysters was a tough way to make a living. Lyle Smith, who grew up here, went out with his grandfather just once: "I was culling oysters, trying to keep my hands warm, and when my fingers got cold, I said, 'This is the first and the last.' I've never been out on an oyster boat since."
With time, the economic and cultural climate of this Eastport neighborhood has changed. Wooden boat building and oystering are no longer a way of life.
By the 1920s, the Back Creek side of Eastport was sparsely populated with African American families. From their homes along the water’s edge, men launched their boats to harvest oysters from the Chesapeake Bay.
Charles Thompson (right) and his family built workboats and pleasure boats here.
Many of the watermen were boat builders, as well. Charles Blunt built a workboat in the side yard of his home near here. Charles Thompson built both work boats and pleasure craft in his back yard at 409 Chester Avenue. The picture on the information panel shows him building the "Red Witch" for a member of the Annapolis Yacht Club with his son Henry and a member of the Turner family. Boat building and the hard life of the watermen are no longer part of the culture here. This Eastport neighborhood is changing as more affluent home owners move into the community.
In the 1930s, George Washington Davis rented a house and opened a general store. It later became Davis’s Tavern and was frequented by African-Americans only, including the watermen who traveled to Eastport to shuck and sell oysters. The pub also served as a meeting place for men in the African-American community.
Davis also rented a house at the corner of Fourth and Chester, where he and his family opened a confectionery. He later bought that building and moved the tavern there. He eventually owned and rented a number of houses on Chester and Eastern Avenues and on Fourth Street. He charged very little rent to the poorer families who worked primarily on the water.
Davis’s Tavern continued to be a family-run business until the mid 1980s when his heirs leased the property. It is still a popular local gathering place known as “Davis’s Pub.”
George Davis was active in local politics, and became a local leader. He was known as the man in the African-American community to contact “if you wanted to get things moving”.
The City of Annapolis named the street-end park at Site 13 in his memory for the wonderful contributions he made to the African-American families in Eastport. Davis’s Park is one of the many street-end parks that provide water access throughout Annapolis.