The Museum was founded in 1986 as the Eastport Historical Society; in 2000, the scope was expanded to cover all of Annapolis. The Museum campus is the site of the last remaining oyster packing plant in the area, the McNasby's Oyster Packing Company. The McNasby’s 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 state-of-the-art waterfront educational facility, an exhibition gallery, and an assembly hall that is in daily use for classes, lectures, concerts, and community and business meetings.
Overview of Historic Maritime Annapolis
When the first English settlers arrived in Annapolis aboard a ship in 1649, they found a pristine Chesapeake Bay with an abundance of seafood and a native American population that had been living from the bounty of the Bay and the land 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, long before we knew that smoking tobacco was unhealthy, growing "sotweed" was the way the wealthiest Annapolitans made their money.
After the town of Annapolis was founded in 1695, it 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, more shallow 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 on the shallow waters of the Chesapeake.
Oysters were the biggest money-maker in 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. Canning allowed the 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 the watermen. Many of these were located in the Eastport peninsula, across the harbor from Annapolis proper. Earlier on, the little peninsula was devoted to farms for raising crops and racehorses. After the town was 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.
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.
Today, Annapolis is known as "America's Sailing Capital". Major national and international sailing events take place here 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 fun way to get a boat ride across the Harbor.
The history of Annapolis cannot be told without telling the stories of the Chesapeake Bay. Our ancestors came here by water. We are here, most of us, because of the water. The Annapolis Maritime Museum is telling the story of our connection to the water.