Stephen Steward Shipyard (18AN817)

The Stephen Steward Shipyard (18AN817) is a 40 acre 18th-century Colonial and Revolutionary War period shipyard on the West River, Anne Arundel County, Maryland. It is one of the best-documented and preserved shipyards of the period in the State of Maryland. The Steward Shipyard, begun around 1753, was a thriving business for most of the second half of the century, known locally and abroad for its products. The yard was apparently a joint venture between Stephen Steward and a prominent local planter-merchant, Samuel Galloway, and produced ships for both the trans-Atlantic and Caribbean trades. Construction of vessels ranging from 20 to 270 tons demonstrates that they were capable of turning out a wide variety of products: everything from the smallest sailing craft to larger than normal ships. Documentary history makes it clear that Steward’s enterprise was both large and complex. Located in a rural area, it employed free craftsmen and laborers, indentured servants, and slaves, and it housed and provided for them. It was, in essence, a plantation, but a plantation on which the staple product was ships rather than tobacco. The workshops and storage buildings, and the houses, barracks, and support structures for its workforce, must have encompassed a large area. Together with the debris from construction and the garbage of everyday life, they promise a wide range of buried archeological evidence as to how life and industry were carried out on this important site.

The first hint that a site might be present in the area came in 1976 during a shoreline survey of the area, but the location of the site was field-checked and confirmed during a survey of the West and Rhode Rivers conducted in 1991. In 1992, the Maryland Historical Trust staff carried out a successful testing program at the site. Metal detector tests, 25 shovel test pits (STPs) and one meter square test units were excavated. Surface collections of plowed fields in the western portion of the site were also undertaken, and linear coring and additional metal detector surveys were carried out to better identify artifact concentrations and site boundaries. All of these methods suggested extensive activity on the site during the latter half of the 18th century.

The 1993 Archeological Society of Maryland field session within the eastern portion of the site entailed both terrestrial archaeology and underwater archaeology. Tube auger testing was conducted along a 180 m portion of the shoreline. Based on the auger survey and the results of the shovel testing and coring operations conducted in previous years, a total of 101 one meter square test units were excavated in trench and block configurations. A total of 15 cultural features were encountered in these units. One of the features was interpreted to be an ovoid root cellar (Feature 011), five others appeared to be refuse pits, and the remainder were postmold and posthole configurations. The 1993 excavations clearly demonstrated the presence of one or more buildings. These probably housed industrial and domestic activities, but lacking a detailed description of what was found, or a catalog, one cannot determine the date of the deposits or the relative representation of domestic and industrial materials.

In 1997 and 1998, personnel from the Lost Towns of Anne Arundel Project conducted geophysical survey, electronic mapping, and limited test excavations in the western portion of the site (the area not tested in 1993). Magnetometry as well as ground penetrating radar (GPR), were used to locate subsurface anomalies. The results from the geophysical survey of the shipyard provide valuable information into the internal structure of the site. The site was clearly more intensively used to the north, as this was the shipyard work areas, as evidenced by many submerged and shoreline features previously documented. The southern edges of the property, according to geophysical results, appear to have seen less intensive activity during the shipyard period. It was likely reserved for domestic or residential uses for the community of shipyard workers.

The 1997-1998 geophysical and archaeological testing confirmed that clear functional and chronological distinctions exist across the Steward Shipyard site and also successfully located subsurface features. In addition to defining activity areas, the 1997-1998 excavations resulted in the location and documentation of portions of two post-in-ground buildings, one of which was accompanied by a large pit of unknown function that appeared to post-date the structure. The size of the postmolds and the nature of the artifacts associated with this structure suggest that it was used for industrial purposes. A small number of domestic artifacts and the recovery of window glass and brick (for a chimney) suggest that the building also served some domestic functions. This is not unexpected at an 18th-century shipyard. The other structure identified was also large and almost certainly was involved in shipbuilding activities. Additional buildings were suggested, but not proved, in the other areas investigated across the site. These “potential” buildings contained both materials dating to the height of the shipbuilding era and after the site had been destroyed by the British and went into agricultural use. A tally of artifacts recovered during the 1997-1998 project is not available.

The various excavations and investigations conducted at the Steward Shipyard (18AN817) demonstrate that it is a highly significant site with a high degree of integrity.

(Edited from the Maryland Historical Trust Synthesis Project)

References

  • Seidel, John
  • 1993. Preliminary Report. 1993 Archaeological Society of Maryland Field Session at Steward’s Shipyard (18AN817). Archeological Society of Maryland.

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