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Chesapeake Bay Workboats
The Development of the Deadrise Workboat
Harvesting the Bounty
Suggested Reading

Chesapeake Bay -
Our History and Our Future
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Chesapeake Bay Workboats
Oyster Dredge
Oyster Dredge
Oyster Tongs
Oyster Tongs
Baltimore Bugeye
Baltimore Bugeye
The Bugeye

New England fishermen brought the oyster dredge to the Chesapeake Bay. The watermen of the Bay used tongs to pick up oysters from the beds. This was difficult and slow work, and when northern fishermen were spotted on the Bay using a dredge the oyster industry began to change. The small log canoes did not carry enough sail to pull the heavy iron dredge, so a new boat was needed. The bugeye was a hybrid of three boats developed in the Bay. The builders took from the log canoe the principal design elements of a dugout log hull and sail plan. From the pungy came a sweeping sheer, low freeboard, and log rail. The log rail allowed the oyster dredge to be easily and quickly hoisted onto the deck. Additionally, the bugeye used a combination of knight-heads and hawes-pieces on the bow. The Chesapeake Bay schooner lent the idea of a shoal or shallow draft and an unobstructed deck and the graceful long-head with its decorated trail-boards.

View of the J.C. Armiger's "Bugeye"
View of the J.C. Armiger's "Bugeye"
Chesapeake Bay Bugeye from "Vacation Cruising in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays." J.T. Rothrock, M.D., 1884
Chesapeake Bay Bugeye from "Vacation Cruising in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays." J.T. Rothrock, M.D., 1884
There are numerous ideas on how the "bugeye" got its name; two theories are the most widely recognized. One is that it came from the Scottish word "buckie," meaning oyster shell. Many Scottish immigrants settled in the Bay and it is believed that local slang corrupted it to "buck-eye" and then to "bug-eye." The second is that it came from the hawse-holes at the bow of the boat, which from a distance resemble a bug's eyes while the bow sprit looked like a nose.

Henry Hall reported in 1884 that a log bugeye cost $600 to $800 to build and carried 200 to 300 bushels of oysters. A framed bugeye cost $1, 000 to $2, 500 and carried the same amount of cargo. As the supply of trees became depleted, builders turned mainly to plank-built bugeyes, altering the design slightly to allow the craft to travel in more shallow waterways.

"The Bugeye of the Oyster Fleet is a fast Craft and Shows as Good Speed Under Sail as Many Yachts." Bugeyes loaded with watermelon in Baltimore Harbor, 1931 Bugeye J.C. Armiger dredging oysters on the Choptank River, Maryland, 1957
"The Bugeye of the Oyster Fleet is a fast Craft and Shows as Good Speed Under Sail as Many Yachts." Bugeyes loaded with watermelon in Baltimore Harbor, 1931 Bugeye J.C. Armiger dredging oysters on the Choptank River, Maryland, 1957


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