Pungy Shipwreck

The remains of an indigenous Chesapeake Bay watercraft identified as a pungy, were recovered from Watts Creek and placed under a shelter for exhibition at Martinak State Park in 1964 and 1969.  Other than the replica Lady Maryland there are no pungies surviving today; the last pungy to sail the Chesapeake was taken to the Great Lakes and abandoned there in 1959.

Pungies, which were built in Maryland and Virginia between 1840 and 1880, were a significant development in the indigenous sailing fleet, a collection of vessels uniquely adapted to commerce on and beyond Chesapeake.  The lineage began with the Bermuda Sloop, which dominated colonial traffic on the Bay.  The Pilot Boat was an intermediate step on the way to the first truly indigenous Chesapeake craft, the Chesapeake Bay Schooner.

Need for speed in merchant ships for privateering during the Revolution gave rise to further development (perhaps the apex) in the Baltimore Clipper.  By the 1850s the sacrifice in cargo capacity that allowed the Clipper’s speed led to its displacement by the pungy, a swift vessel with better cargo spaces.  The characteristics of the pungy reveal its ancestry: the full flaring bows, long lean run, deep draft aft, sharp floor, flush deck, log rail, raking stempost and sternpost, the main topmast sprung forward are all developments of its schooner forbears.

As with its predecessors, the pungy was used on the ocean as well as the Bay.  Its speed made it useful in pineapple trade between Baltimore and the Bahamas.  Their primary use was on the Bay, however, in oyster dredging and cargo hauling.  There were pungies in the working fleet well into the 20th century, but its popularity had declined prior to the turn of the century.  Its deep draft restricted its use in the shallow oyster beds of the silting inland waterways and it was replaced by centerboard craft such as the bugeye and later the skipjack.

The Martinak Pungy was discovered in two parts at two separate times during work on a boat ramp in Watts Creek: a six-foot section of stern and rudder in 1964, the remainder in 1969.  It was brought ashore and assembled beneath a pavilion shelter constructed for that purpose.  The remains have been examined by a number of experts in maritime history, including the late H. I. Chapelle of the Smithsonian (who originally made the identification), Fred Hopkins, University of Baltimore; Jim Holt, former director, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum; Jim Richardson of Richardson’s boatyard, Lloyds, Maryland (where the reproduction of the 17th Century ship Dove was built), Don Shomette, President of the Nautical Archeology Association, Inc., and Dr. Ralph Eshelman, former director of the Calvert Marine Museum.

Cast bronze fittings suggest a pre-Civil War date and “royal iron” found in the scarfing suggests an earlier 19th century date.

(Choptank River Cultural Resources Inventory, 1999-2002)

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