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The History Of Chesapeake Bay Shipwrecks

By Lela Perkins

Chesapeake Bay is situated off the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by Virginia and Maryland, although the drainage basin incorporates parts of Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia as well. Protected by the Delmarva Peninsula, the bay runs roughly north/south for approximately 200 miles. It is difficult to conceive that beneath those tranquil waters lie the Chesapeake Bay shipwrecks of some 1,800 sunken vessels.

There are many reasons why a ship might sink. At the latitudes of the bay, icebergs are sometimes a hazard. Storms, collisions between other ships, explosions due to volatile cargo or ammunition, strandings on sandbars and just plain bad judgement all have played their roles in marine disasters. An area of the bay known as The Middle Ground, located between capes Henry and Charles, is particularly notorious for its stormy winds and underwater navigational hazards.

A good many of the vanquished seagoing vessels have met their fate on account of wars – the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The most seaworthy vessel was no match for the cannonballs, torpedoes and explosives that would find their way onto her decks or pierce and shatter her hull.

After a while, of course, the wreckage itself becomes a hazard to shipping. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has implemented the Automated Wreck and Obstruction Information System (AWOIS) to catalog the massive number of obstructions and wrecks posing a navigational risk. This facility is offered to divers, salvage operators, fishermen, archaeologists and historians.

While every one of the 1,800 shattered wrecks beneath the bay are noteworthy because of the loss of souls on board, but some stories are more well known than others. The wreck of the Peggy Stewart is one such story. This was a cargo vessel from the British Isles carrying, among other items, tea. In an effort to get the colonists to acknowledge the British right to impose taxation, the British Tea Act was enacted which meant that the tea was taxed.

Fiercely opposing the notion of paying tax on the tea, or being conned into paying tax to Britain altogether, the Peggy Stewart was set on fire. As the ship went down in the bay, that date in October 1774 went down in history as the Annapolis Tea Party and the protagonists who torched it were designated patriots and heroes.

In the run up to the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, a very exciting finding was made; a piece of wreckage believed to be that of the USS Scorpion. This refers not to the US Navy’s nuclear submarine that sank in 1968, but to the flagship of a collection of ships known as Barney’s Flotilla. It has not yet been confirmed that the wreck is indeed the Scorpion, but it is certain that the ship dates back to 1812.

Barney’s Flotilla was an armada of ships that valiantly fought the British Navy. Outclassed and outgunned, the flotilla was sacrificed by fire rather than fall into the hands of the British. Fifteen gunboats, plus the USS Scorpion, sank to the bottom of the Patuxent River in one giant collection of Chesapeake Bay shipwrecks.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Perkins, Lela "The History Of Chesapeake Bay Shipwrecks." The History Of Chesapeake Bay Shipwrecks. 14 Apr. 2014. 18 Jul 2014 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Perkins, L (2014, April 14). The History Of Chesapeake Bay Shipwrecks. Retrieved July 18, 2014, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Perkins, Lela "The History Of Chesapeake Bay Shipwrecks"

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