Treasure Hunting At An Antiques Show With A Pirate Theme

January 20, 1991|By Lynn Williams

Yo ho ho and a bottle of . . . Natty Boh? The Jolly Roger, scourge of the seven seas . . . and the Chesapeake Bay?

Piracy, that deadly (but somehow, in retrospect, romantic) trade, did indeed flourish in local waters, according to Washington historian Don Shomette. It all began in the 17th century, he says, when some renegade settlers from Jamestown decided to go "a-pirating." The Chesapeake's earliest pirates went searching for booty in more traditional buccaneering zones, such as the West Indies, and brought their ill-gotten treasures home to Virginia and Maryland. Soon the Chesapeake waters themselves became fair game for piracy. Indigenous pirates lived on islands in the bay and waylaid tobacco ships and other trading vessels.

If such a trade could be said to have a "golden age," local piracy's was from about 1699 to 1720, Mr. Shomette says.

"They operated on the bay with impunity on many occasions, having knockdown, drag-out battles with the Royal Navy. Once, they even personally fought the governor of Virginia, who was aboard ship trading shots with the baddies."

Blackbeard himself even sailed into the bay on at least one occasion, and a Maryland man from the South River area was a member of Captain Kidd's crew.

There won't be any pirates around to raid the booty at the Annapolis Heritage Antiques Show -- the last recognized act of piracy was committed in 1802 in the Patuxent River, Mr. Shomette says -- but if they were to raid the National Guard Armory in Parole next weekend they would probably be delighted with their haul.

Not only will the show spotlight American and English furniture and decorative arts from the 18th and 19th centuries (just the kind of thing the pirates would love to steal), it will have a special focus on piracy, as well as on the more respectable maritime trades.

The antique show has a different theme each year; previous shows have emphasized such topics as tea traditions, chairs and engravings. But the seafaring theme is especially appropriate to this show, which is sponsored by London Town Publik House and Gardens in Edgewater.

The Publik House, a Georgian brick structure dating from the mid-18th century, is now a museum, operated by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks. But it was once part of a bustling tobacco port overlooking the South River.

"The area where London Town was situated was occupied in 1650 and established as an official town in 1683. It was considered for a very short time to be the capital of Maryland," says Mr. Shomette, author of "London Town: A Brief History" and organizer of an underwater archaeological expedition of the old port. The town owed its fortune to its selection by the crown as a tobacco inspection station, through which all the tobacco in the region had to pass.

"There was a lot of shipping going in and out of the town," says Charlotte Leventry, a Publik House volunteer and chairman of this year's antique show. "The merchants would come in from England, bringing in the goods that the colonists needed, then the ships were loaded with tobacco, to be exported back to Mother England."

London Town was also a ferry point, and Colonial travelers could avoid a tiresome overland journey by taking the ferry across to Annapolis or Philadelphia. The London Town Publik House, owned by William Brown, who also owned the ferry, provided meals and lodging for ferry passengers and visitors to the town. (And, especially, to the Loyalists who gathered there during revolutionary days.) Toward the end of the century, Mr. Brown lost his inn, which later served as the Anne Arundel County Almshouse. Although the rest of the town eventually dwindled away -- the victim of politics, the loss of its "port of entry" status, and the coming of railroads -- the Publik House remained. Today

it is all that is left of a once-prosperous Co

lonial crossroads.

In tribute to the vanished town's port history, the Publik House Assembly, the group of volunteers who run the museum's fund-raising programs, is drawing attention to the maritime life in all its activities this season. At the holiday tavern tour in December, a historical interpreter portrayed Captain Scougall, a fixture of 18th century port life. When the museum reopens in March after its winter hiatus, the Tavern Day open house will highlight the crafts and entertainments of seafaring men. The April art show will have a nautical theme.

And next weekend's antique show will feature a talk by Mr.

Shomette dealing with his research into "Pirates on the Chesapeake," as well as displays and sales of items that the traders of old London Town and that era might have used aboard ship.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.