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Evolution Of Chesapeake Bay Log Canoe Featured in Jamestown Settlement Exhibition in Partnership With The Mariners' Museum

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., September 3, 2014 — A new special exhibition, “Working and Racing on the Bay: The Chesapeake Log Canoe,” will open at Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia history and culture, on September 19, 2014. Curated by The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va., and featuring objects from its collection, the yearlong exhibition will trace the evolution of the dugout canoe through the centuries, from the watercraft of the Powhatan people 400 years ago to multi-log trade vessels and work and racing boats.

The manner of making their boats, de Bry, circa 1590, The Mariners' Museum

“The manner of making their boats,” a circa-1590 Theodor de Bry colored engraving (circa 1590) after John White painting, shows how Powhatan Indians hollowed a log by burning, then scraping out coals and ash. From the collections at The Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, Va.

The special exhibition, which runs through September 8, 2015, is funded in part by a grant from James City County with additional support from Mr. and Mrs. E. Peter Meekins, Altria Group and Dominion Resources, Inc.

In conjunction with the exhibition’s opening weekend, Jamestown Settlement will present an exhibition-themed “Community Day: On the Riverfront” on September 20, 2014, featuring chantey singers, maritime interpretive programs and hands-on activities.

For more than three centuries, the log canoe was essential to life on the Chesapeake Bay, the United States’ largest estuary, for travel, harvest and trade. The log canoe – fashioned by Powhatan Indians from felled trees along the riverbanks, methodically burned and scraped out with shells and other hand tools – was the dominant watercraft at the time the English colonists arrived at Jamestown in 1607. The open, shallow vessel was found to be both practical and suitable for navigating the rivers and streams for fishing and harvesting waterways, which eventually led to its adoption and assimilation by European colonists using metal tools and technology. John Smith admired the indigenous dugout in 1608, noting “…Instead of Oares, they use Paddles and sticks, with which they will row faster than our Barges.”

More than 100 objects from The Mariners’ Museum, including a dugout canoe, wood samples, photographic images, woodworking and boatbuilding tools, and scale models, will illustrate the fabrication, employment, sailing and racing of the Chesapeake Bay log canoe.

The special exhibition will take a look at a variety of log canoes, methods of construction and adaptations to the vessel form fueled by the economic demand for tobacco and oysters on world markets. Key among these changes was the development of the tobacco canoe and multi-log hulls that allowed for larger cargoes to be transported to trade centers more efficiently. Many log canoes took on the names of the localities in which the newly adapted vessels were designed, including Poquoson, Pocomoke and Tilghman Island.

By the turn of the 20th century, the racing of log canoes emerged from working boats dashing in competition from oyster bed to market in an effort to secure the best price for their goods. Thinner hulls and an enormous amount of sail transformed the workboat into a racing vessel. Annual organized racing competitions were held and continue today in the northern Chesapeake Bay.

The special exhibition also will explore descendants of the Chesapeake log canoe – the James River bateau, the brogan and the bugeye, as well as log canoes in other North American regions, including the Florida Everglades, Louisiana, Haida Gwaii of British Columbia and Alaska, and Hawaii.

The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va., an educational, non-profit institution accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and designated by Congress as America’s National Maritime Museum, is dedicated to the story of mankind’s relationship with the sea. It is home to an international collection of art and artifacts, the largest maritime library and archives in the Northern Hemisphere, and the USS Monitor Center.

Jamestown Settlement, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, is located southwest of Williamsburg on Route 31 at the Colonial Parkway. General admission of $16.00 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 6 through 12 (2015: $16.75 for adults and $7.75 for ages 6 through 12) includes admission to the special exhibition. Permanent museum exhibits include expansive exhibition galleries and outdoor re-creations of an early 17th-century Powhatan Indian village, the three ships that brought America’s first permanent English colonists to Virginia in 1607 and a 1610-14 colonial fort.

Jamestown Settlement, along with the Yorktown Victory Center, is administered by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838 or visit hif.ciniva.net.