Ship Model, Bugeye Lillie Sterling

The bugeye was a type of sailing work boat unique to the Chesapeake Bay. Designed for oyster dredging, it was also used for hauling freight in the Bay’s shallow waters. This model, like the bugeye it represents, was built in 1885 by E. James Tull, a boatbuilder in Pocomoke City, Maryland. Tull displayed this model of the Lillie Sterling at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as part of an exhibit organized by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. He won a medal for the vessel’s practical design.
Bugeyes were first built after the Civil War, when the Maryland state legislature repealed an 1820 ban on oyster dredging. Dredges--heavy iron frames holding long mesh bags--were introduced in the bay by New Englanders seeking to replenish northern oyster beds with Chesapeake oysters. Maryland lawmakers banned dredging and restricted oyster harvesting to residents of the state. But as markets expanded in the 1860s, the ban was lifted to allow dredging in certain areas of the bay. Fearful that dredging would deplete the bay’s oysters, lawmakers sought to limit the dredge’s efficiency by restricting its use to sailing vessels. This law ensured that sailing craft, not steamers, would dominate the Chesapeake’s oyster industry. To this day, oyster dredging is still carried out by sail-powered boats in Maryland.
The first bugeyes were large log canoes, built of seven or nine logs that were hollowed out, shaped, and pinned together lengthwise. They were built with full decks, which provided a working platform for the crew to empty the dredges and sort through the catch. By the 1880s, bugeyes like the Lillie Sterling were constructed with full framing and planking instead of logs. Although bugeyes were widely used in the oyster trade for several decades, they were gradually replaced by skipjacks, an easier and cheaper vessel to build. The origin of the name "bugeye" remains unknown.
Currently not on view
date made
Tull, E. James
United States: Illinois, Chicago
unique to
United States: Chesapeake Bay
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
textile (overall material)
overall: 33 in x 33 in x 7 in; 83.82 cm x 83.82 cm x 17.78 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of the U.S. Fish Commission
related event
The Development of the Industrial United States
World's Columbian Exposition
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Natural Resources
On the Water exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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