Ship Model, Chesapeake Bay Log Canoe

This model of a Chesapeake Bay log canoe was built in 1880 and displayed at the Great International Fisheries Exhibition in London in 1883. It shows a two-masted log canoe with a mustard-colored hull. Although this model may look more like a recreational sailboat than a traditional paddling canoe, its roots can be traced back to the dugouts built and used by American Indians. Native Americans along the bay used dugouts, made by hollowing out a single tree trunk, to spear fish, gather oysters, and travel from one village to another. Europeans adopted the log-canoe technology shortly after arriving in the region in the early 1600s. By the start of the 18th century, colonists had modified the standard, single-log dugout, by hewing and shaping several logs and fitting them together to enlarge the craft. They added masts and sails, providing the means to travel farther and giving the vessels their distinctive appearance.
Despite the widespread use of frame-and-plank shipbuilding techniques around the Chesapeake, watermen continued building and using log canoes well into the 20th century. The canoes were ideal for oyster tonging in the many protected creeks and rivers that flow into the bay. This model includes a pair of hand tongs of the sort made by local blacksmiths for oystermen. A waterman would anchor his canoe over an oyster bed and lower the tongs into the water. With a scissoring motion, he would rake the tongs together until the iron basket was full and ready to be lifted onboard.
In terms of construction, the log canoe is the forerunner to the bugeye, which is essentially an enlarged canoe built of seven or nine logs with a full deck added over the hold. While log canoes are no longer used in commercial fishing, they can still be seen in special sailboat races on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake.
Object Name
model, ship
date made
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
textile (overall material)
overall: 25 in x 31 1/2 in x 5 1/4 in; 63.5 cm x 80.01 cm x 13.335 cm
United Kingdom: England, London
unique to
United States: Chesapeake Bay
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Cultures & Communities
Natural Resources
On the Water exhibit
The Development of the Industrial United States
Great International Fisheries Exhibition
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of T. B. Ferguson
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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