A Maritime Point of View . . .
Christopher T. George

Fells Point:
The Port of Early Baltimore

W ith this article, Chris George begins a new series on Baltimore's maritime heritage that will alternate on an occasional basis with his series on local monuments, "Monumentally Speaking."

     If you want to get a sense of Old Baltimore, you should go to Fells Point. In his recent book, Walking in Baltimore: An Intimate Guide to the Old City, author Frank R. Shivers, Jr. writes that Fells Point "is the only area [of the city] where the beginnings of Baltimore can be felt."

     In 1730, the English Quaker William Fell, a ship's carpenter, bought land on the marshy hook that jutted out into the Patapsco. He called his tract of land "Fell's Prospect." The river off the hook offered a deep water anchorage that enabled seagoing vessels to load and off-load cargo onto smaller boats for movement to and from shore. Within a few years, ships would anchor off Fells Point to be loaded with tobacco for transportation to England. Shipyards grew up along the river. Some of the most storied vessels in American sailing history were built in the shipyards of Fells Point and nearby Canton. Among these vessels were the frigate Constellation, built at Harris Creek by David Stodder in 1797, as well as such famous privateers of the War of 1812 as the Chasseur, built by Thomas Kemp, prototype of today's Pride of Baltimore. The secret of the success of Baltimore vessels in the Revolution and War of 1812 was their schooner design, with two masts sharply raked and a narrow hull that cut through the water giving the vessels great speed. Even the U.S. Navy's Constellation, though a three-masted ship, had some elements of the design that became known as the Baltimore "clipper," including the narrow hull which gave her a speed not possessed by her sister frigates and earned her the nickname "The Yankee Racehorse." The dawn of the nineteenth century saw the heyday of Baltimore as a port with Fells Point again leading the way, exporting flour to overseas ports, and importing coffee from Brazil, guano from Peru, and slaves from Africa.

     Although today Fells Point may seem to be most known as a favorite watering hole because of such drinking places as Bertha's, the Waterfront Hotel, and the Cat's Eye, plans are in the works that will better highlight the maritime heritage of the area. A $2.2 million Maryland Maritime Center is being built between Thames and Ann Streets that will include a visitors center at 808 S. Ann Street (next to the historic Robert Long House) and a maritime museum at 1724-1726 Thames Street that will include artifacts from the Maryland Historical Society's Radcliffe Maritime Museum. At the west end of Thames Street, near the foot of Caroline Street, the Living Classrooms Foundation in cooperation with the City is working on plans for the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park. The latter will include construction of a maritime railway dedicated to Isaac Myers, who in 1868 began the nation's first African American-owned maritime railway in Fells Point. The park will also include a monument to Frederick Douglass, the great black abolitionist who in his earlier years worked as a ship's caulker in the shipyards of Fells Point. Finally, the Historic Fells Point Foundation is establishing a web page which will feature a monthly electronic newsletter discussing the maritime history of Fells Point, including information on the Constellation. This year marks the Bicentennial of the maiden voyage of the Constellation in 1798.

[Device] Christopher T. George is a local free-lance writer and poet and the author of the recent picture book on our city, Baltimore Close Up, from Arcadia Publishers, on sale at local bookstores.

Questions or comments about this article for Mr. George.

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