Maggie Lee


When last seen, Maggie Lee was a wreck, crumbling on the banks of the Choptank River at the Wharves at Choptank Crossing Museum in Denton, Maryland. Her centerboard case and bits of her sides were barely visible under the vegetation. When the Last Skipjacks Project began in 2009, her stern, with davits and wheel, were still visible out over the edge of the bank, but everything has now disappeared.

The remains of Maggie Lee, 18 August 2015

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There have been at least a couple skipjacks named Maggie Lee over the years. The one we found rotting away in the mud in Denton, Maryland, was built in 1903 in Pocomoke, reportedly by R. J. Chase. There was another Maggie Lee built in Inverness in 1908, but she was a smaller boat, about 15 feet shorter than the 51-foot wreck of a Maggie Lee in Denton in 2009. This Maggie Lee was the last of the Pocomoke round-bottoms, fore-and-aft planked like Skipjack Kathryn, with a round chine.

Waterman Theodore Cephus didn't like the look of her. "Maggie Lee always was an ugly boat," he said. "Had too long a bow on her and didn't have the right sheer on her." But she was photogenic enough for renowned photographer A. Aubrey Bodine, who won awards worldwide for his iconic 1948 image of her, "Choptank Oyster Dredgers".

As with many of the oldest skipjacks, there are few details of her early history to be found. There is a Maggie Lee listed for workboat races in 1929, with her captain as Walter Catlin out of Crisfield, but her listed length is 45 feet, so she may be yet another Maggie Lee, of intermediate length between the smaller 1908 boat and our large 1903 Maggie Lee.

In C. R. Webster's book No Time to Reef, Capt. Art "Daddy Art" Daniels remembered a storm when Maggie Lee was "leveled under water" by a storm. In Webster's book, he said she was then owned by Orville Parks. But the storm he recalls is the disastrous one of 3 February 1939, when a sudden blow came across the Bay and lives were lost when skipjacks capsized on the Choptank River. Orville Parks had bought Joy Parks in 1936 and was dredging on the Choptank that day. Maggie Lee was with half a dozen other boats on an oyster bar between Annapolis and Solomons on the other side of the Chesapeake.

In Christopher White's book Skipjack, Jimmy Daniels recalled that 1939 storm and Maggie Lee's peril. "The Maggie Lee took the worst of it because she had full sail," he said. "When she heeled over, the hatches filled with water. We only had hand pumps in them days and it took them hours to get the water out."

At least two of the Daniels family, Jimmy and Robert, crewed on Maggie Lee when she was owned by Capt. Clifton Webster, Daddy Art's father-in-law. When he bought her is unknown, and the first reliable dated reference we have encountered is that she participated in the first Deal Island Skipjack Race in 1960 with Clifton as captain. She is also listed for the 1962 races at Solomons, the 1963 Deal Island race and the 1970 Chesapeake Appreciation Day races at Sandy Point, all with Capt. Clifton W. Webster and homeport Wenona.

In 1969, Clifton bought Caleb W. Jones for his son Dickie and sold Maggie Lee to pay for her. Clifton also owned other skipjacks over the years, including Mary Sue, Nellie L. Byrd and H. M. Krentz, but Maggie Lee was reportedly his wife Elizabeth's favorite. Cooper Thomas was Clifton's cook aboard Maggie Lee. Clifton's son Ted worked with his father aboard Maggie Lee for several years and captained her the year Clifton sold her but before the new captain assumed ownership, reportedly a man from Rock Creek, Baltimore.

Few references to her appear for the following couple decades. In 1985, she was listed along with many of the other remaining skipjacks on the National Register of Historic Places. Her registration form has her owned then by Capt. Bill Bradshaw with homeport Tilghman. Billy Bradshaw was still her captain in late 1986 in a mention by Pat Vojtech in her book Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks.

Within a few years, however, Maggie Lee had been abandoned as a dredge boat. Buddy Harrison, a Tilghman Island restauranteur, bought the boat and pulled her up on the Choptank River bank outside his restaurant for customers to look at as they dined. She was hogged and "just about shot when I bought her," he said.

Her dredging days weren't quite behind her yet, though. As Vojtech tells it, in 1990, Earl "Bunky" Chance made a deal with Harrison. Bunky was 29 years old, with no experience as a dredger; but he wanted a skipjack, and he "knew if someone didn't do something with the Maggie Lee, she was going to be done for." Bunky and Buddy worked out a deal: Bunky would fix her up enough that she could work one season, and if it didn’t work out, he would at least bring her back to Buddy in better condition than she was.

Bunky did some makeshift repairs to her bottom so he could work that first 1990–91 season, but he was still worried all the time that she would break in half. "Standing by the wheel, it felt like you were standing on the end of a diving board" with her stern flexing in the waves. Even so, Bunky decided to keep the boat and paid Buddy $8,000 for her.

After that first season was over, Bunky rebuilt Maggie Lee's bottom and wrapped her sides with Seaflex (a form of fiberglass) from the rollers to the stern and 18 inches under the bottom. By the time he was finished with her, Maggie Lee looked like a new boat as she went into the 1991–92 season.

Pat Vojtech tells the story of Maggie Lee's adventure in the spring of 1992, when a sudden wind shift caught her while she was loaded with a thousand bushels of seed oysters, hauling them from Point Lookout to the Chester River. She jibed, heeled over and took on water, losing 300 bushels when a sideboard broke. Knee-deep water in the hull sloshed from side to side as she kept trying to right herself, repeatedly jibing. "How that boom never broke, I don't know," recalled Bunky.

Steering was impossible as the pushboat came out of its chock. Seams leaked, and the bilge pumps couldn't keep up. She was slowly sinking. Finally, they were able to catch the boom, stabilize the boat, and start a big Briggs and Stratton engine they had on board as backup for the bilge pumps. She was emptied in five minutes. They unloaded the rest of the spat at the mouth of the Patuxent River and headed back over to Tilghman Island.

Maggie Lee survived, but the Bay's oysters weren't as lucky. That year the bottom dropped out of the oyster harvest as disease spread up the Bay. Between Maggie Lee's condition and no money in dredging, it likely spelled the end for her. In 1998, she was still owned by Bunky Chance, but by 2003, Maggie Lee was where we finally found her, in the mud in Denton. At that time, people still had hope for her.

Carl Scheffel, Jr., launched an effort in 1989 to build the Old Harford Town Maritime Center on the banks of the Choptank River in Denton, celebrating the steamboat heritage that once traveled the river. At its ribbon-cutting in 2003, the Center had three skipjacks in its care. F. C. Lewis Jr. had been restored as a land exhibit, Flora A. Price was tied up alongside the Center's dock, and Maggie Lee had been pushed up on land. A news photo from that time shows her deteriorating, but largely intact, with her stern still lapped by the Choptank waters. The Center's aim was to restore both Flora A. Price and Maggie Lee. Sadly, that didn't happen. Both of those boats are now gone, and F. C. Lewis Jr. is well on its way to join them, now falling apart on the banks of Cambridge Creek.

When we first found her in 2009, Maggie Lee had deteriorated further from how she looked in the 2003 photo and was clearly beyond restoration. Only her stern was still partially intact, her wheel and steering gear still there, her name still in letters on her transom along with homeport of Trappe, but the forward two-thirds of the boat was mostly gone. By 2015, she had been swallowed by vegetation, little visible besides her centerboard case. When we looked for her in 2023, she had disappeared.

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