About Us

The Mathews Maritime Foundation | a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation

The mission of the Mathews Maritime Foundation is to preserve, present, and participate in the rich maritime and cultural heritage of Mathews County, Virginia. The foundation is dedicated to preserving this rich heritage through research, documentation, conservation, and education. Incorporated on January 6, 1999, it has 2 locations, the Mathews Maritime Museum and the Gwynn’s Island Boat Shop, and continues to expand its presence in the county.

MARITIME HISTORY of MATHEWS County, Virginia

The building of sailing ships in Mathews began in colonial times.
county seal

Schooners were the workhorses of the Chesapeake Bay beginning in the 1700's, and many were built up to 1900.

Our logo is the schooner “Experiment,” built on the East River in 1808, and typical of the more than 2,000 seagoing vessels built in Mathews during the 18th and 19th centuries.
schooner

The Revolutionary War increased the need for sailing ships.
flag

Shipbuilding was the major industry of Mathews from the American Revolution until before the Civil War.

mapBefore the Civil War, more sailing vessels were built in Mathews than in any part of Va. According to research done by Peter J. Wrike, there were at one time at least 6 shipyards on the East River.

Before 1860 shipbuilding sites also existed on Blackwater Creek, Cobbs Creek, Winter Harbor, Milford Haven, North River, Pepper Creek, Point Breeze, Put-In Creek, Sloop Creek and Stutts Creek.

The East River was the official port of entry to the U.S. for 10,000+ vessels. 9 wharves dotted the shoreline providing transportation for passengers and cargo. Numerous packing houses and canneries created a vibrant economic waterfront.

The shipbuilding trade often passed from father to son for generations, including the families of Ashberry, Gayle, Billups, Hudgins, Hunley, Miller, Smith and others.

alton
Photo courtesy of Mildred Smith Stillman.

ladies
Photo courtesy of the late Richard D. Booker.

Many Mathews men made their living on the water as merchant mariners, watermen, and in the nation's coast guard and navy. It is said that in ports around the world rarely did a U.S. ship come in that didn't have at least one Mathews man among her crew.

Chesapeake Maritime
Museum Consortium