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The John Smith Barge is a replica of the original style boats used by Smith during his initial exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. In his notes, he called the boat “the discovery barge.” She was a ship’s barge, designed to set anchors or ferry crew & supplies from ship to shore. She disappeared centuries before the creation of photography. If plans for her ever existed, they were lost to the passage of time. Based on descriptions by Smith and other eye witness accounts, volunteers at the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum carefully designed and reconstructed this vital link to the past.
Virtually all of the lumber in the Spirit of 1608 comes from trees toppled by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Utilizing a donated sawmill, 63 volunteers at the museum labored more than 4000 hours in a process that included hauling trees, milling lumber, building frames, spiling, steaming and fitting planks, forging fittings and caulking seams. Spirit of 1608’s keel was laid January 17, 2006. She was christened on July 14, 2006.
The Smith Barge has been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary series NOVA and in keystone events throughout Virginia and Maryland. In June, 2007, the barge and her volunteer crew sailed from their home port of Reedville, Virginia to Washington, D.C. where they highlighted at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Spirit of 1608 and her crew of costumed interpreters are welcomed at schools, museums, parks and commemorative events across the Chesapeake Bay Region.
The John Smith boat is the traveling face of the museum and goes to many different type of events throughout Virginia. The crew dresses in period costumes and informs visitors of the history of John Smith’s travels in the Virginia area. Volunteers are also vital in the setup of the boat once it reaches a destination. Currently, our crew has shrunk to three volunteers which is the bare minimum for setting up the mast for each venue.
The Spirit of 1608 and her crew are available for events. To check availability for an appearance at your event, please call the museum office at 804.453.6529.