West River Skirmish of 1781

From Annapolis Past Port

On the night of March 31, 1781, Anne Arundel County's only battle in the American Revolution was fought at Chalk Point, on the West River [1] [2] [3], when a party from the British ships Monk and Hope [1] [2] [4] sailed up the West River to destroy the property of shipbuilder Stephen Steward [1] [4] (Unknown-1794)[5], as well as the shipyard he owned and operated [6].


Chalk Point

Chalk Point was named so because the British supposedly used it as a dumping ground for ballast chalk from ships [7].

Blockade of Annapolis by Monk and Hope

On March 21, 1781, the Maryland Council received a warning from Governor Thomas Jefferson of Virginia of British warships advancing up the Chesapeake Bay [8]. Shortly thereafter, Annapolis was blockaded by Monk and Hope [1] [2]. Monk had been originally named the USS George Washington before she had been captured by the British and renamed the HMS General Monk in 1780 [9] [10]. Hope had originally been an American privateer named Lady Washington until she was captured by the British [11].

Stephen Steward And His Shipyard

Stephen Steward had a family history of defiance of British imperialism, as his family was exiled to the Colonies from Scotland by Oliver Cromwell for their participation in the English Civil Wars [12].

A common myth about Stephen Steward's shipyard is that he co-owned it with Samuel Galloway [13] (1720-1785)[14]. While Samuel Galloway and Stephen Steward did have a business partnership and co-owned ships together[15], Samuel Galloway was a merchant and a customer of Stephen Steward's, not a shipbuilder himself[13]. Another is that Stephen Steward inherited the shipyard from his father, John Steward. Stephen Steward, in fact, built the shipyard in 1751[16].


British Assault

The British forces from Monk and Hope were led to the shipyard operated by Steward and Galloway by an escaped man (formerly enslaved by Mr. Steward) [1] [2]. Local militia were taken by surprise as the British launched a land attack down the point by night instead of approaching around the point by water as predicted [1][17]. When the Patriots challenged the British, the British attempted to pose as allies by replying that they were "Friends to Congress from Annapolis" [1] [2] [4]. This attempt at deception was unsuccessful, as twenty of the Patriots opened fire with their small arms immediately thereafter, and the others ran away due to being outnumbered [1] [2]. The British fired a large volley in response [1] [2]. To the disadvantage of the Patriots who fired upon the British, the Patriots who fled took the remaining ammunition with them [1] [2].

Retreat To "Mr. Harrison's"

The retreating Patriots fled to the house of a "Mr. Harrison" nearby and regrouped, preparing to stave off a secondary assault by the party from Monk and Hope, but the attack never came [1] [2]. There are three Harrisons in the Daughters of the American Revolution Patriot database who are located in the West River Hundred [18], so the identity of the "Mr. Harrison" to whose house the retreating Patriots fled is unknown. However, Stephen Steward's letter to the Maryland Public Safety Council on April 1, 1781, mentions a Mr. Richard Harrison who could have been the Patriot sympathizer in question [19].



Mr. Steward's dwelling house, multiple store houses with shipbuilding materials, and a recently-completed 20-gun ship were reportedly destroyed in the clash [1] [2]. All records pertaining to Stephen Steward's partnership with Samuel Galloway were also destroyed [6]. However, the day after the battle, Mr. Steward sent a letter to the Maryland Council that he was ready to build one or two galleys with guns for them [20] [19].

Monk and Hope

After the burning of the Stephen Steward shipyard, Monk and Hope returned to Annapolis to carry out a second blockade [21].


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 A History of Anne Arundel County in Maryland. United States, Creative Media Partners, LLC, 2016. https://www.google.com/books/edition/A_History_of_Anne_Arundel_County_in_Mary/5wZJvgAACAAJ?hl=en
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Kelly, J. Reaney. “’Tulip Hill,’ Its History and Its People.” Maryland Historical Magazine, December 1965, pp. 349-403. https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc5800/sc5881/000001/000000/000240/pdf/msa_sc_5881_1_240.pdf
  3. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 180.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 The Maryland Gazette (Annapolis, Maryland). Thursday, April 5, 1781, Pages 1-2, Accessed 20 July 2023.
  5. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 90.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Eller, Ernest M.. Chesapeake Bay in the American Revolution. United States, Tidewater Publishers, 1981.
  7. Middleton, Arthur Pierce. "Tobacco Coast." The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD, 1984, p. 99
  8. Browne, William Hand, et al., editors. “Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, Volume XIV, 1780-1781." Google Books, 1927, https://books.google.com/books?id=EgMPAQAAIAAJ.
  9. Naval History and Heritage Command. “NH 56478 HMS GENERAL MONK.” Naval History and Heritage Command, Accessed 4 July 2023, https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-56000/NH-56478.html.
  10. ThreeDecks. “British sloop 'General Monk' (1780).” ThreeDecks, Accessed 4 July 2023, https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=4428.
  11. Sails Of Glory Anchorage. “Depictions of the ships behind the SoG-miniatures.” Sails of Glory Anchorage, Accessed 5 July 2023, https://www.sailsofglory.org/entry.php?37-Depictions-of-the-ships-behind-the-SoG-miniatures.
  12. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 12
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 78-81. Hall is disproving claims that Steward and Galloway co-owned the shipyard.
  14. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 84.
  15. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 82.
  16. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 80.
  17. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 180.
  18. Daughters of the American Revolution. “Patriot Records Index.” Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogy Research, https://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search_revwar/?Rows=25&action=search&SearchSource=Form&MySurname=Harrison&MyFirst_Name=&Doc_ID=22&SubmitForm=Search, Accessed 20 July 2023.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Steward, Stephen. “April I Red Book No. 27 Letter 50.” Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1781, Volume 47, Page 156, https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2900/sc2908/000001/000047/html/am47--119.html
  20. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 300. Hall hypothesizes that the report of destruction was manufactured by Mr. Steward in an effort to protect himself, his family, and his shipyard from further attacks.
  21. Hall, Lyman. "The Stewards of West River." BookBaby, 24 May 2021, p. 175.