Very few sporting breeds of dogs have had as interesting a history as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever — which in 1964 became the official dog of the State of Maryland.
It is well documented that in the year of 1807, an English ship, trading between Newfoundland and England, was wrecked off of the coast of Maryland. The cargo and crew were rescued by an American ship on its way to Baltimore. Among the cargo taken aboard the American ship CANTON, were two Newfoundland puppies.
The male dog was subsequently named “Sailor,” and the bitch was named “Canton,” after the rescuing vessel.
The dog, which was red in color became the property of John Mercer of West River, Maryland. The bitch which was black and was given to Dr. James Stuart of Sparrows Point, Maryland, in gratitude for the hospitality shown the sailors of the wrecked brig. Both Mercer and Dr. Stuart were ardent hunters of waterfowl and soon discovered that the two dogs were exceptional retrievers.
Their retrieving abilities made their offspring much sought after by local duck hunters. By the mid-1800s the breed was clearly distinguishable. These dogs soon became legendary for their skill and stamina working in the ice-choked waters. Ducks and geese were abundant, but the icy water and rough seas of the Bay area made gunning a tough game.
During the mid to late 1800s the Carroll Island Gun Club, along the Gunpowder River northeast of Baltimore, was host to dignitaries from all over the world. Presidents and statesmen along with wealthy sportsmen who came to shoot over the famous dogs and watch them work. The club members bred “Chesapeakes” exclusively and the Carroll Island Gun Club held the pedigree of the “Chesapeake Bay Dog” for many years. Unfortunately, near the turn of the twentieth century a fire at the club destroyed all of the breeding records.
Many great lines of Chesapeake Bay dogs were taking shape as early as 1880. The breed went by many early names. The Chesapeake Bay Duck Dog, the Brown Winchester, the Otter Dog, the Newfoundland Duck Dog and the Red Chester Ducking Dog were but a few, but by 1887 a definite strain had evolved which were almost always dark brown, shading into a reddish brown. In 1890 the name was finally given as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. This is when breeding records were started and Baltimore’s Chesapeake Bay Dog Club was formed.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was started by chance and developed out of the necessity for a special American purpose. The breed wasn’t developed in a structured breeding program by the wealthy as the Labrador was. Early on it was developed, largely, in an unrecorded, unsophisticated fashion out of the necessity of the times. From the beginning the Chesapeake was subject to rigid selection based solely on his efficiency. The poor specimen was soon discarded and the unsound and weak broke down under the relentless work in all kinds of weather conditions. Only the sound and strong survived to continue this unique American breed.