Shipwright is a term that is lost on many today. Traditionally, they are a carpenter skilled in ship construction and repair.
When we think of shipwrights in Manatee County many of us might think of the Fogarty family who founded Fogartyville. John Fogarty was a Captain, a shipwright, and is probably the most well-known Fogarty in the area. He happened upon Manatee County’s coast during a terrible storm in 1865. The coast, not yet inhabited, was merely referred to as an area of lower Tampa Bay that was sheltered by Anna Maria Key. The only people were located four miles away in Manatee Village, which had a population of less than 900 in 1860.
Much of John Fogarty’s story is detailed in They Called It Fogartyville. As a shipbuilder, he was impressed with the amount of “heavily wooded hammock” in the area and, as a fisherman, was also thrilled with the amount and sheer size of the fish found in our waters. After seeing this potential, it was impossible for John to stay away. By 1867, John and his brother Tole Fogarty, along with their families, resided along the Manatee River and it did not take long for another brother, Bartholomew (also known as Bill or Bat), to join them. Together, they started Fogarty Brothers Shipyard.
Wooden boat building is no longer a skill that many of our residents learn. The trade, even though still in existence, diminishes with each passing year. The knowledge of the Fogarty brothers has not been lost though. Today, traditional folk artist Bob Pitt continues this trade and shares the knowledge with anyone who is interested.
Robert William Pitt, Jr. was born in Sarasota, Florida, on January 21, 1953. A true traditional Florida shipwright, Bob has continued the boatbuilding skills of his Bahamian ancestry. Not only is boatbuilding in his blood, but Bob also grew up learning trade stories from Charlie Fogarty, a descendant of Tole Fogarty, who worked with Bob’s father at Florida Power and Light. Bob has been working as a boat carpenter since 1978 and shares his love for wooden boats through many outlets including as a volunteer for the Florida Folklife Program, the Florida Maritime Museum, the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Traditional Small Craft Association, and many other “individuals and organizations in their quests in this forgotten realm.”
Bob continues in the path of the many who came before him, not only making sure that he does everything he can to make sure that these skills survive but that the stories, the culture and the people who made the trade are remembered for future generations.
Photo Citation: Fogarty Boat Works at the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton, Florida. Between 1993 and 2005. Color postcard. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 1 Sep. 2017.<https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/259418>.
Author: Kristin Sweeting, Supervisor at FMM