The term “batteau” (batteaux in plural form) refers to a number of small vessels that once dominated the Chesapeake Bay region. The name is derived from the French word, bateau, meaning “boat”. Both spellings have been applied to American vessels.

Batteau Sailboats

The batteau sailboat was common in the Chesapeake Bay during the colonial period. These shallow-draft, flat-bottomed sailing vessels were built in a range of sizes. The design allowed passengers and cargo to be transported efficiently between local ports.

As the demand for larger and more specialized batteaux increased, boat builders began building the skipjack sailboat. Historians note that the terms “batteau” and “skipjack” were somewhat interchangeable.  In parts of the Chesapeake Bay region, the term batteau is said to refer to a hull type, while skipjack denotes a sail configuration.

James River Batteau

Another specialized boat of the Chesapeake Bay was the known as the “James River Bateau”. This specialized shallow draft craft was used transport tobacco and other cargo along the James River. James River Bateaux were flat bottomed and pointed at both ends.