In the decades before the American Revolution, Annapolis was the customs port for the upper Bay western shore. Ships clearing in and out paid duties and fees to the local naval officer. With good shipyards (including Ship Carpenters Lot north of the dock, not far from where you are standing), ropewalks, ship chandlers, and bakers, Annapolis also served as an important center for supply, refitting, and provisioning.
Cargoes shipped to Annapolis originated in many places throughout the globe. Merchants imported spices, cloth, and ceramics from the Orient, rum, sugar, molasses, and coffee from the West Indies; wine from France and southern Europe; raisins from the Middle East; tar, pitch, and turpentine from North Carolina; and iron and wood products from New England. Great Britain shipped manufactured goods and thoroughbreds from the King's stables to Annapolis which became the center of horse racing in the colonies. Independant servants and convicts from Britain as well as enslaved Africans, shipped from their homeland and the West Indies, were sold and at auction to provide labor for the city's residents and rurual planters.
When ships arrived in Annapolis, the city was a place of bustling activity, pungent smells, and noisy verbal exchanges. A variety of small watercraft carried goods between shore and larger ships anchored out in the harbor; horse-drawn carts and drays moved cargoes by land to and from the waterfront. The pungent aromas of fish, tobacco, wandering livestock and rotting garbage filled the air. The shouts of workmen, street vendors, and drunken seamen echoed across the water. Wharves, warehouses, shops, and taverns surrounded the dock, a waterway much larger in the eighteenth century that what it is today. Genteel Annapolitans, like John Ridout, who built elegant Georgian houses in the years just before the American Revolution, located them on higher ground a good distance from the crowded, dirty streets nearest the harbor.
The American Revolution brought an end to Annapolis' position at the upper Bay's major seaport. The war solidified Baltimore's new position as the state's leading economic center, with its larger, deeper harbor and location better suited to shipping out the agricultural products of the rich farmland of western Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.