The Historic American Sneakboat

Sneakboat and Decoys, Plum Island, circa 1885 Anonymous/©Fredrik D. Bodin
Basic Sneak Boat
The sneakboat is a type of duck hunting boat, dating from the early 1800’s, that was, and still is used throughout the United States in one form or another (sneak, sneak box, sculling boat, float boat, and coffin boat). This low-profile camouflaged boat allowed the hunter to lie down at water level amoung his decoys, maneuver quietly by wiggling a paddle out the stern transom, and lure flying ducks to seemingly safe waters. When the birds descend, he hunter sits up and fires away with a shotgun. Sneakboats proved to be deadly for ducks in the days of “market hunting,” when one could make a decent living killing waterfowl. The Rodigrass clan migrated to Plum Island from Nova Scotia in the late 1800’s to commercially harvest ducks, clams, and fish. They were notable both as hunters and as guides.
Nathan Rodigrass, Plum Island, circa 1885 Anonymous/©Fredrik D. Bodin
The Rodigrass Camp, circa 1900 Anonymous/©Fredrik D. Bodin
Built in 1882, the Rodigrass Camp stood on Plum Island until 1989, when it was torn down. The Rodigrass clan later became stewards of the National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, protecting the animals they once hunted. I’ve met people in Gloucester who are familiar with or hunt with sneak boats. However, not many of us have seen a sneak boat, and neither have the ducks.


  • Never heard of one. Excellent photos and story.


  • Fred, you truly have a trove of extraordinary images, and we appreciate you sharing these with the greater world. But can you claim copyright in your name on materials that you didn’t create? I’m under the impression that the creator would have had to assign you those rights to make such a claim legal. The fact that the creator is unknown would not mitigate this. While this analogy may be far-fetched, I think the principle would be much the same as if you or I tried to claim a copyright on the Venus de Milo (a girl with many charms!). On the other hand, ownership is (relatively) easy to prove and provides a strong commercial position in law.


  • Hi Jerry- Your last sentence is the foundation of my claim. When I worked at the photo studio in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I saw how vigilantly they protected their copyright on all artwork, especially when one time reproduction rights were sold to books, magazines, or any other use. That’s all based on ownership. In all cases, the historic negatives I own were taken by deceased photographers, whether identified or not. Thanks for your comment.


Leaving a comment rewards the author of this post- add to the discussion here-

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s