Updated: Mar 29, 2022
Hall published “The Stewards of West River” at age 91. He’s got two books in the works.
CHESTERTOWN, MD — As a boy, Lyman Dean Hall trained his horse, a pinto named Silver, to carry him to school and trot back to the family farm in Michigan. At day’s end, Silver showed up at the schoolhouse to gather Hall for the ride home.
Hall rode Brahma bulls on the rodeo circuit as a young fellow, resulting in some of his 32 broken bones. Later, he rode in an even more dangerous saddle, as crew chief on a Strategic Air Command B-36 bomber with nuclear weapons, a participant along with the Russians in the contest of Mutual Assured Destruction.
“I like people who aren’t afraid to do something others wouldn’t do,” said Hall.
Hall did something last year that most others wouldn’t, or couldn’t, get done: publish a book at age 91, a volume that stands as yet another singular achievement in his life.
The Stewards of West River, 18 years in the making, is the history of a family and a shipyard at the center of the American revolution. Hall had the best perch imaginable to tell the story: He and his wife, June, lived for 32 years on the shoreline that served as headquarters for Maryland’s revolutionary navy, a shipyard burned by the British on March 31, 1781.
The book was released last year, not long after Lyman, who goes by Dean, and June sold their storied West River estate, Norman’s Retreat, and moved to a community across Chesapeake Bay and a life less demanding than tending to 25 acres brimming with history and archaeological treasure.
Now that the pandemic eased, Hall has resumed promoting Stewards, including a signing this month at a Captain Avery Museum luncheon in Shady Side.
It was serendipity that Hall landed on a patch of riverfront that played a critical role in America’s independence. After a career that included flying for major airlines and running a flight school, he purchased waterfront acreage near Galesville with its 230-year-old colonial only after Eastern Shore land they’d eyed sold to someone else.
One day the Halls heard a ruckus on his porch, where their German shepherd, Rugger, had pinned a shirtless “bearded giant,” in overalls and flip-flops, to the wall. The intruder turned out to be the state archaeologist Bruce Thompson. He told Halls what they vaguely knew — that they lived on coastline soil of great significance.
“After that, his life changed,” June Hall said, nodding toward her husband.
Hall threw himself into years of research. at the Maryland Hall of Records, the National Archives and Records Administration and newspaper files. The Halls traveled the East Coast, piecing together stories about 18th century shipping and the Revolutionary War.
Stephen Steward carved a reputation before the war for designing and building vessels capable of handling the Atlantic Ocean as well as Chesapeake Bay. In the 1770s, he became a warrior for independence, operating the Chesapeake Bay’s biggest shipyard with some 200 people turning out armed barges and warships.
The Stewards of West River has more characters, among them Stephen Steward’s son, John, who fought in the Maryland Line of the Continental Army, achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel and was decorated for bravery (despite intemperate behavior).
Francis Scott Key has a connection to the Steward family, and George Washington himself is a player in the book.
Stewards offers highly detailed, drama-filled stories of Revolutionary War battles that many people have forgotten, or never knew about. It also includes Hall’s own artwork with drawings of vessels and depictions of a community at a most eventful time.
It may not be said that Hall, who turned 92 in October, only had one book in him. He's aiming at two others, one of them an autobiography likely to include the story of the horse he rode to his one-room school, a biting horse ornery as his master.
Yet another is his story of transporting a 60-foot trawler from San Diego to Chesapeake Bay. It was 1975, and they rode out a monumental,30-hour storm in the Pacific. That was before the crew were taken prisoners in the Caribbean.
Says Hall: “To say that it was an interesting trip is putting it mildly.”
The Stewards of West River is available ($20+$3 handling) from Lyman Dean Hall, 424 Pintail Court, Chestertown, MD 21620, and online..