Chesapeake Bay Retrievers trace their history to two pups who were rescued from a foundering ship in Maryland in 1807. The male "Sailor" and female "Canton" were described as Newfoundland dogs, but were more accurately Lesser Newfoundland or St. John's water dogs. These two lived in different parts of the bay area and there is no record of a litter being produced together. They were bred with area dogs, with more consideration given to ability than to breed, to create the beginnings of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever breed. There are few records of the breeds of these early dogs, but spaniels and hounds were included. Dogs from both Chesapeake Bay shores were recognized as one of three types of Chesapeake Bay Ducking Dog in 1877. In 1918 a single type, called the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, was recognized by the American Kennel Club, and there have been few changes to the breed standard since then.
George Law, who rescued the pups, wrote this account in 1845 which appears on the website of the American Chesapeake Bay Retriever Club
In 1964, it was declared the official dog of Maryland. It is the mascot of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Members of the breed were owned by General George Armstrong Custer, President Theodore Roosevelt, Senator John McCain, and actors Paul Walker and Tom Felton.