The Chesapeake Bay in John Smith's Time
Image via Captain John Smith 400 Project, courtesy of Marc Castelli
- Grade Level:
- Fourth Grade-Ninth Grade
- American Indian History and Culture, Climate Change, Colonial History, Ecology, Education, Environment, History
- 2/3 class periods
- Group Size:
- Up to 36 (6-12 breakout groups)
- National/State Standards:
- Life Sciences, Environmental Science, Historical Investigation
- Jamestown, John Smith, Chesapeake Bay, Captain John Smith Voyages, Early exploration, Chesapeake Bay health, water quality
OverviewStudents will examine resources that describe the animals and plants that John Smith and his crew encountered on the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. They also will read reports about the habitats that Smith described during his travels. Students will issue a “report card” on the Bay’s health in 1608, using evidence from primary sources to support their assessment. Students will compare the health of the Bay’s fisheries and habitats in the 17th century with the Bay’s health today.
- Students will analyze primary sources in order to assess the presence of various animals and the quality of the Chesapeake Bay habitats in the 1600s.
- Students will compare the Chesapeake Bay of the 1600s with that of today.
In the summer of 1608, Captain John Smith made two voyages from Jamestown to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Smith documented the natural environment, features of the land and waterways, and encounters with the Native peoples he met along the way. From this he created a remarkably accurate map of the Chesapeake Bay that played an influential role in the future colonization of the region. Accompanying this map was a pamphlet guide entitled "A Map of Virginia.
With a Description of the Country, the Commodities, People, Government and Religion" which gave readers in Europe their first comprehensive picture of the great Chesapeake estuary. In his voyage narratives, Smith described the Bay's shorelines, rivers, and creeks and provided names for islands and other land features. He described forests along the shoreline that were "frequented with wolves, Beares, Deere and other wild beasts [sic]." The dense forests surrounding the Bay and its rivers slowed sediment and freshwater runoff. Some scientists believe that the Bay was actually saltier in the 1600s than it is today because so much rain water was absorbed by the massive canopies of these old growth forests. The Bay also had exceptional water clarity due to the natural filtration provided by oysters, marshes, swamps, and submerged grass beds.
Aside from the obvious changes to the region brought by four centuries of development, the most significant differences are found in the quantity and variety of animals living in the Bay's ecosystem. Though the quantity of oysters has been in sharp decline until very recently, Smith writes that oysters in the early 17th century "lay as thick as stones." The Bay's fish population included "sturgeon, grampus, porpoise, seals, stingrays … brits, mullets, white salmon [rockfish], trout, soles, perch of three sorts" and a variety of shellfish. At one point, Smith and his men were surrounded by schools of fish so massive that they attempted to catch them with frying pans!
In this lesson, students use primary sources to summarize the variety and abundance of plant and animal life witnessed by Smith and other explorers of the 17th century Chesapeake. They will use this information to make inferences about the water quality of the Bay in 1608. They will then compare the health of the estuary in Smith's time to the health of the Bay today using data from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 2005 State of the Bay Report.
Additional Sources of Background Information:
The following selections are included at the end of this lesson plan:
- Chesapeake Bay Watershed
- Wetlands: Food, Filter, Habitat
- Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
- The Eastern Oyster
This information has been selected from Sultana Projects' ecology workbook entitled Chesapeake Bay Ecology Unit for Classroom Teachers.
All materials can be found in lesson plan pdf.
Teachers: Transparency #1 The Chesapeake Bay in 1608
Transparency #1a The Chesapeake Bay Today
Transparency #2 Healthy Habitats
Students: Handout #1 Common Animals Seen on the Chesapeake Bay by Captain John Smith
Handout #2 Quotes from Early Explorers of the Chesapeake Bay
Handout #2a Student Data: Animals of the Chesapeake in the 1600s
Handout #3 Healthy Habitats: Captain John Smith's Descriptions of the Chesapeake
Handout #3a Student Data Sheet
Handout #4 Chesapeake Bay Report Card in the 1600s
Handout #4a The State of the Bay in 2005
- Have students form small groups and brainstorm the names of plants and animals that live in the Chesapeake Bay. Have each group read their list to the class. Make a list of these organisms on the chalk board.
- Project images from the transparency entitled "The Chesapeake Bay in 1608" (Transparency #1). Have students make observations about the living and non-living things in the environment. Instruct them to look carefully at the Bay, its rivers, plants and animals and the surrounding lands.
- Project images from the transparency entitled "The Chesapeake Bay Today" (Transparency #1a). Have the students make observations about these images. How do they differ from the images on the 1608 worksheet?
- Draw a T-chart on the board and label one side "Chesapeake Bay in 1608" and the other side"Chesapeake Bay Today"
- Have students close their eyes and imagine they are Captain John Smith as he travels up the Chesapeake Bay. After opening their eyes, ask students to describe what they saw. Record their responses on the t-chart. (Possible responses: Lots of clear water, forests, wetlands along the water's edge, the presence of Indians, no motorized boats, rivers entering the Bay.)
- Instruct students to now imagine they are on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay today. Ask them to describe what they see. Record their responses on the T-chart. (Possible responses: lots of murky water, some forests and wetlands along the water's edge, many houses and buildings lining the shore, many boats on the water, rivers entering the Bay, and bridges.)
- Discuss the differences in how the Bay looked in the 1600s and today.
- Ask students: Have the changes that have occurred around the Bay since the 1600s had an effect on the plants and animals that live in the Bay today? (Answer: Yes - murkier waters have led to declining amounts of submerged grass beds. This loss of habitat has led to fewer crabs and fish. Also, intense fishing pressure and pollution have taken a heavy toll on the populations of fish, crabs, and oysters.
- Tell students they will need to discover what the Chesapeake Bay was like in the 1600s in order to fully understand how the Bay has changed in the last four centuries. They will begin this process by reading about the animals that Captain John Smith and other explorers of 1600s found during their explorations of the Chesapeake region.
- As a class, read the worksheet entitled "Common Animals Seen on the Chesapeake Bay by Captain John Smith in 1608" (Handout #1). Ask the students if they have seen the animals in the pictures. Which animals are no longer common today? (It is likely that many of the students will have never seen a live sturgeon, shad, or herring - despite the fact that these were once among the most common fish found in the estuary. It is also likely that they WILL have seen oysters, geese, and rockfish).
- Tell the students that today they will be reading quotes from early explorers of the Chesapeake to learn about fisheries on the Bay in the 17th and 18th centuries Draw a T-chart on the blackboard like the one found on the worksheet entitled "Student Data: Animals of the Chesapeake in the 1600s"
- Use the T-chart to compile student responses to the activity below:
- Instruct students to read the quotes provided on the handout entitled "Quotes from Early Explorers of the Chesapeake Bay" (Handout #2) in order to create a list of names of the animals that were found and their relative numbers. Students should record their findings on the worksheet entitled "Student Data: Animals of the Chesapeake in the 1600s" (Handout #2a).
- Go over the instructions for the assignment and reading strategy. Differentiate reading strategies in other ways if necessary (i.e., pair students, give one passage to a team; assign two or more of the primary resource passages to each student). The passages are quotes from the 17th and 18th centuries. Since they are written in the language of the time it may be difficult for students to read them. Provide teacher assistance as needed. The object of the lesson is to discover the animals and the relative numbers that were found, not to get weighted down with the language. Since actual numbers are often not given, instruct the students to write down general observations such as "many" or "great amounts".
- Call on students to volunteer to read the information from their data chart/s. Record student responses on the T-chart on the blackboard.
1. Discuss the information from the T-chart and ask students to give a general description of the numbers and kinds of animals found in the Bay during the 1600s. (In general, the students should conclude that there were large quantities of fish, birds and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay of John Smith's time.)
- Discuss the following vocabulary words:
- habitat an area where a plant or animals lives that provides food, water and protection for survival and reproduction
- SAV (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation) rooted underwater plants that provide an important source of food and habitat for many Bay-dwelling animals
- forested buffer wooded areas which help filter polluted runoff before it enters rivers or streams
- wetlands areas such as marshes and swamps typically found along the Bay's edges in shallow areas where the water meets the land. These areas are often called "nurseries" because they provide food and shelter for small, juvenile animals
- Project the transparency entitled "Healthy Habitats" (Transparency #2) and read it aloud as a class. Discuss the definition of a habitat and have the students come up with habitats that are not mentioned in the reading (student responses may include brooks, streams, rivers, meadows, etc.)Tell the students that they are going to be reading quotes from Captain John Smith which describe habitats on the Bay in the 1600s.
- Instruct students to read the text entitled "Healthy Habitats: Captain John Smith's Description of the Land Surrounding the Chesapeake Bay in 1608" (Handout #3). Add pre-reading and during reading directions as needed.
- Have students read the quotes and complete their Student Data Sheet (Handout #3a) with the name/s of the habitat and words that describe the habitat.
- Compile the responses on a class T-chart on the blackboard.
- Explain to students that they will now grade the condition of the Chesapeake Bay in the 1600s. They will need to think about what they learned from Captain John Smith and other explorers of the 1600s and what they now know about the importance of healthy habitats.
- Review the instructions on the worksheet entitled "Chesapeake Bay Report Card in the 1600s" (Handout #4) with students. Grades for each category are based on a scale of 0 (worst) to 100 (best). After giving a grade for each item, students should assign one overall grade to the Bay. They should support their choice of a grade with information.
Now present students with data in the same seven categories from the worksheet entitled "The State of
the Bay in 2005" (Handout #4a). This data is taken from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's annual
State of the Bay Report. Students should compare the two report cards and summarize what changes
have occurred in the Bay since John Smith's time.
TO OBTAIN THE ENTIRE STATE OF THE BAY REPORT:
- Visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's web site at www.cbf.org
- Double click on the "State of the Bay" icon on the blue horizontal bar near the top of the page.
- Double click on "Download". The download requires Adobe Reader 6.0 software.
VocabularyHabitat - an area where a plant or animal lives that provides it with food, water, protection for survival and reproduction
SAV -(Submerged Aquatic Vegetation) rooted underwater plants that provide an important source of food and habitat for many Bay-dwelling animals
Forested Buffer - wooded areas which help filter polluted runoff before it enters rivers or streams
Wetlands - areas such as marshes and swamps typically found along the Bay’s edges in shallow areas where the water meets the land. These areas are often called “nurseries” because they provide food and shelter for small, juvenile animals.