• The working watermen community of Tangier Island VA at sunset. Photo by Starke Jett.

    Chesapeake Bay

History & Culture

Four hundred years ago, Englishman John Smith and a small crew of adventurers set out in an open boat to explore the Chesapeake Bay. Between 1607 and 1609, Smith mapped and documented nearly 3,000 miles of the Bay and its rivers. Along the way they visited many thriving American Indian communities and gaterhed information about this "fruitful and delightsome land". In December 2006, the U.S. Congress designated the routes of Smith's explorations of the Chesapeake as a national historic trail -- the first national water trail.

Smith's maps and writings influenced exploration and settlement of eastern North America for many generations, and they are a remarkable record of the indigenous cultures and the natural environment of the 17th century Chesapeake.

Two hundred years after Smith's explorations, the young United States, after having won its independence, declared war on Britain again, objecting to the British empressment of American sailors into its own navy, and restricted the ability of the U.S. to trade freely with other countries. During the War of 1812 (lasting from 1812 to 1815), the Chesapeake Bay saw more battles, feints, skirmishes, raids, and engagements than any other theater of the war.

The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail tells the story of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake region. It connects historic sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia and commemorates the events leading up to the Battle for Baltimore, the aftermath of which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem of the United States. The trail traces American and British troop movements, introduces visitors to communities affected by the war, and highlights the Chesapeake region's distinctive landscapes and waterways.

Read on through the "People, Places, and Stories" section of this website to learn more.

Did You Know?

One of the many wading birds found in the Bay watershed

The water in the Chesapeake Bay is surprisingly shallow. Although the Bay covers a large surface area, its average depth, including all tidal tributaries, is about 21 feet. In fact, a person who is six feet tall could wade through over 700,000 acres of the Bay and never get his or her hat wet.