History & Culture

Over 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 gathered 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.

Captain John Smith was not the beginning of the Chesapeake story but a new chapter. Prior to the English arrival in 1607 humans had been inhabiting the Chesapeake watershed for more than 12,000 years, thriving on the abundant natural resources. When Captain John Smith explored the waters in his shallop, he encountered substantial and sophisticated American Indian Polities. Although communities were disrupted by European colonization, today many descendants sustain their identity and cultural values in the region.

Last updated: April 23, 2018

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