Nature’s Highway - panel five of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network exhibit

Panel six of the Chesapeke Bay Exibit

“They have in their Colony pinnaces, barks, great and small boats many hundreds, for most of their plantations stand upon the river sides….”

- A Perfect Description of Virginia, 1649

John Smith's map of Virginia
John Smith's map of Virginia

Library of Congress

The Spanish had mapped the Chesapeake Bay area as early as the 1520s. Later explorers like John Smith, recognizing the importance of Virginia’s waterways, produced detailed maps that remain astonishingly accurate.
Artist sketch of English settlers building a boat
Jamestown settlers build boats in this sketch by NPS artist Sydney King.

NPS image

English valued the colony’s plentiful supply of raw materials. As one 17th-century colonist reported, “Virginia yielding no known place in the known world for timbers of all sorts, commodious for strength, pleasant for sweetness, specious for colors, spacious for largeness, useful for land and sea, for housing and shipping.” England, timber-poor, was delighted by this boost to her all-important naval stores.

Small sail boats docked at Jamestown
Sydney King's watercolor depicts small vessels docked at Jamestown.

NPS image

Colonists also realized the importance of maintaining their own vessels. The English News Letter of 1666 reported that “A frigate between thirty and forty [tuns?], built in Virginia, looks so fair, it is believed that in a short time, they will get the art of building as good frigates as there are in England.”

Artist concept of 17th Century Jamestown from an aerial view
Aerial view of 17th-century Jamestown by NPS artist Sydney King

NPS Image

As Jamestown developed into a thriving port city, the waterways would continue to link the colony and the Mother Country. Virginians shipped their tobacco across the Atlantic Ocean and kept abreast of the governmental changes, new writings and the latest fashions in England.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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