The Bounty of the Bay - panel three of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network exhibit

the bounty of the bay panel

“As for fish, both of fresh and salt water, of shellfish, and others, no country can boast of more variety, greater plenty, or better in their several kinds.”

- Robert Beverley, 1705

Jamestown settlers repair and dry their nets on shore.
Artist Sydney King's sketch depicts English settlers repairing and drying their fishing nets on shore.

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Fish and other foods from the waters were part of the diet of many Englishmen. Transplanted to Virginia, the settlers quickly learned which seafood was tastiest and most easily attainable. As Alexander Whitaker wrote, “I have caught with mine angle, carp, pike, eel, perches of the six several kinds, crayfish and the torope or little turtle….”
a vintage illustration of a sturgeon
a vintage illustration of a sturgeon

“In going down to Jamestown on board of a sloop, a sturgeon sprang out of the river, into the sloop. We killed it, and it was eight feet long.”

–David De Vries, 1630s

These enormous fish were both food and treasure to the settlers, for caviar and isinglass (obtained from the fish’s air bladders) were valuable commodities in England.

a vintage illlustration of a stingray
a vintage illustration of a stingray

“There is also a fish called a stingray, which resembles a skate, only one side of his tail grows out a sharp bone like a bodkin about four or five inches long, with which he sticks and wounds other fish and then preys upon them.”

– Thomas Glover, 1676

Captain John Smith was so badly injured by a stingray that his men dug his grave on the beach where the incident occurred. Fortunately, Smith recovered and feasted with his comrades upon the stingray.

Jamestown settlers gathering oysters
In artist Sydney King's sketch, Jamestown settlers harvest oysters.

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“Oysters there be in whole banks and beds, and those of the best I have seen some thirteen inches long.”

– William Strachey, 1609 - 1610

In addition to the tasty meat and the possibility of a pearl, English settlers prized the oyster’s shell as well. Oyster shell provided lime for whitewashing clapboard buildings, early iron manufactory and sweet-smelling privies. Oyster shell could be used for paths and roadbeds and also was needed for the manufacture of mortar.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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