In the book Chesapeake, the author John Page Williams writes about exploring the water trails of Captain John Smith throughout the Chesapeake waters to help his audience understand and make a stronger connection to the history of Captain John Smith and his discovery of the Chesapeake.
Smith journals about the environment of the Chesapeake waterways, the important role the Chesapeake plays in the health of the ecosystem, hoping to encourage his readers to develop an appreciation for this unique and special body of water.The author of the book John Page Williams starts off by introducing Captain John Smith. Smith was born in 1580 in Lincolnshire, England. In his teens he volunteered as a soldier where he earned the battlefield rank as Captain and because of his intelligence and energy and he was a competent soldier that by his mid 20’s he assisted in helping to carry out the plans and instructions for the Virginia Company (Williams 20).
The Virginia company was a product of the establishment of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. The discovery of newlands and gold and silver happening in the New World drove England’s ruler and peoples of authority to want to be a part of this wealth. Many of the European countries wanted to attempt to be the first to colonise the atlantic coast. After the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, James I, her nephew became the leader and organized an an expedition of three ships (The Virginia Company) transporting 140 men including Captain John Smith in 1605-06. Their specific mission was not fully declared until the ships landed on the beach shores in the mouth of the bay near Lynnhaven Inlet on April 26th, 1607 (Williams 16-17). A day after the ships landed the orders were open and shared, the instructions were to include the leadership of Captain John Smith. The mission was to explore, discover, and document the territories of the bay called “Chespioc” and lay claim to the new lands as colonies of England’s (Williams 21). To assist in following their instructions from the Virginia Company the 3 ships began to continue sailing up the river where they could settle and avoid showing their presence.
It took several days for the ships to find a docking spot that met all their needs, one that allowed them to have access to deeper waters close to a bank, a spot that was uninhabited by others, and a source of freshwater. About 2 weeks later, the spot was found on May 14, and the colonists settled and claimed the land Jamestowne, it was an island close to Chickahominy (William 22). This would become the home base for all of Captain John Smith’s future adventures while exploring the Chesapeake. While many of the the other colonists were preoccupied with worries of survival on this new land, Captain John Smith continued with the importance the mission exploring the Chesapeake. From Spring of 1607 to fall of 1609, Captain John Smith, “and his crews covered more than 3,000 miles, including two trips to the upper Chesapeake in the summer of 1608” (Williams 23). Captain John Smith was the first to illustrate a map of the chesapeake water region. This map was detailed and recorded geographic features, indian towns, cultural aspects of the Chesapeake and published in 1612.
“The geographical accuracy is astounding given that Smith traveled about 2500 miles in a series of short expeditions and had only primitive map making tools to work with (National Park Service). The reason Captain John Smith’s maps are so important is because it provides us with a detailed record of the land, the shorelines, the rivers, the tributaries, and the bays. Both Smith and his crew documented personal thoughts, notes, and sketches of what they experienced along the way. They used compasses and other equipment to provide recorded latitudes and locations.
Captain John Smith befriended many of the Native Americans who already were already living on the lands that he was exploring and was able to gather a considerable amount of information about the lands he was exploring through friendship with the indians. The shared information is documented on his map. Captain John Smith’s written journals are a narrative of the most extensive accounts from the Chesapeake waterways, the map still provides scientists, historians, and nature lovers with important written details of the chesapeake waters. On a map today “North” is at the top but Smith drew his in the perspective of a ship coming from the Atlantic (National Park Service). The environment of the Chesapeake was both exciting and very challenging for the new colonists. In Captain John Smith’s journals of his first voyage, Smith documents each event as a detailed story. These stories provide the reader with a clear understanding of the experiences the colonists had to endure while traveling throughout the Chesapeake. The meeting of the aboriginal people, the Indians, traveling through the dense landscape and developing stronger navigating skills to sail throughout the Chesapeake’s waterway were important to their survival.
Smith learned early on in his voyages that if he were to survive that he would have to befriend the local Indians, they would serve as the key to surviving and finding drinkable water while exploring the Pocomoke river. “The next day searching them for fresh, we could find none…
the (Pocomoke) people at first with great fury seemed to assault us, yet at last with songs and dances and much mirth became very tractable…” (National Park Service).Captain John Smith learned to use the knowledge of his aboriginal friends continuously throughout all his journeys of Chesapeake. Smith and his crew worked hard to connect with both the environment and the native people simply because all the possibilities of what they thought the new land had to offer was misunderstood. Smith and his crew had to learn how to trade and barter with their new friends and Smith was documented as being a natural at making friends, “Smith gathered considerable information…from the Indians he met on his voyages. He appears to have had an unusual ability to build relationships with despite the completely different cultural mindsets of the Europeans and the American Indians” (National Park Service).
Adapting to the new opportunities both on land and in the bay and learning to utilize landscape would greatly assist in the survival and the development of the colonies. Learning to fish with spears and nets, preparing the fields for planting with tools made from rocks and shells. The Indians were leaders in demonstrating how to utilize the lands without the use of metal tools and big equipment. They used fire as their primary tool. If trees had to be removed they were either burned at the base, if too large to hatchet down. Their planting and crop development began around the mounds of dead trees, using the natural fertilization to nurture the plants. Smith’s observations of the Indians helped him understand that the Indians saw themselves as part of nature and their environment, (Carrier 5).
Smith in return developed the thinking of the Chesapeake waterways as a system and network of highways. And through Smith’s voyages continued to learn from the natives how to cut timber of from the dense forests surrounding the inlets, to clear land to grow tobacco for export and harvest the shellfish and fish within the waters to maintain their plantations (Williams 23). In addition to befriending Indians along the waterways, Smith and his crew had to develop a stronger knowledge of how the Chesapeake waterways were affected by seawater and freshwater combined with the changing of weather, rainfall, and winds. Fresh water is less dense than salt water, and the bottom of the Chesapeake is below sea level so with the rising and falling tides, it is natural for the seawaters to flow into the tidal pools and fill them first and be emptied last, always leaving a little bit of the dense salt waters behind. Understanding the tide cycle would assist in knowing when to set sail on the waterways of the Chesapeake. Up until this point of Smith’s sailing career, he nor his crew had ever experience bay water travel, it had only been open sea sailing from England to Jamestowne.
The watershed of the Chesapeake covers over 64,000 square miles. The Susquehanna River, which is the largest river at the head of the Chesapeake Bay contributes half of the freshwater that flows into the Chesapeake. Smith named the head of the bay, “Sasquehanough” after the Susquehannock Indians (Williams 24). Although Smith and his crews were familiar with sailing, the Chesapeake sailing environment was different from open water sailing. In Smith’s first Voyage journal entry of the exploration of the Nanticoke River, Smith writes about how the Discovery Barge was caught in a storm.
The sailing barge that Smith and his crew were utilizing was not suitable for storm use and with continued efforts from the crew, they managed to not sink. “We discovered the winde and waters so much increase with thunder, lighting, and raine, that our mast and sayle blew overboard….” (Four Hundred Project). It was the Indians that came to the rescue of Smith and his crew, the Indians knew their waters and vessels that could manage the turbulence of the tides. They took notice that the Indian’s water crafts were much more primitive and bulky. Large logs used from cypress trees were hollowed out through the process of pit burning and carved with shell tools.
The overall appearance of the boat was basic, with a squared off nose for both the stern and bow however the vessels were able to float and handle the rough waters better than the colonist’s oak barge (Williams 32). The Chesapeake ecosystem, waterways and habitat played an important role for both the Indians and Smith and still do today. The author of the book Chesapeake, helps to connect the importance of Smith’s voyage of the Chesapeake Bay while encouraging his readers to develop an appreciation for this unique and special body of water through the discovery of game and waterfowls, underwater creatures and rock fish and oysters.It’s believed that as Smith traveled and became known as a trusted friend to the Indian people and it is possible that he and his crew experienced an Indian feast, consisting of wild turkey or deer.
In the book, the author provides a detailed drawing of an Indian hunt, “…observed that Indian hunters skinned out larger deer in one piece, so that they could wear the pelts…allowed them to stalk live deer…” (Williams 71). As Smith traveled farther north into the Chesapeake the opportunity to document waterfowl was also evident. The marshes served as a host to the plants and wild rice’s which offering the waterfowls plenty of free food. Alewife and blueback herrings, in addition to ospreys and bald eagles were just a few of the primary waterfowls that Smith would have seen with his crew. Many of these waterfowls can still be found in their natural habitat today however the birds have had to relocate to areas of protected land to survive. Humans have slowly spread to the edges of the shore and marsh lands taking the natural homes of the waterfowl away to replace it with human homes or commercial businesses and the marshes and swamps are sacrificed. The runoff of suburban pollution, filling the rivers with sediment and nitrogen which promotes the growth of algae bloom.
Up until the 19th century, large fall migration of waterfowls could be found feasting in the wild rice and other seeding plants within the marshes on the Patapsco, however due to impervious surface runoffs, the wild rice have been crowding and replaced by reedgrass, although a native plant it does not provide value for the wildlife (Williams 80-81). For Captain John Smith exploring the Chesapeake above the water and on ground seemed to have served a safer role in his explorations of the Chesapeake, however under the water, Smith was able to provide journal notes and map illustration that would provide future explores evidence of some underwater life as well. The author of the book provides the readers with an image of a 16th-centuryt engraving of a Chesapeake crab, what we call today the Chesapeake blue crab. Although there isn’t written documentation about Smith discovering the crab, the engraving provided does justify that the crab was part of the Chesapeake ecosystem during someone’s travels at that time and the Virginia blue crab is still very evident today. Native Marylanders like to claim the blue crab as their own, but the truth is that the blue crab really starts life in Virginia hatching in the high salinity waters. Throughout the crab’s development, its can be found moving along many waterways it is the fresh and salt waters working together to move the crabs into the salty currents that push them up the bay (Williams 99). While trying to sail for Rappahannock after spending a month exploring the Potomac, Smith’s voyage is miscalculated, and the barge runs a shore on the southside of the Rappahannock. As the tide was reseeds, Smith and his crew discovered another unique underwater creature.
As the barge landed and settled in the reeds along the shore, crew members noticed all the fish getting trapped in the tide pools and decided to take the opportunity to fish. Smith also participated however, what he caught was not a fish but a southern stingray with a long tail which struck him in the wrist and caused him great pain. Smith survived the attack and took satisfaction in eating his catch for dinner.
Today, the Ile where this catch took place is still called Stingray Point, which is located east of Deltaville (Williams 102). The Chesapeake provides two other very important elements of the ecosystem in the Chesapeake, fishing and the oysters and reefs. The Patuxent River runs above the larger tributary of Potomac River and can be located on Smith’s map.
What make the Patuxent River so important are the narrow waterways and creeks, broad marshes and deep channel waters within the landscape of the river that gives the fish a perfect environment to live and produce. Smith clearly illustrated eight native villages along the Patuxent and notes that the natives had to be fishermen due to the “river’s abundant oyster reefs and fish,” the rockfish (William 120). The rockfish is referred to Chesapeake’s striped bass, which thrives and lives in three quarters of the Atlantic coastal waterways.
They hatch in spring and nest in the rivers that provide currents that keep the eggs floating for the first several weeks. If they survive through their first summer, they will continue to grow in schools, finding food within the underwater grasses and searching for crabs and enjoying the temperatures of their river homes. As the yearling rockfish approaches adult stasis, a fisherman can spot a rockfish traveling to the opening of the bay, feeding on other fish heading into the Atlantic waters. The illustrations of Captain John Smith’s map and the author of this book make little mentioned of the giant oyster reefs that were possibly breaking water surface and creating navigation hazards for Smith’s travels within Chesapeake. However, scientist today realize how important the oyster reef structure is to the waters of the ecosystem in the Chesapeake. Burwell’s Bay below Hogs Island once hosted a thriving oyster reef and the growth stretched into Hampton Roads. The circular movement of water called eddies at this point naturally caused the oysters to spawn and provided a haven for the young seeds to develop.
This was the best place for an oyster on the east coast. However, over time, pollution, overharvesting and disease slowly killed the reefs (Williams 51). Today the oyster population is less than 1 percent of what it used to be (NOAA). It took hundreds of years later, and the development of the Clean Water Act of 1972 helped to eliminate the worst of the pollutants coming from industrial wastewaters. Both the efforts from caring individuals and groups are working together to restock the waters with oysters. The oyster reef at Fort Carroll, takes the oyster grown by the students for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Oyster Corps program. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation offers field trips to students for the Living Classroom Foundation (Williams 83).
These trips allow the student to experience and document the Chesapeake environment first hand by participating in a organized science lesson conducted on boat in the Chesapeake. In the book, Chesapeake, the author John Page Williams documents in great length and details of the water trials of Captain John Smith along the Chesapeake waterways. After reading this book, the reader should have a much stronger connection to the importance and history of Captain John Smith, the environment and habitat of the bay and waterways and the role that the ecosystem plays in the Chesapeake. I know I have develop a stronger appreciation for this unique and very special body of water. Works Cited Captain John Smith 400 Project.
Sultana Projects, Inc., www.johnsmith400.
org/journalfirstvoyage.htm. Accessed 6 Dec. 2017.Carrier, Lyman. Agriculture in Virginia, 1607-1699. Williamsburg, Virginia, Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation, 1957.
National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/cajo/learn/smith-maps.htm. Accessed 6 Dec.
2017. NOAA. chesapeakebay.noaa.gov/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=97&Itemid=124. Accessed 6 Dec.
2017.Williams, John Page. Chesapeake. National Geographic Society, 2006.