Chesapeake Bay History
The history of Chesapeake Bay is a rich and interesting one, filled with European exploration and revolution. The Chesapeake Bay is now the United States’ largest estuary. It is situated between Maryland and Virginia and lies directly off of the Atlantic Ocean. The drainage basin of the Chesapeake Bay covers almost 65,000 miles in the District of Columbia and six states (New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia).
How did it come to be?
While an Italian explorer by the name of Giovanni da Verrazzano came close to exploring Chesapeake Bay in 1524, a Spanish explorer named Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon was actually the very first person to sail into the bay in 1525. He established a very short lived Spanish mission named San Miguel de Gualdape in 1526 along the coast of the Atlantic. However, a lot of people have some heated debates as to whether this mission was really settled as far north as the Chesapeake. Jumping forward to 1573, the governor of then Spanish Florida Pedro Menendez de Marquez initiated further exploration of the Chesapeake.
Then, the English came. In 1607 a colony of English arrived at Cape Henry and Europeans once again entered the Bay. The famous Captain John Smith of England was pivotal in exploring and publishing the layout and geography of Chesapeake Bay. After exploring from 1607-1609, he published A Map of Virginia in 1612. Smith was thoroughly impressed with everything in and around Chesapeake Bay. He is quoted from one of his journals saying “Heaven and Earth have never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation.” Obviously, he was right as there are thousands of people that choose to call Chesapeake Bay and it’s surrounding areas their home! From 1640-1675 there was a massive migration of southern English Cavaliers (what in the world is a Cavalier?) and their servants to the Chesapeake Bay region.
In 1634, Maryland began to see it’s share of colonization when Lord Baltimore established the very first English colony in Baltimore named St. Mary’s City. He had been granted some land from Pennsylvania and Delaware to down south near the Potomac River by the King of England. This allowed him to start settling colonies in Maryland.
Chesapeake Bay was the site of many battles during the Revolutionary War. The Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781 was one of the most decisive naval battles in the American Revolutionary War. In it the French defeated the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, Chesapeake Bay would see conflict again the War of 1812. In 1814, many British warships launched an attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. Another kind of war, Oyster Wars, was very popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Now a days, oysters continue to remain a popular food for people to catch in the Bay.
Over time agriculture, railways, and city expansion brought Chesapeake Bay to the wonderful region that it is today. It is always evolving and developing with new attractions and is continually providing visitors and residents an interesting experience. World renowned for it’s food and fishing, Chesapeake Bay has become the angler’s dream. With a bay ripe for fishing and attractions and events happening all across two states it is a truly exciting place to visit and live!
The name Chesapeake Bay itself, has quite a history. The word Chesepiooc is an Algonquian word that refers to a village “at a big river.” It is actually the seventh oldest surviving English place name in the United States. Seventh! That is quite the history. It was actually first applied by explorers that were heading north from a Roanoke Colony into the Chesapeake Bay tributary in 1585 or 1586. There was actually great belief that the name meant something along the lines of “Great Shellfish Bay.” However, in 2005 an Algonquian linguist by the name of Blair Rudes clarified this statement greatly. He states that it actually does not mean “Great Shellfish Bay” but instead simply referred to something like “Great Water.” He said that this “helped to dispel one of the areas most widely held beliefs.” According to Rudes, it could even have just referenced a village at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
To see an amazing timeline of Chesapeake Bay’s history, check this out: Chesapeake Bay Timeline
Also, check out these other awesome Chesapeake Bay history resources: