Captain John Smith 
and the Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay


Compass roseIn June 1608, Captain John Smith began his historic exploration of the Chesapeake Bay. He compiled the information for his history and map during two six-week expeditions in which he traversed three thousand miles of the bay and its tributaries on an open barge. Smith’s map of the Chesapeake Bay, published in 1624 in The Generall History of Virginia, New-England and the Summer Islands, was carefully executed, highly detailed and amazingly accurate while his description of the Chesapeake could easily make Smith one of the foremost promoters for colonization on the shores of the Bay:

There is but one entrance by Sea in this County, and that is at the mouth of a very goodly Bay, 18 or 20 myles broad…. Within is a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant place ever knowne, for large and pleasant navigable Rivers. Heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man's habitation, were it fully manured and inhabited by industrious people. Here are mountains, hills, plaines, valleyes, rivers, and brookes, all running into a faire Bay, compassed but for the mouth, with fruitful and delightsome land."

Today, the Chesapeake Bay is still the prize of the mid-Atlantic region. The Chesapeake watershed covers 64,000 square miles, extending across six states and the District of Columbia. As the largest estuary in the United States, the Bay has for centuries provided a haven to wildlife, a cultural link between the shores of Maryland, a source for recreation, and a continuing livelihood for the people living on and near the bay, making this truly the "Land of Pleasant Living."

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades K-4:

Topic 2: The History of the Students’ Own State or Region 

STANDARD 3: The people, events, problems, and ideas that created the history of their state

Standard 3A: The student understands the history of indigenous peoples who first lived in his or her state or region. 

K-4: Draw upon data in paintings and artifacts to hypothesize about the culture of the early Hawaiians or Native Americans who are known to have lived in the state or region, e.g., the Anasazi of the Southwest, the Makah of the Northwest coast, the Eskimos/Inupiat of Alaska, the Creeks of the Southeast, the Mississippians (Cahokia), or the Mound Builders. [Formulate historical questions] 
K-4: Draw upon legends and myths of the Native Americans or Hawaiians who lived in students’ state or region in order to describe personal accounts of their history. [Read historical narratives imaginatively] 
3-4: Compare and contrast how Native American or Hawaiian life today differs from the life of these same groups over 100 years ago. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas] 

Standard 3B: The student understands the history of the first European, African, and/or Asian-Pacific explorers and settlers who came to his or her state or region.

3-4: Gather data in order to analyze geographic, economic, and religious reasons that brought the first explorers and settlers to the state or region. [Obtain historical data] 
3-4: Reconstruct in timelines the order of early explorations and settlements including explorers, early settlements, and cities. [Establish temporal order] 
K-4: Examine visual data in order to describe ways in which early settlers adapted to, utilized, and changed the environment. [Draw upon visual data]
3-4: Analyze some of the interactions that occurred between the Native Americans or Hawaiians and the first European, African, and Asian-Pacific explorers and settlers in the students’ state or region. [Read historical narratives imaginatively] 
K-4: Use a variety of sources to construct a historical narrative about daily life in the early settlements of the student’s state or region. [Obtain historical data] 

Standard 3C: The student understands the various other groups from regions throughout the world who came into the his or her own state or region over the long-ago and recent past. 

3-4: Develop a timeline on their state or region and identify the first inhabitants who lived there, each successive group of arrivals, and significant changes that developed over the history of their state or region. [Establish temporal order] 
K-4: Use a variety of visual data, fiction and nonfiction sources, and speakers to identify the groups that have come into the state or region and to generate ideas about why they came. [Obtain historical data] 
K-4: Examine photographs and pictures of people from the various racial and ethnic groups of varying socioeconomic status who lived in the state 100-200 years ago in order to hypothesize about their lives, feelings, plans, and dreams, and to compare ways in which their experiences were similar and different. [Formulate historical questions]

Primary Resources

  1. TITLE: The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea grammar [Volume 1]
    AUTHOR: John Smith (1580-1631)
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and other restrictions
    SOURCE: The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925
  2. TITLE: The generall historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles, together with The true travels, adventures and observations, and A sea grammar [Volume 2]
    AUTHOR: John Smith (1580-1631)
    COPYRIGHT: Copyright and other restrictions
    SOURCE: The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, ca. 1600-1925
  3. TITLE: Virginia  
    CARTOGRAPHER:John Smith (1580-1631)
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 1608 [1612], Oxford
    NOTES: Smith conducted the first detailed explorations of the entire Chesapeake Bay and produced the first map of the full extent of the bay based upon personal experience. When compared with satellite photographs of the Bay, one finds that Smith's depiction of the bay is surprisingly accurate considering that he had to take his bearing from an open barge. Maltese crosses indicate where personal observation ends and conjecture begins. Smith's map is still used by archeologists to locate the remains of Indian villages. The map served as the prototype of the Bay until the Augustine Herrman map of 1673. See Huntingfield Collection map report for additional information about this map.
    SOURCE: Huntingfield Corporation Map Collection, MSA SC 1399-1-101
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
  4. TITLE: Ould Virginia 
    CARTOGRAPHER:John Smith (1580-1631)
    DATE CREATED: 1624
    SOURCE: Captain John Smith, The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles.
    London: Michael Sparks, 1624, p. 40.
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress

See also: Eye of the Beholder: European Interpretations of Native American Culture

Additional Instructional Resources 

Close Encounters of the First Kind, 1585-1767
Includes maps and documents relating to the first encounters of the English settlers and explorers with Native Americans. The objective is to introduce students to how explorers, settlers, and Native Americans reacted to, and learned from one another

Daily Life in the New World, 1634-1715 
To examine the nature of civil liberty and the quality of life in 17th and early 18th century Maryland using wills, inventories, & a plat from the period 1660s-1715. One indicator that can be used for comparative purposes in answering the question what life was like in the New World is the information to be found in probate records. Probate records are public documents that provide details of what property people owned at death. Carefully read the enclosed wills. Compare and contrast the inventories. Try to read the actual inventories using the typescripts as a guide. Bear in mind that in Maryland, inventories only include personal effects, NOT land, while wills will mention land. When disputes arose over ownership of land, maps of the property in question (called "plats") were often included in the court case and can be found among the court records.

This Land is Whose Land? From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Native American Gender Roles in Maryland. From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Pontiac's War. From UMBC Center for History Education, Teaching American History Lesson Plans.

Maryland Indians: A Day in the Life of..... From Maryland With Pride (Pride of Baltimore)

Maryland's First Capital: Discovering a Lost City. From Maryland With Pride (Pride of Baltimore)

Disappearing Islands of the Chesapeake. From Maryland With Pride (Pride of Baltimore)

The Virginia Company: America's Corporate Beginnings

Pocahontas: Ambassador to the New World. From A&E Classrooms.

Secondary Resources 

Barbour, Philip L. The Three Worlds of Captain John Smith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1964. 

________. Pocahontas and her World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1970.  

Barbour, Phillip L., editor. The Jamestown Voyages Under the First Charter, 1606-1609. 2 vols. Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, 2nd series nos. 136-137. Cambridge, England, 1969. 

Brugger, Robert. "From Province to Colony (1634-1689)." In Maryland: A Middle Temperament. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press in association with the Maryland Historical Society, 1988.

Callcott, George H. "The Quality of Life in Maryland Over Five Centuries" Maryland Historical Magazine 2001 vol. 96, no. 3, pp. 272-302.

Fishwick, Marshall. "Was John Smith A Liar?" American Heritage, October 1958, Vol. IX, No. 6, pp. 28-33; 110-111.

Hulton, Paul and David Beers Quinn. The American Drawings of John White, 1577-1590. 2 vols. Trustees of the British Museum, and University of North Carolina Press, 1964. 

Lemay, Ja. A. Leo. The American Dream of Captain John Smith. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.

Lossing, Benson J. "Captain John Smith" Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. 21, issue 126 (November 1860).

McPeak, William J. "The Adventures of Captain John Smith." Military History (June 2002): 34-41. 

Roundtree, Helen C. "Powhatan Indian Women: the People Captain John Smith Barely Saw." Ethnohistory (Winter 1998): 1-29. 

Smith, John. "The Generall Historie of Virginia. " In Captain John Smith of Willoughby [1624]. Edited by Philip Barbour. 3 vols. II:33-475. University of North Carolina Press, 1986. (Earlier reprinted in 1884 by The English Scholar's Library, Birmingham.)

________. "A Map of Virginia." In The Complete Works of Captain John Smith [1612]. Edited by Philip Barbour. 3 vols. I:131-177. University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

________. "A True Relations of such Occurrences and Accidents of Noate hath Hapned in Virginia Since the First Planting of the 1608." In The Complete Works of Captain John Smith [1612]. Edited by Philip Barbour. University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations 

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21403
Calvert Marine Museum
14200 Solomons Island Road
Solomons, MD 20688
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
Navy Point
St. Michael's, MD 21663

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Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Nancy Bramucci.


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