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Ajacan, The Spanish Jesuit Mission

Roanoke Colony

Jamestown Colony

St. Mary's City

The French

Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay

Gabriel Archer

John Smith, A Map of Virginia, 1612

The accidents that happened in the Discoverie of the bay

What happened the second voyage to discover the Bay

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Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay
Portrait of George Percy
Portrait of George Percy
Around 4:00 A.M. on April 26, 1607 observers on board the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery sighted the coast of Virginia. George Percy, who was one of the adventurers onboard the ships, wrote about the arrival: "The six and twentieth day of April, about four oÕclock in the morning, we descried the land of Virginia; the same day we entÕred into the Bay of ChesupiocÉ we could find nothing worth the speaking of but fair meadows and goodly tall trees, with such fresh waters running through the woods as I was almost ravished at the first sight thereof.
King James I of England
King James I of England
The nine and twentieth day, we set up a cross at Chesupioc Bay and named that place 'Cape Henry." This expedition had been chartered by King James I of England with the main purpose establishing a colony.

Was this the first time that Europeans had been to the Chesapeake Bay? Was this the first attempt at a European settlement in the Bay? The answer to both of these questions is no. In fact, the Spanish had extensively mapped the Bay and had even attempted to settle in the Bay several years before the English.

Some believe it is possible that Amerigo Vespucci found the Chesapeake Bay on his trip to the New World in 1497. England boasted that John Cabot had discovered the American coastline as far south as the Chesapeake Bay in 1498. No matter whether the English or the Spanish first discovered the Bay, the prize for the first settlement of the region by Europeans goes to the Spanish.

In 1570 a lone Spanish vessel entered Bahia de Santa Maria, the Spanish name for the Chesapeake Bay. It sailed up the James River, stopping at present-day Newport News in order for the Jesuit priests to hold a religious ceremony. After the ceremony they made landfall about five miles from the future Jamestown settlement site, calling the area the "Land of don Luis." The priests then crossed the peninsula to the York River and constructed a Jesuit Mission called Ajacan. On the journey, Brother Carrera descibed the Bay: ÒOur Fathers and Brothers disembarked in a great and beautiful port, and men who have sailed a great deal and have seen it say it is the best and largest port in the world. So, if I remember rightly, the pilot remarked to me. It is called the Bay of the Mother of God, and in it there are many deepwater ports, each better than the next.Ó Not long after the mission was established, the Powhatan Indians killed all of the priests. While the colony did not survive, a great deal of knowledge about the Bay and her tributaries had been obtained.

Once the English had set up their colony at Jamestown in 1607, they wanted to get out and explore, possibly finding the ÒNorthwest PassageÓ to the Orient. They brought with them a shallow draft, two-masted vessel of about twenty tons to help them with their explorations. She was appropriately named Discovery, and was probably used to explore the Bay. Soon after arriving at Jamestown, Christopher Newport led an expedition up the James River. "Thursday, the XXITH of May, Captain Newport, having fitted our shallop with provision and all necessaries belonging to a discovery, took 5 gentlemen, 4 marines and 14 sailors, with whom he proceeded with a perfect resolution not to return but either to find the head of this river, the lake mentioned by others heretofore, the sea again, the mountains Apalatsi, or some issue."

John Smith
John Smith
Besides being a daring adventurer, Captain John Smith was also an explorer and thanks to his efforts, much of the Chesapeake Bay was explored in the first two years of the settlement. Returning to England in 1609 because of an injury, Smith spent his time writing several books, including The Description of Virginia. In this book he wrote everthing he could recall from his days in Virginia. He wrote about the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries (rivers), the weather, and the Powhatans.
John Smith fighting the Powhatans
John Smith fighting the Powhatans
"Virginia is a Country in America that lyeth betweene the degrees of 34 and 44 of the north latitude. The bounds thereof on the East side are the great Ocean. On the South lyeth Florida: on the North nova Francia. As for the West thereof, the limits are vnknowneÉ The sommer is hot as in Spaine; the winter colde as in Fraunce or England. The heat of sommer is in June, Julie, and August, but commonly the coole Breeses asswage the vehemencie of the heat. The chiefe of winter is halfe December, January, February, and halfe MarchÉ The first of those rivers and the next to the mouth of the Bay hath his course from the West and by North. The name of this river they call Powhatan accor[ding] to the name of a principall cournty that lieth vpon it. The mouth of this river is neere three miles in breadth, yet doe the shoules force the Channell so neere the land that a Sacre will overshoot it at point blanck. This river is navigable 100 milesÉthe Kecoughtans, who beside their women and children, have not past 20. Fighting men. The Paspaheghes on whose land is seated the English Colony, some 40. Miles from the Bay have not past 40." [Description of Virginia]
John Smith capturing a Powhatan
John Smith capturing a Powhatan

One of the many adventurers to the Jamestown Settlement was a teenager named Henry Spelman. When Henry arrived at Jamestown he travelled with John Smith on an expedition up the James to meet with the Powhatans. At this meeting it was agreed that Henry would live with the Powhatans. Henry spent two years with the Powhatans learning the language and their way of life. Henry wrote about his observations in Relation of Virginia. In it he gives a brief description of the Virginia countryside. "The Country is full of wood in some parts, and water they have plentiful. They have marish ground, and small fields for corn, and other grounds whereon their deer, goats, and stags feedeth. There be in this country lions, bears, wolves, foxes, musk cats, hares, flying squirrels and other squirrels being all gray like conies, great store of fowl (only peacocks and common hens wanting), fish in abundance whereon they live most part of the summertime."


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