The Mariners' MuseumChesapeake Bay - Our History and Our Future
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Map of Bay of Chesapeake, 1776
Map of Bay of Chesapeake, 1776
The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary––––– - a place where fresh water from rivers meets the salt water of the ocean. But the Bay is more than just a body of water. The region includes rivers and wetlands and a wide variety of plant and animal life. The Bay's watershed includes mountains, forests, and fields in six states (New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia). More than 15 million people live along its shores, and it is home to 2,700 species of plants and animals.
Illustration depicting an early colonial tobacco plantation
Illustration depicting an early colonial tobacco plantation

The Bay and its resources have shaped our history, our economy, and our culture. It affects how we live, work, and play. The Bay's resources attracted European exploration and settlement in the 1500s and 1600s, and much of our nation's history began along its shores.

Late 19th century magazines, like Harper's Weekly, ran prints showing newly freed blacks employed in post-slavery occupations. This illustration shows women at work in oyster shucking houses.
Late 19th century magazines, like Harper's Weekly, ran prints showing newly freed blacks employed in post-slavery occupations. This illustration shows women at work in oyster shucking houses.
The Bay provides many jobs to the people who live near it. The shipbuilding industry began here in colonial times and is still important for jobs and industry. The Bay's ports and waterways are very important to the world's commerce. Roughly 90 million tons of imports and exports pass through the major ports of Baltimore and Hampton Roads each year. Nearly fifty military bases representing every branch of the armed forces are located in the Chesapeake Bay region. The Bay is a major source of the seafood we eat. Industry and power companies use large volumes of water from the Bay and its watershed.

The Bay is also popular for recreation. Fishing, hunting, boating, and camping provide hours of fun for millions of people. Recreation opportunities and many historical sites make this area a popular place for vacation travel. Tourism is an important industry that also provides many jobs.

But so much use of the Bay has caused complicated environmental problems. As you learn how the Bay is a vital part of our past and our present, you will learn why it is important to protect it for the future.


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