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American Shores Maps of the Middle Atlantic Region to 1850 The New York Public Library
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Chesapeake Bay

About 200 miles long, and ranging from 3 to over 30 miles wide at different points, the Chesapeake Bay is a tremendous, sheltered waterway. It was among the earliest North American areas settled and developed by Europeans, and was prized for its rich oyster, crab and tobacco harvests. The many rivers that flow into the Bay, prominently the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James, provided early access to the interior of the continent. This deep arm of the Atlantic was the interior’s link to oceanic trade with Europe and the West Indies.

Chesapeake Bay region, 1780.
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The Atlantic cuts deeply into the North American continent via Chesapeake Bay. This is well illustrated in a startlingly beautiful chart from the Atlantic Neptune, a collection of English nautical charts in an atlas format. Bounded on one side by the Delmarva Peninsula, the protected lands and waters of the bay formed a natural settlement place for the English colonists who arrived in 1606.

Virginia, 1606.
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This is actually a 19th-century facsimile of Smith's 1606 map, created by some bibliophiles in Virginia in 1819. John Smith was among the first to map the Chesapeake region, and to give credit to Native Americans for information about the frontier lands away from the Atlantic shores. The formée crosses on his map of Virginia reveal the boundary beyond which the information shown was from Native American sources. The earliest maps of the Middle Atlantic region often reflect knowledge gained from Native Americans, and sometimes display the only information we have for the original settlers along the Atlantic shore. The Smith map has been used extensively to guide Virginia archaeological research.












To read more about the mapping of the Chesapeake region, see:

Washington College presents On the map : an exhibit and catalogue
of maps relating to Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay honoring George Washington at the beginning of the third century of Washington College at Chestertown, Maryland, February 21-March 6,1983 / by Russell Morrison ... [et al.].
Chestertown, Md. : The College, 1983.
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