Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
John Smith Explores the Chesapeake
Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay in the early 1600s seeking precious metals and a passage to Asia. He traveled the James, Chickahominy, and York rivers in 1607, and led two major expeditions from Jamestown in 1608. Smith and his crew sailed and rowed a primitive 30-foot boat nearly 3,000 miles, reaching as far north as the Susquehanna River.
Although Smith did not discover gold, or a river to the Pacific, his precise map and detailed observations of American Indian societies and the abundant natural resources guided future explorers and settlers.
At the time of Smith's explorations, an estimated 50,000 American Indians dwelled in the Chesapeake region—as their ancestors had for thousands of years. Their sophisticated societies included arts and architecture, systems of government, extensive trade and communication networks, and shared spiritual beliefs. The native people hunted, fished, grew crops, and gathered food and raw materials from the land and waterways.
An Abundance of Life
Smith discovered a treasure trove of natural wonders in the Chesapeake region: thick forests of giant pines, oaks, and hickories; vast marshlands, huge turtles, 800-pound sturgeon,
and great schools of shad and striped bass. Massive flocks of ducks, geese, and swans darkened the sky; and enormous oyster reefs rose above the water's surface.
To learn more about the trail visit www.smithtrail.net
Smith's remarkably accurate map of the Chesapeake Bay (published in 1612), and his spirited written accounts of a lush landscape inspired European migration.
Decorative shells-such as those found on this ceremonial robe-were valuable in the American Indian's trading network that extended for hundreds of miles. This robe (which may have belonged to paramount chief Powhatan) was crafted from four elk skins and adorned with more than 17,000 shells.
Wood ducks and other waterfowl flourished
The forests and lowlands teemed with deer
Cattails grew thick in pristine marshes
Flocks of geese filled the sky
Smith explored the Rappahannock River in 1607 and 1608. He wrote of his encounters with local tribes in colorful stories of skirmishes and other adventures. Many of these accounts, some published 16 years later, were undoubtedly highly embellished.
Smith's map of the region, however, was remarkably accurate. With only primitive tools, he and his crew recorded their observations of the Chesapeake landscape. They relied
on Indians for descriptions of areas beyond the nearly 3,000 miles they traveled.
The map identifies more than 200 Indian towns. Many were located close to here, because Indians obtained a variety of food staples from the freshwater marshes.
"(This river) is an excellent, pleasant, well inhabited, fertile, and a goodly navigable river."
-Captain John Smith, The General History of Virginia
A diptych sundial (which includes a compass) would have been among the instruments used for navigation in Smith's day.
1660 edition of Smith's original 1612 map, with Rappahannock River highlighted.
Learn more about the cultural and natural history of the area at these nearby places:
· Visit the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge across the river from here to enjoy boating, wildlife viewing, and a landscape similar to what John Smith might have seen.
· Enjoy opportunities for viewing wildlife throughout the refuge.
· View Cat Point Creek from vantage points at Historic Menokin and the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
· Access Mount Landing Creek at the Hutchinson unit of the national wildlife refuge.
Join the Adventure
Explore the places Englishman
John Smith traveled in the early 1600s. Learn about the thriving American Indian communities he encountered and imagine the bountiful Chesapeake he observed. Experience the natural and cultural richness that exists in the region today.
The 3,000-mile Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail traces the exploratory voyages Smith conducted from 1607 to 1609 on the Chesapeake Bay and along several major rivers. The trail includes parks, museum sites, driving tours, and water trails that align with Smith's historic voyage routes and offer opportunities for recreation and discovery.
Experience the Trail
· Explore rivers, coves, and open water by kayak, sailboat, or motor craft.
· Bicycle or hike along woodland trails and shoreline paths.
· Follow winding back roads through rural landscapes and historic villages.
· Visit places that celebrate American Indian heritage.
· See birds and other wildlife foraging in marshes, waterways, and forests.
· Attend festivals and demonstrations, or join a guided tour.
To learn more about the trail and to plan your adventure, visit
Captain John Smith's Historic Voyage Routes
"Here are mountains, hils, plaines, valleys, rivers, and brookes all running most pleasantly into a faire Bay compassed but for
the mouth with fruitful and delightsome land."
- John Smith, 1612
Overlooking the Susquehanna River
Students aboard Discovery
at Jamestown Settlement
Kayakers explore the trail
Indian dance demonstration at Jefferson Patterson Park and Monument