Tobacco Coast: A Maritime History of Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial Era

By Arthur Pierce Middleton; George Carrington Mason | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER ELEVEN
Defense of the Bay

THE seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witnessed a series of titanic struggles between the great maritime nations of Europe for colonial empires. India, Africa, America, and the oceans which lay between them became the theatre of war. In this era of global warfare--the first in history--Chesapeake Bay, in common with other portions of the coast of the New World, found neither solace nor protection in the fact that the broad Atlantic lay between America and Europe. On the contrary, the sea was the highway of imperial ambition rather than a barrier to it, and for that reason the inhabitants of Virginia and Maryland were in almost continual danger--or, at least, in almost continual apprehension--of a naval attack from the enemy, whether Spanish, Dutch, French, or pirates.1

In addition to possible enemy naval action in time of war-- which actually occurred in 1667 and 1673--there was the constant menace of enemy privateers which hovered off the Capes and harassed the sea-lanes of Chesapeake shipping. On several occasions fears of a "privateer attempt" on the tobacco colonies were aroused.2 Moreover, even the short intervals of peace in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries brought no respite to the inhabitants of the Chesapeake colonies, for pirates swarmed the coast, and on occasion entered the Bay and plundered ships and plantations. At one time the threat became so serious and prolonged that the Council of Virginia declared the colony to be "as it were, in a continual state of war."3

The problem of defense was complicated by the fact that what the Virginians and Marylanders had to defend--their homes, plantations, slaves, and crops--were widely scattered over a large area, and the "extraordinary system of natural waterways that

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