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 THIRTEEN
Conclusion

ALTHOUGH historians have made much of the importance of tobacco in shaping the society and economy of colonial Virginia and Maryland, little has hitherto been said of the importance of Chesapeake Bay. This inland sea--the Mediterranean of America--which rendered the Chesapeake tidewater "the best water'd Country" by providing it with "the best and most convenient Navigation unit of any known Country in the World,"1 was the principal factor in the development of Virginia and Maryland.

The presence of the Bay with its network of navigable water. ways made the Chesapeake tidewater easily accessible to colonization, opening up a considerable inland region to water-borne traffic. The navigability of the rivers and creeks made it possible to adopt as a staple a bulky commodity like tobacco that could not stand overland transportation.2 The two together account for the rapid growth of the tobacco colonies in wealth and population and health to explain their preëminence among the American colonies.3 As one eighteenth-century observer put it, "'tis the Blessing of this Country . . . and fits it extremely for the Trade it carries on, that the Planters can deliver their Commodities at their own Back doors, as the whole Colony is interflow'd by the most navigable Rivers in the World."4

The peculiar property of the Chesapeake tidewater--the land's extraordinary accessibility to sea-home traffic--that facilitated the rapid development of the two colonies and made possible the adoption of tobacco as a staple, had an adverse effect in discouraging the growth of towns and thereby depriving the tobacco colonies of the social and intellectual advantages of urban communities.

The presence of the extensive network of rivers and creeks made towns unnecessary in the tidewater.5 It was only when the

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