The Great Bay of Chesapeake
ONCE safely past the Virginia Capes and the dangerous Middle Ground Shoal that lies between them, the mariner had before him the great Bay of Chesapeake, a vast inland sea thrusting its deep estuaries and long tidal reaches far into the wooded coastal plain. Here in this delightful country, interlaced with innumerable rivers, the seed of the British Empire (and ultimately of the United States) was successfully planted in 1607, and here was the physiographical habitat in which it flourished more luxuriantly than the Virginia Council dared hope in 1609 when it prayed God "so to nourish this graine of seed, that it may spread till all the people of the earth admire the greatnesse, and seek the shades and fruite thereof."1
It is not surprising to anyone who knows the Bay country that the Chesapeake captured the imagination of Europeans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was called the "Noblest Bay in the Universe," in which the whole navies of Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands might simultaneously ride at anchor. When it came to the number of rivers and creeks, the intricacy of the drainage pattern led one to compare "the many Rivers, Creeks, and Rivulets of Water . . . to veins in humane Bodies."2 A seventeenth-century visitor thought that "no Country in the World can be more curiously watered," and predicted that the Chesapeake tidewater would eventually become "like the Netherlands, the richest place in all America."3 By the eighteenth century the extent of the Bay and its commercial advantages had become so celebrated that even writers who never came to America devoted their best rhetoric to extolling the Chesapeake. In his History of America, Robertson spoke of the Bay as "that grand reservoir, into which are poured all the vast rivers, which . . .