Masters and Mariners
FROM their earliest days, the natives of the Chesapeake tidewater were part landsmen and part watermen, a combination that is not surprising in a region composed of alternate strips of land and water. In view of the natural setting in which they grew up they were quite naturally as much at home on one element as on the other. The navigable creeks and rivers that interlace the land were the haunts of their childhood. There is scarcely a native of this region who never swam in the waters of a tidal creek, or who never ventured forth upon the waters of a broad estuary in a leaky boat with a makeshift sail. There is scarcely a native who never rounded a point in the teeth of a gale, who never missed his stays and grounded upon a sandbar, or who never netted crabs and tonged for oysters.
Almost every planter, great and small, had a boat of one kind or another. Canoes, bateaux, punts, piraguas, shallops, flats, pinnaces, and sloops--"Bay Craft," as they were called collectively --appear with monotonous regularity in the seventeenth and eighteenth century records of Virginia and Maryland. Rivers and creeks had to be crossed, social calls to be made, large tobacco ships anchored in the river channels to be lightered, and fishing, oystering, and crabbing to be done. For all these purposes, as well as for ferrying and piloting, Bay craft were needed.
Each planter as a rule was quite capable of sailing his own boat. Where assistance was necessary, it was provided by slaves or indentured servants. Except for the larger sloops and schooners, Bay craft seldom required regular crews. In consequence, notwithstanding their active maritime life, Virginia and Maryland, unlike the New England colonies, produced a very small class of professional mariners.