Tracing John Smith's voyage on the Chesapeake Bay

Senator proposes water trail from Cape Henry to the Susquehanna

April 24, 2005|By Andrew G. Sherwood | Andrew G. Sherwood,SUN STAFF

After a miserable first summer at the Jamestown colony in Virginia, Capt. John Smith and 12 colonists set off in 1608 on a journey that would take them the length of the Chesapeake Bay.

Beginning near Cape Henry and sailing 180 miles north to the Susquehanna Flats between Harford and Cecil counties, the group was searching for a northwest passage to the Pacific, hoping to find gold and develop trade with the Indians.

Smith's route might become the site of the nation's first national water trail and part of the National Historic Trails system. It would be called the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Watertrail.

Feasibility study

Legislation introduced recently by Maryland's Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, with support from Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, also a Maryland Democrat, and Virginia Sens. George F. Allen and John W. Warner, both Republicans, would designate funding for a feasibility study by the National Park Service.

The trail would more or less follow the same route that Smith took in 1608, with another 1,000 miles of waterways also navigated by Smith, including the York and James rivers in Virginia and the Susquehanna River into Pennsylvania.

In 1608, Smith sailed and rowed to the head of the Chesapeake, where he explored the Elk, Sassafras, Northeast and Susquehanna rivers. "At the end of the bay where it is 6 or 7 myles in breadth, it divides into 4 branches," he wrote.

Smith was stopped on the Susquehanna by rocks and waterfalls, a spot he designated "Smyth Fayles" on his map. The area had at least 600 Susquehannock Indians living along the river when the explorer visited.

400th anniversary

In the Susquehanna, he "could not get two myles up it with our boat for rockes" at what is now Port Deposit, where he met the Massawoneks, a tribe possibly from the Great Lakes area who were warring with the Susquehannocks.

The Chesapeake National Water Trail would honor the 400th anniversary of Smith's exploration of nearly 3,000 miles in a small open boat around the bay.

As part of the anniversary of Smith's voyage, Sultana Projects Inc. plans to construct a replica of Smith's Discovery Barge, the 30-foot open boat, or shallop, used in his voyages. The vessel will be built at the Sultana Shipyard in Chestertown, where shipwrights will use 17th-century tools and techniques.

Upon its completion, the shallop will be exhibited in museums in the region in 2006 before it is used the next year to retrace the route of Smith's expedition.

The project was endorsed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in December, when he presented a piece of the 458-year-old Wye Oak, which fell in 2002, to be used in building the vessel.

"We think our chances are excellent," said Jesse Jacobs, a spokesman for Sarbanes. "The Chesapeake Bay is full of history and resources, and this would be the only historic trail that's entirely water."

Christopher Cerino, vice president of Sultana Projects, hopes the journey will draw attention to Smith's exploration and the proposed trail.

"We think it's a neat idea," Cerino said. "The Chesapeake is full of resources and history, and hopefully this journey will help the water trail be an actuality."

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