Explorer's bay travels still moving

Baltimore County nature center plans events on Capt. John Smith's feats and records

Baltimore & Region


He was an adventurer who kept records that are studied to this day. Now, nearly four centuries after he explored the Chesapeake Bay, Capt. John Smith is the subject of a series of events at an eastern Baltimore County nature center.

Marshy Point Nature Center's celebration of the coming 400th anniversary of Smith's exploration and mapping of the Chesapeake Bay begins tomorrow with a lecture at 7:30 p.m. by historian and ecologist Kent Mountford.

Other free lectures in observance of Smith's feats, including one on a project to build a replica of his 17th-century boat, will follow at the nature center in Chase.

"Smith was the first to sail and survey the bay," Mountford said. "His most visible contribution was a map that stood as the very best for some 100 years."

Mountford, an experienced sailor, said he will focus on the difficulties Smith faced in navigating a shallop - an open, 34-foot rowing-sail boat - up the bay and her tributaries in 1608. Among the problems were a poorly rigged vessel and a sick crew.

Lectures recounting Smith's bay voyages and his life, as well as talks about building a shallop with period tools, will be presented next year at the nature center.

Robert Stanhope, Marshy Point's chief naturalist, said Smith's experiences with a pristine Chesapeake Bay four centuries ago are worth considering in the context of today's troubled waterway.

"The bay that John Smith was looking at was clear water," Stanhope said. "Today the bay is clouded with dirt and 75 percent of our wetlands are filled in with man's development."

In addition to Baltimore County's commemoration of Smith's work, the state and private organizations, including the National Geographic Society, will work to designate the explorer's historic water trail as a national park.

Smith, the son of a London tradesman, became an English soldier and adventurer, and was one of the founders of Jamestown. Smith's notes describing the indigenous people and the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, where oysters "lay as thick as stones," are still studied by historians, scientists and anthropologists, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

In February at Marshy Point, a group of shipwrights who are building a replica of Smith's craft with 17th-century tools will discuss their nearly yearlong endeavor. Their shallop will then be exhibited next year in museums in the United States and England.

The Capt. John Smith Four Hundred Project is an undertaking of Sultana Projects Inc., a nonprofit educational organization based in Chestertown that will involve students from across the Mid-Atlantic region in the Smith commemoration.

In May, author and boat captain Susan Schmidt will show a PowerPoint presentation of bay images during her lecture on Smith at the nature center.

Raised on the Chesapeake, Schmidt retraced Smith's 1608 voyage in a small boat. Her experience provided the basis for her book, Landfall: Retracing John Smith's Chesapeake Voyage, scheduled for publication in the spring.


For information on Marshy Point Nature Center programs, call 410- 887-2817.

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