History of the Chesapeake Bay

A Brief History of the Chesapeake Bay


The Chesapeake Bay stretches its beauty 195 miles from the Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River to the Virginia Capes. It is the largest bay in the United States, with the greatest number of tributaries (150) and more miles of shoreline (4,000) than the entire West Coast.

The origin of this beautiful estuary dates back 20,000 years to the last ice age. A huge glacier fed the  head waters of the Susquehanna, often referred to as the "mother of the Chesapeake", with a glacial melt, carving a deep valley through Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. When the ice sheet began to melt approximately 18,000 years ago, the Susquehanna converged with the Potomac, the Rappahannock and the York Rivers spilling its force into the Atlantic.

The Atlantic overflowed forcing the Susquehanna River mouth to retreat, giving birth to the Chesapeake Bay, a name giving to it by the Algonquin Indians. It meant "great shellfish bay".  Early explores hoped the Bay and its rivers would lead them to the Pacific and ultimately, Asia. While they never found the Orient, they did discover a land rich in resources and ripe for the taking. The Bay served as their entrance into the new America.

For centuries the Bay has provide man with a wealth or recreation activities, transportation means for importing and exporting worldwide products and livelihood for generations of fisherman and crabbers. The Chesapeake Bay male crab often referred to as "jimmies" is renowned worldwide for its abundance of delicious tender meat.

Over 50 per cent of all crabs and soft shelled clams caught in the United States come from the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, each year the Chesapeake produces over 200 million pounds of seafood which equates to a value exceeding $100 million. Only the Pacific and Atlantic out produces the Bay.  According to scientists, the freshwater tributaries, shallowness, low-lying wetlands and a wide portal to the sea account for the Bay's abundance of seafood.

The Bay is also rich in Fossils from the Miocene era. Ten to twenty million years ago a shallow ocean covered Southern Maryland. The shells, bones and teeth of animals that inhabited the area either sank or were washed into the seas and were covered with mud or sand.

When the Bay was developed by the drowning of the Susquehanna River Valley, it left what is now called the Calvert Cliffs, as a part of its eroded banks. These Cliffs are located on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake a few miles from Solomon’s Island. The Cliffs rise in height more than 100 feet and nearly all of the fossils found on the beach along Calvert Cliffs come from the Cliffs.

It was here, on the Chesapeake, captive on a British ship in Baltimore harbor, that Francis Scott Key anxiously watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry and wrote the Star Spangled Banner. Yes, the Chesapeake is rich in history and culture and it is at your finger tips.