Captain John Smith's Chesapeake Voyages: The Voyages
Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network

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In1608, Captain John Smith led two pioneering expeditions around Chesapeake Bay, setting the stage for later English efforts to make the Bay their own. The combined routes of these two expeditions are commemorated by the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Voyage 1 (1.3 MB .pdf)

The First Smith Expedition, June 2 to July 21, 1608

The English had reached Jamestown Island in May 1607, and when the first expedition got under way Smith had already spent a brief time as a captive of the Indian overlord Powhatan. Departing from Cape Charles at the Bay's mouth, Smith's band of explorers quickly moved north along today's Eastern Shore, then veered west and south along the western shore, focusing on rivers such as the Patapsco, Potomac and Rappahannock where the English hoped to discover a Northwest Passage to the Pacific.

En route they searched for precious minerals and passed or stopped at dozens of Native towns and camps, many noted on Smith's detailed map. Some of these contacts were hostile, but others provided valuable information about the region and its resources. Ill prepared for hunting and fishing, Smith and his crew repeatedly obtained food from friendly Natives. After their successful return to Jamestown, Smith was elected president of the colony, then immediately embarked on his second Chesapeake voyage.

Voyage 2 (1.3 MB .pdf)

The Second Smith Expedition, July 24 to September 7, 1608

For his second exploration of Chesapeake Bay, John Smith headed directly back to the head of the Bay, then investigated more fully the Patuxent, Rappahannock, and several other, smaller rivers. In all, the expedition covered more than 1,000 miles and confirmed that the Bay's headwaters were not the famed Northwest Passage but the Susquehanna River.

Despite hardships that included debilitating illness, the death of a comrade, and ambush attacks by hostile Indians, Smith succeeded in establishing alliances with many Native peoples. Yet when he returned to Jamestown, rivals soon had him removed as president of the colony. In 1609, after being severely burned in a suspicious fire, he returned to England and would never see Virginia again.


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