Short Summary: The Chesapeake Bay

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The word Chesapeake, although there is some scholarly dispute, is likely to mean “Great Bay of Shells” or “Great Shellfish Bay” in the language of the Algonquian Native Americans. This translation is appropriate and accurate for anyone familiar with the Chesapeake Bay and its rich history. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, measuring roughly 200 miles in length, 3.4 to 35 miles in width and stretching across six states. Over 150 rivers and streams flow into its basin.
“The abundance of oysters is incredible. There are whole banks of them so that ships must avoid them.” Those were the words of Francis Louis Michel, an impressed Swiss visitor of The Chesapeake Bay in 1701, who was commenting on the abundance of Crassotrea Virginica, or the eastern oyster. In fact, the abundance of oysters was so immense that Michel’s ship actually ran aground an oyster reef. Michel also went on to extol the qualities of the eastern oyster, which was much larger
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Captain John Smith led two voyages during the summer and fall of 1608 and recorded a detailed and impressively accurate description of the Bay. Smith also indubitably had praise of the Chesapeake oyster as it was paramount in the survival of the Jamestown Colony, which Smith was governor of. To date, no English colonies had become permanent, much less thriving. Colonists were ill-equipped to handle the harsh winters of the New World and were often preoccupied with finding lucrative sources of wealth rather than making sure they were food-secure. Of the 7,549 people that arrived in Virginia between 1607 and 1624, only 1,095 wouldn’t perish. Those who lived owed their gratitude to the eastern oyster; the oyster’s sheer abundance and simple accessibility (oyster banks were often under just a few feet of water) helped colonists withstand the “starving time” and allowed Jamestown to become the first enduring English

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