Quick Links

Most have watched the 1995 Disney movie Pocahontas as a child. Besides having some awesome songs, it is (rather loosely) based on real history. Today one can discover the earliest history of the United States and discover where it all started by visiting the Chesapeake Bay and Jamestown. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail traces much of the earliest English exploration of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is America's first water-based National Historic Trail. On the trail, visitors learn all about the Chesapeake Bay and how it played a very important role in the formation of the United States and the lives of the Native Americans before colonization. While there, learn more about the colonial history of the area in Virginia's Historic Triangle.


John Smith - The Larger Than Life English Explorer

John Smith was an English soldier, explorer, colonial governor, author, and Admiral of New England. His life story is larger than life. Before going to the New World, he killed three Ottoman challengers in single-combat duels, was knighted by the Prince of Transylvania, sold as a slave, presented as a gift to a Turkish nobleman's mistress in Constantinople, and more.

  • Lived: 1508 to 1631

John Smith lived from 1580 to 1631 and was an important character in establishing the colony of Jamestown in Virginia (the first permanent English settlement in America). He also led the exploration of the rivers in the region and the New England coast. He must have been a very busy man, for, in just a couple of years, he mapped some 3,000 miles of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

  • Governor Of Virginia Colony: Between 1608 and 1609

His books and maps were important to the English in colonizing the region. He led the Virginia Colony between September 1608 and August 1609 and helped teach the first settlers to farm the land and fish.

He was forced to return to England after an accident with gunpower igniting on a canoe.

Related: Rooted In History: See Virginia's Oldest Ghost Tour

The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail

Today the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail traces the historic routes of John Smith from 1607-1609. It was established on December 19, 2006, and is themed about the voyages of John Smith and the native populations he encountered.

  • Established: 2006

The trail is a series of water routes and extends for a whopping 3,000 miles or 4,800 kilometers along the Chesapeake Bay. It runs through Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. In 2012, it was extended to include the whole Susquehanna River south of Cooperstown in New York down through Pennsylvania and Maryland.

  • Length: 3,000 Miles or 4,800 Kilometers

The history of the trail is much more than 400 years; it has some 15,000 years of culture, with the first people arriving during the last ice age. John Smith documented hundreds of American Indian communities, and today many of the sites are archeological treasures and sacred sites for tribal citizens. He kept detailed records of the people he met - including the Susquehannocks who lived along the Susquehannock River.

Related: What Really Happened To The 'Lost Colony' At Roanoke? These Are The Best Theories

Exploring The Chesapeake Trail

The best way to explore the John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is by boat - just as John Smith did 400 years ago. But for those who can't explore it in real life, the Chesapeake Conservatory has created 13 high-resolution virtual river tours along the trail (similar to Google Street View).

Eventually, they aim to map the entire Chesapeake Trail as a virtual tour.

  • Accessibility: All Skills

To really explore the Chesapeake Bay, explore it by boat. The experience is accessible to all vessels and skill levels - including paddlers, skiffers, and cruisers. With 3,000 miles of waterways, it is far too much to go into detail here. Instead, refer to the Chesapeake Conservatory's A Boater’s Guide to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail for more information. It is a free online publication.

One can also get trail maps from the National Park Service. These brochures have the trail route with points of interest, public water access sites, local water trails, and the locations of NOAA interpretive buoys.

The maps can be gotten from the visitor centers, by emailing the NPS, or by downloading the brochure here - Map of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.