The generous resources of the Chesapeake Bay invited Englsih exploration and settlement of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.
With Native American assistance, English settlers developed a cash crop industry. Tobacco cultivation and export was the first commercial enterprise in the New World and produced great wealth for Virginia and Maryland. "Tobacco Society" plantations, like the Washington home at Popes Creek, flourished along Chesapeake tributaries.
These plantations were tied together by the Potomac and other regional rivers serving as highways for ships transporting people, communications and cargo. River and harbor towns such as Norfolk, Richmond, and Baltimore grew with trade and commerce as the Chesapeake connected with the rest of the world through trade.
Farmers continued producing tobacco and other cash crops along the bay shores. Timbering in watershed forests provided lumber for ships, workboats, buildings, and houses. By the mid-1800s, over half the region's vast forests were gone and intense farming had exhausted once-fertile watershed soils.
A growing population of watermen turned to harvesting the bay and its rivers. Oystering, crabbing, and fishing would become the Chesapeake's most notable industries.
New and ever-increasing pressures were placed on this fragile ecosystem.