Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail
John Smith Explores the Chesapeake
Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay in the early 1600s seeking precious metals and a passage to Asia. He traveled the James, Chickahominy, and York rivers in 1607, and led two major expeditions from Jamestown in 1608. Smith and his crew sailed and rowed a primitive 30-foot boat nearly 3,000 miles, reaching as far north as the Susquehanna River.
Although Smith did not discover gold, or a river to the Pacific, his precise map and detailed observations of American Indian societies and the abundant natural resources guided future explorers and settlers.
At the time of Smith's explorations, an estimated 50,000 American Indians dwelled in the Chesapeake region—as their ancestors had for thousands of years. Their sophisticated societies included arts and architecture, systems of government, extensive trade and communication networks, and shared spiritual beliefs. The native people hunted, fished, grew crops, and gathered food and raw materials from the land and waterways.
An Abundance of Life
Smith discovered a treasure trove of natural wonders in the Chesapeake region: thick forests of giant pines, oaks, and hickories; vast marshlands, huge turtles, 800-pound sturgeon,
and great schools of shad and striped bass. Massive flocks of ducks, geese, and swans darkened the sky; and enormous oyster reefs rose above the water's surface.
To learn more about the trail visit www.smithtrail.net
Smith's remarkably accurate map of the Chesapeake Bay (published in 1612), and his spirited written accounts of a lush landscape inspired European migration.
Decorative shells-such as those found on this ceremonial robe-were valuable in the American Indian's trading network that extended for hundreds of miles. This robe (which may have belonged to paramount chief Powhatan) was crafted from four elk skins and adorned with more than 17,000 shells.
Wood ducks and other waterfowl flourished
The forests and lowlands teemed with deer
Cattails grew thick in pristine marshes
Flocks of geese filled the sky
Virginia Indians at the time of Captain Smith's explorations were part of a vast commerce and communications network that extended to the Gulf Coast, New England, and the Great Lakes.
Native people on the Rappahannock spoke two main languages. Tribes from this area spoke an Algonquian dialect; tribes west of the Rappahannock's fall line spoke a Siouan language.
Those Indians who could speak multiple languages
moved among tribes, sharing news and exchanging goods.
"We asked (Mosco) how many worlds (Amoroleck) did know. He replied he knew no more but that which was under the sky that covered him, which were the Powhatans, with the Monacans and the Massawomeks."
—Mosco translating the Mannahoac prisoner Amoroleck, in Captain John Smith, The General History of Virginia
Indiana Middleman-Smith and his crew used the services of a Wighcocomoco Indian Mosco, who was familiar with the Rappahannock people. Mosco acted as guide and translator—the only Indian guide Smith mentioned in his writings.
Regional variations in pottery and shells help archeologists determine Indian trade routes. The English traded with the Indians as well, usually for furs and food.
There's plenty to do while visiting Belle Isle State Park:
· Belle Isle State Park features seven miles of Rappahannock shoreline. Discover the stories of the site and the region through ranger-led or self-guided programs.
· Enjoy the park's hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.
· Explore the river and creeks by motor or paddle craft. Rentals available.
· Try your luck at saltwater fishing. (Valid Virginia fishing license required.)
Join the Adventure
the places Englishman John Smith traveled in the early 1600s. Learn about the thriving American Indian communities he encountered and imagine the bountiful Chesapeake he observed. Experience the natural and cultural richness that exists in the region today.
The 3,000-mile Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail traces the exploratory voyages Smith conducted from 1607 to 1609 on the Chesapeake Bay and along several major rivers. The trail includes parks, museum sites, driving tours, and water trails that align with Smith's historic voyage routes and offer opportunities for recreation and discovery.
Experience the Trail
· Explore rivers, coves, and open water by kayak, sailboat, or motor craft.
· Bicycle or hike along woodland trails and shoreline paths.
· Follow winding back roads through rural landscapes and historic villages.
· Visit places that celebrate American Indian heritage.
· See birds and other wildlife foraging in marshes, waterways, and forests.
· Attend festivals and demonstrations, or join a guided tour.
To learn more about the trail and to plan your adventure, visit
Captain John Smith's Historic Voyage Routes
"Here are mountains, hils, plaines, valleys, rivers, and brookes all running most pleasantly into a faire
Bay compassed but for the mouth with fruitful and delightsome land."
- John Smith, 1612
Overlooking the Susquehanna River
Students aboard Discovery
at Jamestown Settlement
Kayakers explore the trail
Indian dance demonstration at Jefferson Patterson Park and Monument