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What is the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail (NHT)?
The Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT shares knowledge about the American Indian societies and cultures of the 17th century Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers. First established by Congress in 2006, the water-based trail follows the voyages of Captain Smith through the Chesapeake from 1607-1609 in association with the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent British colony in North America. Since, the trail has been expanded along rivers important to Native peoples, including the Susquehanna, Upper Nanticoke, Chester, and Upper James.
The trail also manages Werowocomoco, the site of the capital town of the Powhatan Chiefdom. Archeological evidence shows that the site at Werowocomoco was occupied by American Indians for more than 10,000 years, followed by Europeans and African Americans in recent centuries. Trail staff are currently working to open Werowocomoco to the public with the consultation of tribal partners.
Working alongside the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, the trail calls attention to the cultural and natural heritage of the Bay, and provides new opportunities for education, recreation, and heritage tourism in the Chesapeake Bay region. In providing a focus on the resources associated with American Indian history and contemporary communities, the trail helps facilitate the protection of associated resources for future generations.
How do I contact the trail?
To contact us, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Physical mail, including junior ranger books, can be sent to the following address:
P.O. Box 210
Yorktown, VA 23690
How do I get on the trail?
The trail is more than 3,000 miles long and can be accessed at various points along the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. View a map of the trail.Opportunities to experience and learn about the Bay through a wide range of parks, refuges, museums, and other sites along the trail can be found using the Find Your Chesapeake website.The primary visitor’s center for the upper portion of the trail is the Zimmerman Center for Heritage, located on the Susquehanna River in York County, Pennsylvania: 1706 Long Level Road, Wrightsville, PA 17368. The trail’s is currently headquartered at Yorktown Battlefield, part of Colonial National Historic Park: Yorktown Battlefield, 1000 Colonial Parkway, Yorktown, VA 23690
COVID-19 NOTICE: Due the trail’s nature, we are never closed. But due to the pandemic, we and many of our partners are unable to provide in-person programming. To explore the trail virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic, go to the Virtual Visits tab on https://www.findyourchesapeake.com/. There, you will find virtual events, at-home activities, virtual tours, and wildlife webcams. Learn about the trail from home via our website, nps.gov/cajo, or by following us on Facebook and Instagram.
Note: The trail is in the process of relocating its headquarters to Historic Jamestowne, also a part of Colonial National Historic Park. From this location, the trail hopes to engage visitors to the American Indian side of the Jamestown story, as well as provide visitors to the park with a water-based tour experience. Historic Jamestowne, 1368 Colonial Parkway, Jamestown, Virginia 23081.
How is the trail marked?
The trail is marked with a series of logo markers and interpretive signs at designated trail locations. Currently, interpretive buoys mark the trail at several places in the Chesapeake Bay. The buoy system was developed in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These buoys provide important cultural, geographic, and historical information while transmitting real-time scientific data about water conditions. To access the buoy system, visit https://buoybay.noaa.gov/.
What if I don’t have a boat?
Although the National Park Service (NPS) does not currently offer watercraft rentals and/or guided tours of the trail, these services are available at many trail locations through concessions at state parks or private enterprises. Our staff are in the process of developing a water-based experience at Historic Jamestowne.
Where can I get a map and guide to the trail? Are there ranger-led tours available?
View our map and brochure. There are no ranger-led tours at this time, but these opportunities will become available as the trail establishes programming at Historic Jamestowne and Werowocomoco. Parks, refuges, museums, and other sites along the trail offer tours and other experiences that can be found by searching the Find Your Chesapeake website.
How long is the trail?The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail traverses more than 3,000 miles up and down the Bay and its tributary rivers through the states of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and the District of Columbia.
Where does the trail start?
Visitors can access the trail at multiple locations. Historically, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT begins at Historic Jamestowne on Jamestown Island located near Williamsburg, VA. This is where John Smith began his explorations and voyages. The northernmost point of the trail is the Otsego Lake in Cooperstown, NY. This lake is the headwaters, or origin, of the Susquehanna River. Since the Susquehanna River formed the valley that now holds the Chesapeake Bay, the Otsego Lake is in a way the “starting point” of the Chesapeake.
Can I stay overnight on the trail?
Although the NPS does not currently provide camping facilities along the trail, camping is available through state and private partners at sites along many trail segments.
Does it cost anything to use the trail?
The Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT is free of charge; however various partner sites and concessions along the trail may charge a fee.
Who manages the trail?
The trail is administered by the National Park Service in coordination with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, in consultation with tribal partners, and in cooperation with other federal, state, and private entities.
Do you need volunteers for the trail?
We do not offer any volunteer opportunities at this time.
Is there a passport cancellation stamp for the trail?
Yes, there is a cancellation stamp for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Currently, the stamp is available at the following locations:
Colonial National Historic Park (Historic Jamestown & Yorktown Battlefield)
Belle Isle State Park
Caledon State Park
Captain John Smith Nanticoke River Discovery Center
Chickahominy Riverfront Park
Chippokes Plantation State Park
Deltaville Maritime Museum and Holly Point Nature Park
First Landing State Park
Fort Monroe National Monument
George Washington Birthplace National Monument
Havre de Grace Visitor’s Center
Henricus Historical Park
Historic St Mary's City
James City County Marina
James River Association
Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum
Kiptopeke State Park
Leesylvania State Park
Mason Neck State Park
Mathews County Visitor & Information Center
Onancock Historic District and Town Wharf
Point Lookout State Park
Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge
Reedville Fisherman's Museum
Sandy Point State Park
Sultana Education Foundation
Smallwood State Park
Thomas Stone National Historic Site
Westmoreland State Park
York River State Park
Zimmerman Center for Heritage
Is there a scout merit badge for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail?
The National Park Service offers a Resource Stewardship Scout Ranger Program (Scout Ranger) developed in partnership with Scouts BSA in 2008. This program is designed to increase scout visitation to national park units, promote a better understanding of the NPS mission among scouts and their families, educate young people about their responsibility to conserve our natural and cultural resources, encourage volunteer service, and promote good citizenship.
What is the buoy system and how many are there?
In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “smart buoys” guide visitors along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT. The solar-powered buoys provide visitors with a wide range of real-time information such as latitude and longitude, water quality, wind speed and direction. The buoys also provide site-specific geographic and historical information. There are currently ten buoys in place located at the mouth of the Susquehanna, the Patapsco River, Annapolis, the Upper and Lower Potomac River, Gooses Reef, Stingray Point, the York Spit, Jamestown, and First Landing. These buoys are accessible at https://buoybay.noaa.gov/.
What is an estuary?
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America. An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with saltwater from the ocean. It is an area of transition from land to sea. Estuaries are among the most productive environments on earth, creating organic matter and providing many different types of habitat that support diverse communities of plants and animals.
What is Werowocomoco and why is it important?
Werowocomoco, meaning “place of leadership,” is the capital of the Powhatan Chiefdom where Chief Powhatan received English ambassadors like John Smith. Werowocomoco is also one of the richest American Indian archeological sites on the east coast. It contains archeological evidence of human occupation on the land going back more than 10,000 years.
Since the site was first identified as the location of Werowocomoco, preliminary research has already begun to uncover fascinating stories. Exciting discoveries about American Indian deep history on the east coast, along with the stories of the European and African American occupants of the site, will continue to be made for decades to come.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed supports many different indigenous cultures, each with their own unique history, language, and customs. The popular belief that all American Indians moved west is untrue. In fact, American Indians are still among our friends and neighbors here on the east coast. To descendants of Powhatan Chiefdom tribes, Werowocomoco is still considered a sacred site, important to both an understanding of their history and their culture in the present-day.
The tidewater and riverine landscape of the Chesapeake Bay had a substantial impact on both the daily life and culture of American Indians. Visitors to Werowocomoco will be able to imagine what life was like for inhabitants of this lush, watery landscape, while coming to appreciate the vastness of this place’s history and significance.
How did Captain John Smith and his men explore the Chesapeake Bay?
In the summer of 1608, Smith and his crew traveled in a 30-foot work boat called a shallop, or barge. This vessel was constructed in England and transported in two parts on one of the three ships that brought the colonists to Jamestown: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. Reassembled in Virginia, the shallow-draft boat was used for exploration of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Having learned the basics of the Virginia Algonquin language, Smith was able to communicate and even trade with the many tribes he met along the way. He mapped his journeys and recorded what he saw in journals. Though his writings are biased towards a European perspective, they provide a unique glimpse into American Indian life in the seventeenth century.