Upon traveling to Jamestown, Williamsburg, Cambridge, and Baltimore on my first, of what would be four influential journeys, I became deeply connected with the historical past of the Chesapeake Bay and it’s people. This journey had a powerful impact on who I am as a person and changed the way I look at not only the Chesapeake Bay, but all of history as well! As a kid, (and I feel ashamed to say this) I had no interest in American history whatsoever, and a particular hatred for american history museums. I had even gone to both Jamestown (the settlement and rediscovered) and Williamsburg a few times in my childhood and left with almost no understanding of the time period and an annoyed attitude of it being a waste of time.
So this begs the question “Why was this time any different”, well I believe that not only have I grown from being that energetic kid that had a hard time paying attention because he was so busy looking at everything but mostly it was that I had been given a focus or goal in which to work upon: suddenly these boring museums became interactive scavenger hunts I used to complete my tasks that required me to dig deeper than the average tourist. In the past, I had gone around the sites with no guidance as to my purpose in these places and without a purpose I had deemed the knowledge pointless and dismissed it without noticing it’s value. The assignments given to me during the first journey allowed me to stop and ask questions, take in the importance of each object and recognize it’s impact on me and what I cared about.Most specifically the connection between the environment and history really helped spark that desire to learn more while on this journey. Nature has always been something I cared about and understood it’s connection to me as well as my impact on it, so learning about history through a lens I already understood enabled me to connect with my region’s history in a new way.
One example of this new appreciation of American history using the environment came to fruit during the Williamsburg assignment where the class was broken up into small groups and were individually given a question with a broad topic to investigate over the next few days. My group was tasked with investigating what trades/goods were used by settlers at the time, which ones were imported and which were local, and which goods had the largest impact on society and the environment. This type of question gave my group and I freedom to approach the questions in many different ways and focus on which goods we deemed important as well as confining us a smaller pool of information which allowed for a more in depth analysis of each groups question. My group and I were able to gather a variety of information from places like the magazine and tailor which were less visibly connected to goods like the farmer or the blacksmith and allowed us to collect a more detailed explanation of how supplies effected different markets and people. This process led to the narrowing down of basic information and let each group gain accurate and complex knowledge of specific aspects of life and once shared with the rest of the group, we all had gain a more complete understanding of what life was like during the 1700’s.
This type of research increased my appreciation for history because it not only gave me a better mental time line of events, but also brought light to gaps of information that had been left out of my middle and high school history classes. I had always had this image in my head that colonists were pretty self-sufficient and used this bountiful land to survive but the reality is most people were not craftsmen and didn’t have the skills to utilize the resources provided to them so things like iron, lumber, etc. were shipped back to England where labor was cheap and plentiful and then shipped back to the Chesapeake Bay area for them to sell the products. Colonists were mostly farmers because land and food production was in high demand in Europe. I learned about major impacts on the environment such as how charcoal production led to such deforestation that a man recorded standing on land and being able to see from river to river. I talked to a farmer and learn more than I ever thought possible about tobacco which was another huge factor of deforestation and soil erosion: a single cluster of tobacco seeds has about 1000 seeds, those seeds are mixed with ashes to locate the tiny seeds, after growing a few inches the tobacco plants are moved into a neighboring field were they will proceed to grow and be clipped, the plant goes on to be smoked for a month and a half, goes through the process of bulking and sweating until it’s leaves are stripped for shipping. But even with all this information the most astonishing thing I learned about tobacco was that tobacco can only be grown in the same field for 3 years before it depletes the soil of all it’s nutrients and it will take 20-30 years for the land to put that same about of nutrients back!
Even though I did not include every detail about tobacco harvesting that I know, you can see there is still a story progression through the life of growing tobacco: this story is a representation of the story that I have learned beginning with the founding of Jamestown in 1607 through the eighteenth century with the start of the industrial revolution. Another topic we focused on that greatly changed my outlook on history and gave me a better understanding of it was the in-depth explanation of Native American and African American lives during these two centuries. In conclusion, I feel that most U.S. history classes in the american school system leave out many of the more dark times in our countries history that we inflicted upon other people and led to a disbelief in our histories credibility, but finally I feel like I can say with confidence that I know the history of the Chesapeake Bay.