Journey One Stalking

Agriculture has almost always been a part of the Chesapeake Bay region and was and still is extremely important. It left impacts on society early on by driving slave labor in the region and by driving the economy with profitable money crops.  Money crops brought many settlers to the Chesapeake Bay region in hopes of making it big which in turn boosted the economy.  The boost in agriculture called for the development of new technologies that are the basis of what we use today.  Today, the Bay is seeing lasting negative effects from agriculture then and today.  Slavery and technology were jump started by agriculture in colonial Virginia which was critical to developing the Chesapeake Bay region and making it what it is today.

The first agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay region was the Native Americans and then followed by some of the early settlers.  However, the first large scale agriculture in the area was the tobacco boom in the colonial time period.  Tobacco became a huge money crop in the region and opened the way for more crops to start.  Ed Shultz, a farmer in colonial Williamsburg said, “more land, more labor, more tobacco”.  The people wanted more land so they had more room to grow crops.  They wanted more labor, which in this case was slavery, so they could grow and sell more tobacco.  Because of tobacco’s high profit, many English settlers moved to the Chesapeake Bay region for the chance to get rich growing and selling tobacco.  These settlers and the use of slaves and other laborers created different social classes with strict ‘rules’ in society.  The rich, wealthy, and gentry mostly lived in the towns and usually had something to do with government and politics.  The middle class weren’t wealthy or poor but were still white.  The lowest class was the slaves, the indentured servants, and the dirt poor, none of which had much other than the clothes on their back.  Agriculture had a great impact on this because it separated out land owners, farmers, planters, slaves, indentured servants, and others from each other and each was looked at in different ways.  Large scale agriculture was just as important then as it is today.

In the colonial time period slavery was as important to agriculture, as agriculture is to feeding society.  Slavery is obviously unethical and is a shameful part of our history, but it was “critical” to the development of the region in Ed Shultz’s words.  Tobacco was the money crop that brought hopeful farmers and planters to the area, but slavery was the gateway that let it all happen.  These farmers, planters, and rich landowners needed someone to take care of their crop, and the more slaves they had the more they could grow.  Socially, slaves were looked at as a sign of wealth because they were so valuable.  Slavery, even though it did and still does have tremendous negative effects on society, it was vital to agriculture in the colonial period and the development of the Chesapeake Bay region as a whole.

When the tobacco boom slowed down in the Chesapeake Bay region, the rise of more crops started like wheat and cotton which also brought new technologies a long with their growth.  Wheat was less labor intensive than tobacco so less labor (less slaves) was needed to grow the crop.  Because of this, many slaves were sold to the southern states or freed.  Cotton on the other hand was very labor intensive and needed the seeds to be picked from it.  This lead to the invention of the cotton gin and many new kinds of farm equipment like the combine.  These inventions have developed into the large scale farm equipment that we have today that is crucial to our society today.  Large scale agriculture and the technologies it helped to develop are what feeds most of the billions of people on earth today.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is filled with farmland today and the focus of much of the area is agriculture.  This still today plays a big part in the society around the Bay with that being people’s way of life.  It also plays a large role in the environment because agriculture is in the spotlight for the Bay’s poor health.  Plowing land and cutting down trees to have more farmland causes erosion and sediment to end up in the waterways.  Also, nutrient runoff from fertilizers used in agriculture are ending up in the Bay.  Both of these have negatively left an impact on the Chesapeake Bay’s health by increasing eutrophication in the water ways of the Bay.  Even though the farmland surrounding the Bay is part of the aesthetic of the region, the negative health of the Bay goes against this.

Agriculture in colonial Virginia was crucial to developing the Chesapeake Bay region then and it is still developing it today.  Slavery was a major part of agriculture then and we wouldn’t be where we are today without it, even though it goes against all of our ethics today.  Agriculture was the driving force behind many inventions that were ground breaking then and are still important to us today.   Even though agriculture is so critical to our society today, it is blamed partly for decreases in the health of the Bay.  All in all, agriculture is immensely important to the Chesapeake Bay watershed and has made society what it is from day one.

The Perfect Place

From water to slaves, from tobacco to food, everything has a reason for its location.  In just nine days of orientation and two weeks of classes this semester I have learned just how much the physical location impacts the going ons and the biography of a place.  It may seem that through history and still today that everything just fell into place and happened where it happened just because.  I have come to find between what I have learned and read this semester so far and my personal experiences that this is not true.  This was all brought together in my head by what Savoy said in an excerpt from Trace,  “Ancestors came because this river flows to an ocean across whose waters empires expanded and peoples migrated by choice and force.”

People came and stayed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed because of the resources that they had access to.  There were freshwater tributaries to get water from.  The water also laid access to plenty of clams,  oysters,  and fish to eat.  There were small and large game roaming through the forests to also eat.  The water was also perfect for transportation as you could get almost anywhere by a boat or canoe on the water.  Resources from the earth and trees could be made into pottery,  weapons,  jewelry,  shelter,  and much more.

As Savoy mentioned,  many people were forced to migrate here as slaves.  Slaves were a huge aspect of early life on the Bay even though this is a major ethical debate.  One reason they were so useful in the area was for tobacco production because it was a high maintenance crop  and the more workers the more a land owner could make.  Savoy also talked about how many of our founding fahers,  like George Washington, owned slaves.  In fact, not only is Washington’s plantation in Virginia so he could own slaves, but that is the reason the nation’s capital is in D.C.  Washington wanted to be able to use his “enslaved workers” so the capital had to be in the South.

The Chesapeake became the right location for these people and D.C. became the right location for the capital just like Chestertown is now the perfect spot for me.  I grew up in the country, outside of a small town with not much to do.  You can’t drive five minutes anywhere without passing at least one farm.  I had looked at many colleges before I visited Washington College even though it was the closest to my home.  As soon as I visited the school I saw it was similar to home.  The aesthetics of the area made me fall in love with the endless trees and rolling corn fields.  The school had the academic programs I wanted and I knew I wanted to apply for the Chesapeake Semester.  The school’s location made this all come together and become the perfect location for me.  It was in a small town on a river surrounded by rural farm land.  Being on the Chester River was the prime location for the Chesapeake Semester program that I was so excited to apply for and that I have already learned so much from.

Savoy, Lauret E.  (2015).  Trace: Memory, History, and the American Land.  Berkeley, California.  Counterpoint Press.

My Chesapeake Ethic

Growing up a five minute drive from the Susquehanna River at the head of the Chesapeake Bay,  I have been surrounded by facts and opinions on the bay my entire life.  I have learned first hand how important the Bay is to the local areas as well as the entire 64,000 square mile watershed.  With that being said,  I’ve been aware for a very long time of the debate over the health and stability of the Chesapeake Bay.  I remember as early as elementary school being given “Save the Bay” stickers.  In my mind there is no question whether or not the bay is in trouble.  The water is rising,  the beaches are eroding,  living things are dying,  and unwanted species are taking over.  This has been drilled in my head for as long as I can remember.

What do we do now?  How do we fix this?  Do we let nature take it’s course?  Do we inflict strict policies?  Should we spend millions of dollars to restore shorelines?  Should those on the shore retreat to higher ground?  How do we make every industry,  group,  and person around the Bay pleased?  There are infinite questions to ask with even more possible solutions to discuss.  I like the last words that Berry used in Solving for Pattern, “A good solution, then, must be in harmony with good character,  cultural value,  and moral law.”  We can’t just rely on philosophy,  morals,  aesthetics, or any other strict opinion to make a decision on what to do about the Bay and it’s problems.  To make a solution that works for all of the many aspects of the Bay and those who live in the watershed we have to incorporate a balance of ethics.  The solution has to support everyone and be in harmony to be the most effective.

It may sound cut and dry in these words that we just have to find a solution that makes everyone happy but it is not nearly that simple.  The problems of the Bay became even more evident after spending just nine days on the Chester River alone.  We met fisherman,  boat captains,  environmentalists,  and many other kinds of people who have dedicated their lives to the Chesapeake Bay.  Each person we met had varying opinions on the state of the Bay and what should be done.  It is astounding to think about how many more people we will meet this semester,  each with their own opinions.  Putting this all together to find the ‘perfect solution’ or ‘good solution’ will take all of these opinions,  philosophies, morals,  aesthetics,  and many other things together.  I am eager to spend this semester diving deeper into the knowledge and culture of the Bay all while getting closer to finding a harmony that will become my Chesapeake Ethic.