Patapsco River

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Baltimore in 1608


Foul Weather Halts Smith's Explorations

   Smith arrives at the mouth of the Patapsco River on approximately June 14th, 1608, about 12 days into his first major Chesapeake exploration. He named the river Bolus after the strange-colored clay shores.  He and his crew had sailed "30 leagues" up the western shore from what is today Calvert Cliffs in Maryland.

   They spent a few days exploring the river, mostly because the men were tired, sick and the weather was foul, but they found no villages or civilization. It turns out that the very fierce Massawomeck tribe raided the area so frequently that settlement was discouraged. Smith placed one of his 26 crosses near Catonsville, MD, to claim the land and river for King James and to mark the farthest reaches of their exploration.


Smith's Crew Threaten Mutiny

   Smith’s men were feeling sick and so far the trip had not been going well. They had already run out of water twice (one time they nearly died from thirst on the Pocomoke River in Maryland.) The expedition encountered several bad storms, one of which dismasted them and almost capsized them. They were forced to sew a new sail from their shirts.  Only a few of the tribes they had encountered so far had been friendly. Faced with more bad weather, the crew petitioned to return to Jamestown. Smith gave a good speech (or at least he thought so) and persuaded the men to continue northward. Unfortunately, faced by a three-day Northeaster, Smith gave in to the dictates of weather and turned south.   


See Smith's Journals: Patapsco Journal Entries


Want to make history? 

    If you have acess to a car, try to find the location of Smith's Patapsco cross. You'll need  a copy of Smith's 1612 map, a USGS quad map of the area directly east of Catonsville, MD, and a road map. Smith placed his cross on a hilltop he probably saw from the river.   


See: Smith's 1612 Map  (


See: Baltimore Topo Map (


See: Smith Rectified Map (



Hint: A good starting place would be in Patapsco Valley State Park on the north side of Patapsco River above Rt. 95. 


  Baltimore Today

   Baltimore's landscape has developed from the pure wilderness Smith described in his journals into a lively port city. Baltimore is now a major terminal for Toyota vehicles and Domino Sugar.


What to See:

    The city dock is well fended, inexpensive to use and located within walking distance of:

The National Aquarium                         Maryland Science Center                 Baltimore Maritime Museum         Museum of American Visionary Art          Orioles Stadium at Camden Yards      Gallery of shops at Harborplace 

You can also take the water taxi and explore:

Fort McHenry                                  Antique stores of Fells Point

Talking Buoys:

  As you head out of the Patapso, please note the Captain John Smith interactive historical buoy. It can be called at 1-877-BUOYBAY or accessed via the web at and provides real-time weather information.

State of the Patapsco Today: