Read Chesapeake Online

Authors: James A. Michener

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Saga, #Sagas, #Historical, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Romance, #Eastern Shore (Md. And Va.), #Historical Fiction, #Fiction, #Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. And Va.)


Praise for

“The sweep is magnificent … the story dramatic. The Bay itself, with its rich wildlife, its mystery, and its vulnerability, is most vividly evoked.”

Publishers Weekly


“Another sure-fire blockbuster.”



“Michener’s finest book … it is superbly humanized history.”

Library Journal


“James Michener has written one of those rare novels that is enthusiastically passed from friend to friend.”

Associated Press


“This marvelous panorama of history seen in the lives of symbolic people of the ages is a review of the conflicts, horrors and violence that accompanied the building of our nation…. An emotionally and intellectually appealing book.”

Atlanta Journal and Constitution


“The perfect book.”







A. M
, one of the world’s most popular writers, is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning
Tales of the South Pacific,
the bestselling novels
Hawaii, Texas, Caravans, The Covenant,
and the memoir
The World Is My Home.
Michener served on the advisory council to NASA and the International Broadcast Board, which oversees the Voice of America. Among dozens of awards and honors, he received America’s highest civilian award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, in
and an award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in
for his commitment to art in America. Michener died in
at the age of ninety.


Tales of the South Pacific
The Fires of Spring
Return to Paradise
The Voice of Asia
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
The Floating World
The Bridge at Andau
Report of the County Chairman
The Source Iberia
Presidential Lottery
The Quality of Life
Kent State: What Happened and Why
The Drifters
A Michener Miscellany: 1950-1970 Centennial
Sports in America
The Covenant Space
The Eagle and the Raven
The Novel
The World Is My Home: A Memoir
James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook
Creatures of the Kingdom
My Lost Mexico
Literary Reflections
Miracle in Seville
This Noble Land: My Vision for America


with A. Grove Day
Rascals in Paradise


with John Kings
Six Days in Havana


I first sailed upon the Chesapeake in 1927 and was a frequent passenger thereafter. From my earliest days on the bay I considered writing about it, but always postponed beginning until such time as I could live along its shores for some extended period. This opportunity came in 1975, when I lived near a small but historic fishing village for two years. During that time I met and worked with the many learned people whose ideas infuse this novel, and I should like here to give them the thanks they so richly earned.

The Chesapeake Bay:
Walter Robinson of Swarthmore first took me boating and instilled in me his love of the area. Judge William O’Donnell of Phoenixville allowed me to crew his
Prince of Donegal
scores of times, and Larry Therien helped me to explore. Pearce Coady took me on his
Cleopatra’s Barge
to parts of the bay.

The Choptank River:
Lawrence McCormick and Richard Springs took me on small-boat excursions to the headwaters of the river. Edward J. Piszek arranged for helicopter explorations at low level. Judge O’Donnell sailed me to all parts of the river, as did Joseph A. Robinson.

Three captains helped enormously. G.S. Pope, now retired, told me of the old days. Josef Liener instructed me as we sailed the
Rosie Parks,
and Eddie Farley took me out for long hours of oyster dredging on his
Stanley Norman.
I was also allowed to inspect various old boats as they stood on blocks.

George Krantz of the University of Maryland’s Center for Estuarine Studies shared with me his research findings, and Robert Inglis kept me informed as to his progress in growing oysters in the creek which formed his front yard. Levin Harrison told me casually of the rough old days.

Ron Vavra, twin brother of the man who provided the photographs for my book
introduced me to the basic research on the Canada goose, and dozens of hunters helped me understand its habits. William H. Julian, Manager of the Blackwater National Wild Life Refuge, showed me his 60,000 geese and was unfailingly helpful.

Herons and ospreys:
After I had done a good deal of field work on these enchanting water birds, I had the good luck to meet up with Jan Reese, a leading expert on both species, and he gave me advanced instruction on aspects I had not contemplated.

Big guns:
Dr. Harry Walsh, the principal authority, showed me his collection, talked of the old days, and helped me to understand the functioning and mystique of these one-man cannons.

Stark McLaughlin, Project Forester, State of Maryland, gave much useful advice concerning various aspects of tree growth and culture.

Choptank life:
Captain Bill Benson, of the nation’s oldest ferry route, provided invaluable reminiscences. Ambassador Philip Crowe was most helpful in telling of recent developments. And Alyce Stocklin, a friend of many years, was hilarious as a constant commentator. H. Robins Hollyday was generous both with his time and his store of old photographs, and Peter Black was helpful in diverse ways.

Black history:
Dickson Preston generously shared with me his remarkable discoveries relating to Frederick Douglass; these lend authority to my treatment of slavery in the area. He also read the complete manuscript and made valuable suggestions on historical details. My friend Dorothy Pittman convened some of her black neighbors to talk with me, particularly James Thomas and LeRoy Nichols. Judge William B. Yates provided sober and ecumenical reflections on the days of trouble.

Although for dramatic reasons the action of this novel takes place on the northern shore of the Choptank, much of my most effective research was conducted on the south bank, for which I have a special affection, and I am deeply indebted to the experts of that
region. Bayly Orem, of a distinguished Dorchester family, met me on a dove shoot and took it upon himself to introduce me to his neighbors who might prove helpful:

Boat building:
James Richardson, famous for his reconstructions of historic boats, was constantly instructive, as were his sons-in-law, Tom Howell and James D. Brighton.

State Senator Frederick C. Malkus, the region’s premier turtle trapper, took me turkling, as that sport is called.

Richard Drescher, one of Maryland’s principal athletes, took me night frogging in the marshes of south Dorchester.

Little Choptank:
Dale Price allowed me to inspect his place on the Little Choptank, the site occupied by Herman Cline’s slave farm prior to the Civil War.

Judge William B. Yates told me of the Choptank Indians and other matters.

Elmer Mowbray allowed me to accompany him on explorations of his privately owned marsh. He is an expert on estuarine life, and I am indebted to him.

David Orem and Jay Alban taught me about fishing and the intricacies of nature in the bay area.

Everyone at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, was most helpful; the director, R.J. Holt, was especially so. The library in Easton, Maryland, has a distinguished collection of research materials; its director Elizabeth Carroll saw to it that I had assistance, and Mary Starin, custodian of the Maryland Room, was indefatigable in finding books, as she is with all who work in the library. Robert H. Burgess, of the Mariners’ Museum in Norfolk, helped with both his books and his counsel.

Details of early activity were checked against
Tobacco Coast. A Maritime History of the Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial Period
by Arthur Pierce Middleton. The nature of commercial life on an Eastern Shore plantation during the Revolutionary War came from various sources, the most revealing being
In Pursuit of Profit
by Edward C. Papenfuse, which deals with a group of commercial families on the western shore. The significance of the naval battle fought at the mouth of the Chesapeake in September 1781 is not sufficiently appreciated. My account is based on recent research, particularly
Decision at the Chesapeake
by Harold A. Larrabee, which deserves wide attention from those interested in this period.
But my constant assistants were the citizens of the Choptank area. Scores of them talked with me at social gatherings or during investigative meetings held during one of the coldest winters the Eastern Shore has ever experienced and one of the hottest summers. They were provocative, perceptive, amusing … and often hopeful that I would quit my project and go elsewhere, lest my writing awaken the rest of the world as to what a sequestered paradise they were enjoying on the Eastern Shore.

Mari Michener
who cared for the geese,
the herons, the ospreys and
the cardinals






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