The Chesapeake Bay (/ˈtʃɛsəpiːk/ chess-ə-peek) is an estuary lying inland from the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the states of Maryland and Virginia, the largest such body in the US. The bay is approximately 200 miles (300 km) long from its northern headwaters in the Susquehanna River to its outlet in the Atlantic Ocean. Average depth is 46 feet (14 m), reaching a maximum of 208 feet (63 m).
In 1524, Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, (1485-1528), in service of the French crown, sailed past the Chesapeake, but did not enter the bay. Spanish explorer Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón sent an expedition out from Hispaniola in 1525 which reached the mouths of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. It may have been the first European expedition to explore parts of the Chesapeake Bay, which the Spaniards called "Bahía de Santa María" ("Bay of St. Mary")or "Bahía de Madre de Dios."("Bay of the Mother of God") De Ayllón established a short-lived Spanish mission settlement, San Miguel de Gualdape, in 1526 along the Atlantic coast. Many scholars doubt the assertion that it was as far north as the Chesapeake; most place it in present-day Georgia's Sapelo Island. In 1573, governor of Spanish Florida, Pedro Menéndez de Márquez conducted further exploration of the Chesapeake.
With the arrival of English colonists under Sir Walter Raleigh and Humphrey Gilbert in the late 16th Century to found a colony, later settled at Roanoke Island (off the present-day coast of North Carolina) for the Virginia Company, marked the first time that Europeans approached the gates to the Chesapeake Bay between the capes of Cape Charles and Cape Henry.
Three decades later, in 1607, Europeans again entered the Bay. Captain John Smith of England explored and mapped the bay between 1607 and 1609, resulting in the publication in 1612 back in the British Isles of "A Map of Virginia".
Because of economic hardships and civil strife in the "Mother Land", there was a mass migration of southern English Cavaliers and their servants to the Chesapeake Bay region between 1640 and 1675, to both of the new colonies of the Province of Virginia and the Province of Maryland.