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Delaware Bay

Delaware Bay is a major estuary outlet of the Delaware River on the Northeast seaboard of the United States whose fresh water mixes for many miles with the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It is 782 square miles (2,030 km2) in area.[1] The bay is bordered by the State of New Jersey and the State of Delaware. It was the first site classified in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

The pair of Delaware Capes that denote the outermost boundary of the Bay with the Atlantic are Cape Henlopen and Cape May. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry crosses the Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey, to Lewes, Delaware. Management of ports along the bay is the responsibility of the Delaware River and Bay Authority.

The shores of the bay are largely composed of salt marshes and mud flats, with only small communities inhabiting the shore of the lower bay. Besides the Delaware, it is fed by numerous smaller streams. The rivers on the Delaware side include (from north to south): the Christina River, the Appoquinimink River, the Leipsic River, the Smyrna River, the St. Jones River, and the Murderkill River. Rivers on the New Jersey side include the Salem River, Cohansey River, and the Maurice River. Several of the rivers hold protected status for the unique salt marsh wetlands along the shore of the bay. The bay serves as a breeding ground for many aquatic species, including horseshoe crabs. The bay is also a prime oystering ground.

Contents

History

Nautical chart of the Dutch colony Zwaanendael and Godyn's Bay (Delaware Bay), 1639

At the time of the arrival of the Europeans in the 17th century, the area around the bay was inhabited by the Lenape. The Indian name for the bay was Poutaxat. The river they called Lenape Wihittuck, which means "the rapid stream of the Lenape". The first recorded European visit to the bay was by Henry Hudson in 1609. The bay, the river, and the Indian tribe were all renamed after Thomas West, 3rd Baron De La Warr, an Englishman who led the contingent which reinforced the Jamestown settlement in 1610. In the middle 17th century, an area of the bay was claimed by the Dutch as part of the New Netherland colony. It was also settled by the Swedish, as part of the New Sweden colony, resulting in conflicts with the Dutch, who eventually took control of the area. After the British took control of the area, the area of the present day states of Delaware and Pennsylvania was granted to William Penn, who also controlled the area of West Jersey on the north side of the river. The area was quickly settled, leading to the growth of Philadelphia upriver on the Delaware as the largest city in North America in the 18th century.

The strategic importance of the bay was noticed by the Marquis de Lafayette during the American Revolutionary War, who proposed the use of Pea Patch Island at the head of the bay for a defensive fortification to protect the important ports Philadelphia and New Castle, Delaware. Fort Delaware was later constructed on Pea Patch Island. During the American Civil War it was used as a Union prison camp.

In 1885, the United States government systematically undertook the formation of a 26 ft (7.9 m) channel 600 ft (180 m) wide from Philadelphia to deep water in Delaware Bay. The River and Harbor Act of 1899 provided for a 30-foot (9.1 m) channel 600 feet (180 m) wide from Philadelphia to the deep water of the bay. The bay today is one of the most important navigational channels in the United States, and is the second busiest waterway in the United States after the Mississippi River. Its lower course forms part of the Intracoastal Waterway. The need for direct navigation around the two capes into the ocean is circumvented by the Cape May Canal and the Lewes and Rehoboth Canal at the north and south capes respectively. The upper bay is also connected directly to the north end of Chesapeake Bay by the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. For boaters using the bay, the bay offers several challenges. First, there is a significant current of up to three knots which has the effect of giving a boost or slowing you. Second, the bay is for the most part shallow and the channel is often occupied with ocean-going vessels. When wind is in opposition to the current, it quickly builds a very nasty chop. Finally, it does not offer many places where you can take shelter.

See also

References

Additional reading

  • Myers, Albert Cook, ed. Narratives of Early Pennsylvania, West New Jersey, and Delaware, 1630 -1707. (New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1912)
  • Ward, Christopher. Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware, 1609 - 1664 (University of Pennsylvania Press. 1930)
  • Leiby, A. C. The Early Dutch and Swedish Settlers of New Jersey (Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Co. 1964)

External links

Coordinates: 39°04′N 75°10′W / 39.067°N 75.167°W / 39.067; -75.167

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