For most of us, these maps are too expensive to buy and too rare to view. Old Maps Online has digitized all sorts of old maps and makes them available to view online for free. They’re nautical maps from the 1800s and earlier from collections across the U.S.
Sandbars have shifted and islands have disappeared, but it’s still very cool to see what the directions were for sailing the Chesapeake Bay.
For example, you can zoom in on the directions for sailing into the Annapolis Harbor 169 years ago only to be be warned to give Thomas Point “a berth of at least two miles” and Sandy Point “a berth of at least a mile.”
It advises the larger ships coming in from down the Bay where to “anchor in 19 feet water, muddy bottom.” Vessels drawing under 12 feet of water are recommended to go to the “inner White Buoy or Channel Buoy and anchor inside of it “in from 13 to 14 feet water, muddy bottom”
“The best anchorage in the Outer Roads for large Vessels of War is in 8 fathoms water, muddy bottom, with the Poplar on Horn Point in range with the State House and Thomas Point Light house… This anchorage is distant 4 1/2 miles from the City of Annapolis.”
When entering the Chester River in 1845, sailors were advised “when past the Buoy on the Kent Island spit, Steer S. by W. until the tall Poplar tree on Love Point.”
No doubt the poplar tree is long gone.
See more historic maps at OldMapsOnline.org, click on the section you want to see and zoom in. The website will connect you to a collection which has the map you want to view.
The British Library has been working on a similar project. Go to “maps already georeferenced” and click on the marker. The maps of the Chesapeake Bay aren’t as thorough though.