Along the Tidewater Region–I Can See Clearly Now…


The Tidewater Region?

North Atlantic Coastal Plain

North Atlantic Coastal Plain

Have you ever heard meteorologists or others refer to an area called the Tidewater Region? It’s one of those things that for years I have been meaning to learn more about.  You know, what’s “tidewater” mean and just how large is the region; does it span more than one state?

A friend’s Facebook post a few days ago also fascinated me and intensified my interest in this term “Tidewater Region.”  The post referenced award winning journalist and historian Colin Woodard’s 2011 book:  “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America,” that identifies 11 distinct cultures that have historically divided the United States.

So, I ordered the book that is said to take readers on a journey through the history of our fractured North American continent and reveal how conflicts between our cultures have shaped our past and continue to mold our future.  And next, I put on my research cap and started probing online for information about the Tidewater Region.  I discovered that it is no small area as I once thought.  In fact, it is part of the North Atlantic Coastal Plain that covers about 50,000 square miles extending from the North Carolina-South Carolina border northward to Long Island, New York.

Tidewater_region mapThe Tidewater Region within it is an area of low, flat coastal lands that lie along the ocean coast and stretch inland to what’s known as a Fall Line.  The Fall Line is a natural border between the Coastal Plain Tidewater and Piedmont regions.  It’s  where rivers drop sharply from the Piedmont Region on their way to the sea and waterfalls and rocks stop ships from going any farther inland.

Next, I happened upon demographic information about the Tidewater settlers who emigrated from the Old World and how the Tidewater region slowly became an area of comparative wealth. Merchants and shippers lived in the towns and planters who grew tobacco, rice, indigo, and cotton, dominated the tidewater population.

The tidewater coastal area is very narrow in New England, and its terminology now is more applicable elsewhere, particularly to the middle and southern Atlantic regions, which I am focusing on in this post.  They were initially British colonies and the later states of the federal Union (Maryland and Virginia in 1788 and North Carolina in 1789). First to settle and establish themselves economically, socially, and politically, tidewater region inhabitants secured control of the government. Almost inevitably, they used the machinery of government for their own benefit and in accordance with their own traditions and ideals, and they resisted any efforts to weaken their control. (I am like a child on Christmas Eve, so anxiously waiting for that one gift.  I just need to see how my genealogy data match up with the Tidewater Region’s cultural descriptions in Colin Woodard’s book.)

Now, the following are results of me instinctively using my Ancestry.com tree and Family Tree Maker applications, to match up the tidewater areas’ geography with my family ancestors to unearth the following:

Virginia’s Tidewater Region

Maryland Tidewater RegionOf my 2,496 ancestors  who settled in Virginia, 562 (nearly one fourth of them) settled in what is known as Virginia’s Tidewater region counties that include the counties of: Accomack (1 ancestor), Campbell (359 ancestors),  Charles City (8 ancestors), Chesterfield (36 ancestors), Dinwiddie (1 ancestor), Goochland (31 ancestors), Henrico (58 ancestors), Isle of Wight (2 ancestors), Nansemond (1 ancestor), Norfolk (5 ancestors), Northampton (9 ancestors), Prince George (33 ancestors), Southampton (2 ancestors), Surry (15 ancestors), Sussex (1 ancestor), and York (0 ancestors).  The eldest among them was Chief Powhatan (father of Pocahontas) who oversaw more than 30 tribes when the Jamestown colonists arrived in his territory in 1607.  Ten of my more notable family names among my Virginia tidewater region relatives include:  Blair, Blandford, Bolling, Hawthorne, Jefferson, Lee, Randolph, Rolfe, Taylor, Washington, Webster.

Maryland’s Tidewater Region

Of my 1,200 ancestors and relatives who lived or now live in Maryland, nearly one-third of them (389), were/are in the Tidewater region that includes Southern Maryland counties: Calvert (25 relatives), Charles (152 relatives) and St. Mary’s (71 relatives).  Some definitions even include Prince George’s (128 relatives) and Anne Arundel (13 relatives).

North Carolina’s Tidewater Region

NC Tidewater Region CountiesNorth Carolina has 100 counties; but, only seven sounds (a bay or inlet of water) make up the coastal Tidewater region: Pamlico, Albemarle, Currituck, Croatan, Roanoke, Core, and Bogue Sounds. This region has many low-lying areas called wetlands, where water covers the land. Fifteen hundred and thirty of my ancestors settled in North Carolina. A number of them lived within counties in North Carolina’s Tidewater region.  Those counties included:  Beaufort (2 ancestors), Bertie (3), Brunswick (2), Carteret (2), Chowan (13), Craven (2), Cumberland (5), Currituck (1), Dare (1), Gates (1), Jones (5), New Hanover (13), Pamlico (1), Pasquotank (6), Pender (1), Perquimans (1), Tyrell (8), Washington (1), and Wayne (1) for a total of 61 persons in North Carolina’s Tidewater region.

Peninsulas in the Tidewater Region

There are four peninsulas in the Tidewater Region.  The part of Virginia known as the Eastern Shore is one of the peninsulas.  The Eastern Shore is separated from the mainland of Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay, which borders it on the west while the Atlantic Ocean borders it on the east.

The other three peninsulas are located on the mainland.   One is the Northern Neck Peninsula.  It is located between the Potomac River, which forms part of Virginia’s northern border,  and the Rappahannock River.  One is the Middle Peninsula.  This peninsula is between the Rappahannock and the York rivers.  One is simply called The Peninsula.  It is located between the York and James rivers.  The James River is 340 miles long.  It is the longest river entirely within Virginia.

Rivers, Harbors, and Swamps

The rest of the Tidewater Region, from the James River to the North Carolina border, has two natural features–the Hampton Roads harbor, which is the one of the world’s largest natural harbors, and the Dismal Swamp.

The Hampton Roads harbor is one of the world’s finest natural harbors.  It includes the ports of Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Portsmouth.  Millions of tons of products and goods are loaded into oceangoing ships in Virginia’s ports.  These ships sail to other ports in the United States and to ports all over the world.

The Great Dismal Swamp is a large wetland area that includes a series of swamps that scatter from Virginia, to North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.  The Great Dismal Swamp covers about 750 square miles, making it one of the largest swamps in the United States. The Tidewater region is the only place in the world where the Venus Flytrap plant grows naturally.

chesapeake bay bridge tunnelFor years, the only way to get from the Eastern Shore to the mainland was by ferry. Farmers on the Eastern Shore once used the ferries to carry their produce to cities on the mainland.   Now refrigerated trucks carry Eastern Shore fruits and vegetables through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  Opened in July, 1964 it was named “one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world.” This great bridge-tunnel is 17.6 miles long.  It  has four man-made islands where drivers transition between roadways that sit above the water and lanes that run beneath shipping channels. About 5 million cars take this route every year. (Photo By Steve Earley 2004 — Associated Press).

With all my newly acquired data about the Tidewater Region geography placed in proximity to my ancestry research, and forthcoming demographic/cultural analysis, I expect to write more meaningful posts that illuminate my past generalizations and probe more in depth into my ancestors lives and their stomping grounds.

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