Tangier Island

Here's a little history and information about Tangier Island.  It's in the Chesapeake bay, 14 miles from the West coast, and 7 from the East.  It's part of the state of Virginia.  There's only one town on the island with a small population hovering around 700.  It was important to us that we visit the island on this trip because of its large erosion problem.  It is very likely that the town will need to be abandoned within the next fifty years since the island is rapidly eroding away with each passing year.  The people who live there are extremely dedicated to preserving it, however, for as long as they possibly can.  It's been settled since 1770 and its inhabitants didn't take long to move from an agriculture of farming to one based around crabs and oysters.  The incredible thing about the island is that, due to its seclusion from the mainland, its people rarely left and had a history of not being very welcoming to newcomers.  This preserved the very distinctive dialect that Herby and I heard from the locals that most likely has been passed down from those first settlers in the 1700s.  It also means that there are only a handful of last names on Tangier as you saw on the gravestones. 

Now I said that the first people to settle the island arrived in 1770, but these people were by no means the first to visit.  John Smith is credited as the first European to explore Tangier.  He gave it its name because he thought it bore a striking resemblance to Tangier, Africa.  He went on to name a neighboring island "Smith Island." He wasn't very creative.  Before him, however, the island was often visited by Pocomoke Indians.  Although we didn't find any, there are supposedly a great deal of arrowheads scattered around the beaches as evidence that they had been there.

Today, the island is in great danger.Many houses have been abandoned, their inhabitants forced to retreat to mainland Virginia due to the intense erosion.The water creeps inward on all sides further and further each year.Some families are desperately trying to sell their soon to be worthless property at extremely cheap prices, while others are doing everything in their power to remain on their island home.The population is shrinking right along with the island mostly due to the new generations of its inhabitants.There are very few opportunities for Tangier youth.Most go to college on the mainland and never return.There is very little promise of even a career in crabbing or oyster farming now and the economy is mainly reliant on tourism.A tour boat arrives each day at 11am and leaves at 3pm.We watched as the people walked around the island, took ten minute golf cart tours, and slipped in and out of quiet gift shops.After they left, the whole island seemed to let out a breath it had been holding.The locals came out and chatted in their special dialect, the gift shops closed, the children played soccer outside the school.It's a simple existence, and they choose to keep it that way.It was a pleasure to witness the energy of the island, both the sadness, and the hope.