Tangier Island

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Photo credit: Stephen Blakely via bearboat.wordpress.com.

Located in the center of the Chesapeake Bay, a small island is gradually sinking into the bay. This island is filled with history and “folksy” people that do anything they can for you while you’re there. This island is Tangier Island.

The island was founded by John Smith in 1608 during his voyages in the Atlantic. Prior to his arrival, Tangier Island was a summer camping spot for the Pocomoke Indians. This is known because of the numerous amounts of arrowheads that are found on the beaches of the island each morning. In 1686, John Crockett and his eight sons arrived on the island and lived there full time, resulting in Crockett being a common surname on the island today. During the War of 1812, the island was a staging area for British troops. During this time period, many slaves escaped to the island, as it was an anti-slave area because of the island inhabitants’ Methodist religion. The island was once a place of high population; there were movie theaters, factories, stores, and an opera house. Over time, these characteristics of the town have disappeared, and so has the population and size of the island.

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Image courtesy of Google Maps.

In the mid-1800’s, the island had 2,062 acres, and due to rising sea levels and erosion this area has decreased to 740 acres, but only 83 acres are high enough from water level to be habitable. The island is only three feet above sea level, and with the levels rising every year, the island is expected to be underwater in the next 50-100 years. The town has proposed a plan to build a seawall to protect the island from increasing water levels.

Tangier Island is isolated; the only means of transportation are boat or plane. The airport is open from sunrise to sunset, and there are two boats that travel regularly to and from Crisfield, Maryland and Reedville, Virginia. The means of transportation around the island are golf cart, moped, or bike. Due to this isolation, the language spoken on the island is a variation of old English, and many people mistake Tangier natives as British when they hear the local accent. On the island, there is one payphone, one ATM, four or five gift shops, a few restaurants, three bed and breakfasts, one small museum, one school (with less than ten per grade) and the only local retail store is a hardware store. These attractions have just recently started to accept debit and credit cards. In 2010, the island got cable television and high speed internet. The islanders began streaming live sports, and it was soon named “America’s biggest sports town,” per capita, by the Virginia Tourism Authority.

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Image courtesy of getawaymavens.com.

The residents and characteristics of the island are known to be laid back and folksy, and there is little to no crime. “You don’t have to worry about traffic jams and murders, child molesters, rapists and thieves…You can leave your doors open. You don’t have to lock anything”, says local native Ricky Laird. With the isolation on the island, there is not much for teenagers to do, increasing their motivation to move off the island when older. Many of the children move off the island for either college or the military, and most don’t return back to live full-time on the island. More than half of the population on the island are above the age of 60. With the decrease of the area of the island and youth population, many are worried about the future image of Tangier.

The economy of Tangier is based on the waterman. The island focuses on crabbing and is known as the “soft-shell crab capital of the world.” With concerns about over-fishing the Chesapeake Bay, there have been laws enforcing the restriction on the amount they can bring in. Tourism brings money into the island as well. The boats coming to and from mainland bring in tourists, primarily in the summer months. There are kayak and golf cart tours available for tourists to see the life on the island. Children sell lemonade, Rice Krispie treats, and Christmas decorations made from seashells to the tourists to bring in money.

Tangier Island has brought history and achievement to what would have ever been expected in such a small town. Due to sea levels rising and population decrease, the island is becoming less and less of what it used to be, but the residents on the island will not let the legacy of the island die.

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About the author

Ginx is a junior and enjoys soda