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You Have To See What’s On This Tiny Island Off The Virginia Coast

The island of Tangier sits just 12 miles off the coast of Virginia, but in many ways, it exists as a land all its own. Now part of Accomack County, the island was first discovered by Europeans during John Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. However, for centuries before it was inhabited by English colonists, the island had been a summer retreat for the Pocomoke Indians, as evidenced by arrowheads and an ancient oyster midden that dates back thousands of years.

Because of its location, Tangier Island remains an isolated place, accessible only by plane or boat. Supplies are flown in from the mainland and even now, there are very few cars on the island, with most of the inhabitants using bicycles or golf carts for mobility.

With only one ATM, a handful of restaurants and the recent addition of the Tangier Island History Museum, the island has retained an easy, laid back lifestyle far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

But what is perhaps most remarkable about this tiny, isolated island is its language. Because so many of the original settlers were from the Cornwall region of southwest England, the accent was quite distinct. Over the years, the islanders, again because of their isolation and tendency to remain on the island for generations, have held on to this distinct “Old English” way of speaking, a fact that has drawn linguists to the shores of Tangier for years. It is believed that Tangier is one of the only places in the world where this type of linguistic anomaly exists. The following video shows some of the locals and offers a rare chance to hear this beautifully preserved dialect.

Local legend states that the island was settled by an Englishman named John Crockett, who arrived on the island with his eight sons in 1686. While no records can be found to support this, it is known that in 1778, Joseph Crockett purchased 475 acres on the island, after having served as the constable of Tangier since 1763. By 1800, the island had 79 residents, most of whom were Crocketts, and at its peak in the early 1900s, more than a thousand residents called Tangier home. Today, the island houses closer to 500 inhabitants, many whom still have the last name, Crockett.

Most of the residents of Tangier Island work as commercial fishermen, with crabs and oysters being two of the main exports. Tourism serves as the only other industry, with several cruise ships visiting the island in the summer. Tangier is also home to a couple of bed and breakfast establishments that offer visitors a chance to fully experience the island’s tranquil beauty and relaxed lifestyle. Since gaining cable television and internet access in 2010, the tourist trade has improved as Tangier has become more easily accessible to outsiders.

If you have experienced the beauty, charm and old-fashioned lifestyle of Tangier, we would love to hear about your experience. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Anna Strock
Virginia staff writer for Only in Your State, freelance writer and journalist. Even though Anna has lived other places, somehow Virginia is where she always seems to land.