Friday, July 5, 2013

The Eastern Shore Islands

It's now the fifth day of July.  On the first, my thoughts shift inexorably toward the Eastern Shore of Virginia,and by today, each year, my thoughts are centered on my two favorite islands in the entire world - Assateague and Chincoteague.  Chincoteague lies wholly within the state of Virginia, while Assateague Island belongs to two states - both Virginia and Maryland.  Long before the European settlers arrived, Native Americans used Chincoteague and Assateague Islands as places for fishing,  for hunting deer, geese and ducks, and for crabbing, clamming and oystering.  The first settlers were allotted land patents on the islands in 1642, and I can trace my ancestry back to one of the three men granted those patents.
   The early settlers of Chincoteague and Assateague were hard-working farmers and watermen.  At that time, most men could turn their hands to almost anything needed, and had few 'specialists' living in the area.  But, as the communities grew, coopers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and boat wrights began to move in to help support the growing economy. The town of Eastville, in Northampton County, Virginia, has the distinction of having the oldest surviving court and community records of the United States.
   When the Civil War was declared, Chincoteague stayed with the Union, even though the state declared secession.  The islanders had strong economic ties with the states on the Eastern Seaboard to the north, and they knew well the possibility of a sea embargo, so they stood with the North.  The young men of the islands, however, were just about equally divided in their support of the Constitution and of States' Rights, and so the men who went off to fight ended up on both sides of the enemy lines.
   In 1946, Marguerite Henry, a children's author, stayed at Miss Molly's Inn on Chincoteague.  She met most of the locals, including Clarence Beebe and his wife, their children, and the two grandchildren (Paul and Maureen) that the older couple were raising.  Clarence Beebe had a farm on the southeastern end of Chincoteague, and he bred, trained and sold Chincoteague ponies.  Marguerite had an idea, wrote a book that was published in 1947, and, that year, Misty of Chincoteague won the prestigious Newberry Award.  The island and it's quiet ways were about to change forever.  The book was a world-wide best seller, and people came from all over to see the annual Pony Penning, instead of just the locals within a 300-mile radius.  Chincoteague is now dependent on tourism, and Assateague Island had become a part of the US government's parks and recreation system, being both the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague National Seashore.

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