Updated: Mar 20, 2020
You will often hear Tangier Island referred to as either the “Sinking Island” or the “Soft Shell Crab Capital of the World”. This unique little island divided in places by marsh and tidal streams, is located 12 miles off of the mainland on the widest part of Virginias Chesapeake Bay.
History claims in 1608, Capt. John Smith stumbled upon the island on one of his excursions to Jamestown. Although small, Tangier holds quite a bit of history. Prior to colonization in the late 1700’s, washed ashore arrowheads are evidence the native Pocomoke people once existed on the island.
During the war of 1812 Fort Albion was established but has since been destroyed and now rest on a part of the island that is underwater.
At one point the island was used as the base for the attack on the American capital in the Redcoats' stunning victory at the Battle of Bladensburg and the subsequent Burning of Washington in August 1814.
The town is small stretching 1 mile wide and 3 miles long.
Due to rising tides and erosion the island's landmass has been reduced by 67% since 1850. Some areas can only be reached by passing over a bridge. This has become an increasingly urgent matter as the Army Corp of Engineers say the island could completely disappear with the next 50 years.
As you motor into the harbor by boat you will notice metal cages stacked high on the docks of the crab shanties. The small stilted houses hovering above the water are not only charming but proof this is a true fishing town.
Walking down the narrow roads passing locals going about their daily routine via bike or golf cart, you can see the close connection and contentment in this small unspoiled town.
During my visit I was honored to be escorted to the private shanty of mayor James "Ooker" Eskridge. The mayor was quiet, polite, and carried the essence of a true waterman. He had the lean build of a hard worker whose blue eyes shone bright against his deeply tanned skin. Patiently he educated us on the softshell crab process as we handheld the molting crabs in wooden framed water tanks.
A basket of eels from the daily catch made for extra entertainment as the kids made a game of trying to hold onto the slimy creatures.
Add a rescued baby bird and some swimming cats and you have a good story to share!
The mayor received national recognition and a call from president Trump after he was quoted on CNN saying that he loved President Trump "as much as any family member I got". Majority of the town also feels this way as president Trump has been the only person in a long time to take this town seriously about the urgent matter of the island’s erosion issues. I was personally shocked to learn they had been asking for assistance for almost 20 years. The ask was an extension to the existing sea wall around the island to the tune of only 3.5 million dollars. A drop in the bucket to slow the disintegration of this beautiful little American town. I’m happy to share the town is finally getting that extended wall around the island. While it may not be the perfect fix it is at least a start.
Today decedents of the original Crocket, Pruitt, and Parks families still call Tangier home. Crabbing and oyster farming are the livelihood to most islanders. However, summer tourism brings about quite a bit of business to the few restaurants, ice cream shops, boat tours and Bed & Breakfast establishments.
Unfortunately, along with the island the population has shrunk from a high of about 2,000 to the most recent count of just 450.
It would be tragic to see centuries of families displaced or so much history on the island lost. One characteristic of the island that has not been lost is the unique dialect of the town folk. Those who do business with the visitors communicate clearly but it will bring a smile to your face if you can catch a group of fishermen telling tall tales in their distinct long English drawl.
What to Do:
*Tangier History Museum. One of my favorite stops!
There are years of memorabilia collected from generations of local families. The small building is stocked full of photos, newspaper articles, artifacts and history about the fort that once stood on the island. The Museum also has kayaks and canoes so visitors can explore the self-guided “water trails” around Tangier and surrounding marshes.
*Rent a bike or golf cart to explore and find the different bridges that connect the island.
*Visit photographer Cameron Evans on West Ridge Road. He is a talented hard working young man who has captured the spirit of the community through his camera lens.
*Definitely stop for an ice cream
*Eat anything that has Crab!
*Learn more about the soft shell crabbing industry from Denny Crockett, the owner of Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House. He is a licensed captain who offers a variety of tours, such as crabbing, birding, sunset, and ecotours
Tangier is only accessible via boat or small plane.
During the summer ferries and charter boats make their rounds to the island daily.
*The Bay Eagle Ferry (410) 968-2545
*The Joyce Marie with Skipper Mark Crocket (aka “Mooney” to his Island family). Seasonal (757) 891-2505
Crisfield, MD: *Steven Thomas Ferry – Seasonal - (800)-863-2338 *Sharon Kay III – Year Round – (757) 891-2440
From Reedville, VA Chesapeake Breeze – Seasonal – (804) 453-BOAT (2628)