Chincoteague (beautiful land across the water) was first visited by the Nanticoke Clan while most of the Delmarva Peninsula was originally settled by the Occahancock and Accomack Algonquins tribes, the Assateague Indians (swiftly moving water) settled in the barrier island region of Virginia’s Eastern Shore centuries before the arrival of European settlers in the early 1600’s.
The history of Chincoteague must begin with the Native American people who lived, hunted, fished and enjoyed the natural beauty of Chincoteague Island and Assateague for hundreds of years prior to contact with the Colonials. American Natives were generally generous, trusting people who had no idea of land possession or selling land as they believed only the creator could own land and often they welcomed European settlers not knowing they would be dispossessed of the lands they loved by aggressive colonial settlement. Contact with Colonists decimated the indigenous people with diseases new to them and they were forced off their ancient lands with new claims of property ownership by the new settlers. Later the Assateague also known as Kickotanks fought back for the land they lost and became known as the most warlike of all Eastern Shore Indians. Eventually the Indians became assimilated into the colonists culture.
The first Europeans to explore the Eastern Shore of Virginia were the French and the Spanish in the 1500’s. Captain John Smith arrived from Jamestown in 1608 and claimed the area for the colony of Virginia.
The land along the Eastern Shore was obtained by the Jamestown government from the Indians in 1614 and the first European settlers began arriving in 1620; they brought the first Africans to arrive in an English colony. Initially they were slaves, but were able to earn or purchase their freedom, and many settled on the Eastern Shore, forming the first African colony in America.
In 1634 Accomack County was formed, encompassing the whole of the Eastern Shore. In 1642 Governor William Berkeley renamed it Northampton in his attempt to get rid of ‘heathen’ names. Then, in 1663, the county was split, with Northampton in the south and Accomack in the north. Various legal wrangling with Berkeley meant that he disbanded Accomack in 1670, but it was reinstated a year afterwards.
Court documents from 1671 show the spelling of “Jungoteague” while a reference from the 1800’s indicates a spelling of “Gingoteague”. During the 1600’s Chincoteague was used for grazing livestock, by 1800 settlers began living on the island making use of the natural resources of oysters, clams, crabs and fish to develop a seafood industry with trade to the New York and Philadelphia Markets. After completion of the causeway in 1922 tourists began visiting the Island and with the completion of the bridge to Assateague in 1962 became the primary industry. Today the Island receives more than a million visitors each year.