ISLANDS OF THE PAST - by Gail Walczyk


In the 1800's there were more little Islands that made up Captain John Smith's "Russell's Isles." Near Tangier Island in Virginia and included in the records of Accomack were Shanks, Wheeler's Hole Island, Queens Ridge, Piney Island, Rich Hummock, Fishbone Island, Old Herne Island and Goose Island. At one time they were all owned by members of the Evans Family and ruminants of their houses can still be seen at Fishing Creek on the Virginia part of Smiths Island just a few miles northeast of Shanks Island.

Shanks Island is about one and a half miles north of Tangier and at one time had three or four houses on it. John "Taffy" Marshall, the husband of Eleanor Evans, the daughter of Richard and Rachel Evans, was among them. It was still inhabited in 1870 but shortly after the residents moved off due to erosion. There are two stories retold of Shanks Island.

One told of the "Striker," a magic sign which foretold the arrival of the British during the War of 1812. A blue light appeared low down along the water and shot off other lights of various colors which lined the shore, which was repeated for several nights.

The other told the story of a boy working on a farm. One night a ghost appeared beside the barn and told him that he would get a great deal of money. A look at the records finds that his name was Solomon Evans, the last child of Richard and Rachel Evans.  Solomon was listed in the records as an idiot. In later years John "Taffy" Marshall was his guardian. A very similar tale is told on Smiths Island but the ghost becomes a pirate, except that the pirate offered him a whole lot of money if he would go with him.

Stories told by "Taffy" Marshall's GGGrandchildren relate a time in near history that peach trees still grew where people once lived. Today all that remains is a sand spit on which sea birds come to nest.

Wheeler's Hole Island gets its name from a gap through the line of small Islands and beaches from Tangier to Smiths Island. At one time it had up to 20 houses on it. It had deep water to the west and good crabbing grounds to the east. Again, the families that lived on it moved off about 1870. In the 1990's it had one crab shack on it. Today it is almost all washed away.

In 1939 Fishbone Island had a crab house on it. Today it is no more.

Queens Ridge, Rich Hummock, Piney Island and Old Herne Island were mentioned in a survey done by Thomas Evans taken 15 November 1787. Queens Ridge contained 27 acres, Piney Ridge 5 acres, Rich Hummock 7 acres, and Old Herne Island located in Watts Island Sound had 8 acres. No one can remember anyone ever living on these Islands and today all that is left is stumps of sea grass.

Today there is one Island left between Tangier and Smiths Island, known today as the "Up'ards".  It is not unoccupied and surrounded by water and used by duck hunters. In years past it was known as Canaan Ridge and consisted of two ridges very close together. Once connected to the Main Ridge by a bridge, erosion has made it isolated from Tangier Island.


Accomack County Surveyors Book 1 p. 77.

Hall, S. Warren III, Tangier Islands, A Study of an Isolated Group, (Philadelphia PA: University of Pennslyvania Press.)

Walczyk, Gail M. Report and Journal of Proceedings of The Joint Commission to Adjust The Boundary of the States of Maryland and Virginia; Deposition of Witnessess. Coram, NY: Peter's Row, 1992.

Walczyk, Gail M. Smiths Island 1870. Coram, NY: Peter's Row, 1999.

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