Tangier and Civil Disobedience - by Gail M. Walczyk

Tangier and Civil Disobedience

Methodism is the only religion practiced on Tangier Island.  In the summer of 1805 Joshua Thomas, now known as "the Parson of the Islands," and a resident of the island, found himself at a Methodist camp meeting at Pungoteague and was converted to Methodism.  When he arrived home with his enthusiasm Methodist quickly spread to all the inhabitants of the island.  From 1809 to 1857 Tangier held summer camp meetings on the sandy beach at the lower end of the island.

The conflict between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions not only led to the Civil War but divided the Methodist Church Conference.  
Situated on the division line between the North and South, Tangier allied itself with those churches that later formed the Northern Methodist Conference.  As the atmosphere became more intense, those pro-slavery proponents along the Western Shore and the Eastern Shore of Virginia became upset by reports that the Tangier preachers were attacking the institution of slavery.  In 1857 this resentment led to mob violence when a group from Guilford, Virginia, crossed Tangier Sound to the Island vowing to break up the camp meeting and kill the preacher there, who had declared to them that they had no right to make goods and chattels of human beings.

The mob landed and marched up the beach to the music of an old drum and sang, "We are a band of free men, a part of the Guilford Click."  Fire stands were kicked over and they went into the pulpit and began to sing and dance.  This was as far as they got and cried out, "Turn out!"  And the mob disbanded.

This event, coupled with the fact that summer camp meetings were becoming too "commercial", with salesmen selling their wares just outside of camp, led to the demise of the well loved meetings.  1857 was the last meeting held on the Island. 

- Gail M. Walczyk


Hall, S. Warren III.  Tangier Island, a Study of an Isolated Group.  Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1939.

Mariner, Kirk.  God's Island, the History of Tangier.  New Church VA: Miona Press, 1999.

Swain, C. P.  A Brief History of Tangier Island 1895.  Reprint.  Coram NY: Peter's Row, 1995.

Wallace, Adam.  The Parson of the Islands.  A Biography of the Rev. Joshua Thomas.  Deal Island, MD: Regional Bicentennial Committee, 1975.

Copyright © 2005-2013 by Gail M. Walczyk