By Linda Cicoira — During the Civil War, the seafood trade in the north kept Chincoteague Islanders from joining the Confederates.
According to www.islandmanor.com,“Oysters were such an essential part of the Chincoteague Island’s early economy (that) Chincoteague broke with Virginia to remain part of the Union in order to prevent a blockage that would have stopped their oysters from shipping north.”
A tourism blog said, “Chincoteague Island, located on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, has a long storied history linked to fishing, seafood, and shellfish. For over 150 years, the cool ocean fed waters surrounding this enchanting island have yielded some of the finest shellfish found along the East Coast of the United States. So strong was the demand for island seafood by northern markets, that during the Civil War, Chincoteague unanimously voted to stay with the Union.”
According to www.ghotes.net, the Whealton family helped make the decision. John Whealton, an influential islander, persuaded the others to stay with the U.S. and a vote of “138 to 2 was taken. D.J. Whealton, of the Whealton Oyster Company, was the Island’s first millionaire, and J. B. Whealton built the causeway that links the Island to the mainland.”
There were a few protests after the vote. “Several houses flew the Stars and Bars, about three men enlisted in the rebel army, and sympathizers put out the lighthouse, which was quickly relit,” states www.civilwar.wikia.org
Confederate sympathizers nearby organized a company to subdue Whealton and the islanders,” www.wikia.org stated. “Early one morning, Whealton’s well-equipped company left on flatboats to meet the Confederates in the middle of the Chincoteague Sound. After an exchange of many harsh words and a brief conflict, the invaders were driven away with a significant loss to themselves but without the loss of a single islander.”
The first Assateague Lighthouse was built in 1833 to warn travelers of the dangerous shoals. A new taller and better-illuminated structure was started in 1860. It was delayed due to the war and was finally completed in 1867.
A report in the Washington Post several decades ago would make one wonder what else was being protected during the war.
In 1750, Charles Wilson, a pirate, wrote about three creeks “lying 100 paces or more north of the second inlet above Chincoteague Island,” the newspaper stated. “This would place it in the region of Woody Knoll on the southern end of Assateague, close to the state line. At the head of the third creek to the northward is a bluff facing the Atlantic Ocean with three cedar trees growing on it, each about 1 1/2 yards apart. Between the trees, I buried ten iron-bound chests, bars of silver, gold, diamonds, and jewels to the sum of 200,000 pounds sterling. Go to the woody knoll secretly and remove the treasure. None have succeeded, so far.”
The Battle of Cockle Creek was considered a minor engagement and was fought on Oct. 5, 1861. After that, the ship, Louisiana, “remained at Chincoteague and 4,000 Union troops secured the lower shore for the Union. The watermen of Chincoteague were issued 21 passes for their ships to supply oysters to the northern ports. The story of their loyalty spread throughout the North. It is likely that this battle made Chincoteague oysters famous as they are today,” www.civilwar.wikia.org stated.
The battle eliminated the threat to the Delaware Bay and strengthened Union control over Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Pocomoke River. “For some time a black regiment defended the island, but the islanders forced them to leave on a count of oppressiveness. Despite the lack of defense, Chincoteague was never again in danger of attack during the war,” according to www.civilwar.wikia.org
Three months before the Cockle Creek battle, 418 men from the barrier islands of Maryland and Virginia met at Chincoteague to celebrate the 85th anniversary of American independence. “All who were present signed a draft, prepared by Dr. George Schereer, which pledged support for the U.S. against her enemies,” www.wikia.org stated. “Captain Edward Whaley Sr., a War of 1812 veteran, shouted, ‘I will defend the old flag to my last drop of blood, against the lazy, slave-holding aristocrats and their lackeys in Richmond.’”
www.washingtonpost.com wrote later, “During the Civil War, the citizens of Chincoteague refused to line up with the Confederate Army. The reaction from Richmond? Nobody cared.”
www.historytourist.com wrote, “It didn’t need slaves, but it did need customers for its seafood, and that meant that they needed access to northern towns.”