Tangier, Virginia is a town in Accomack County, Virginia, United States, on Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay. The population was 727 at the 2010 census. The majority of the original settlers were from South West England, and the tiny island community has attracted the attention of linguists because its people speak a unique English Restoration-era dialect of American English.
Prior to the arrival of European colonists on Tangier Island, it was a summer retreat for the Pocomoke Indians for centuries. Although not much is known about these people, their existence is evidenced by the thousands of stone arrowheads that have been found all over the island. Almost any morning after gale force winds have been blowing all night, new arrowheads can be found on the beach, uncovered by the blowing away of sand. The discovery of an ancient offshore oyster midden, thousands of years old and containing a huge pile of shells which could only have been deposited by humans, is further evidence that there was a regular population on Tangier, at least in the warm part of the year, long before it had an English name. The enormous numbers of arrowheads and spear points found here suggest the island was probably much larger than recorded history can verify and was home to many animal species.
The first known European explorer of the island was John Smith. He named Tangier and the surrounding islands the "Russel Isles" after the doctor on board his ship.
In 1670, Ambrose White received a patent for called "an Island in the Chesapeake Bay". The next year White assigned his patent to Charles and John West. In 1673 William Walton was granted 400 acres on the western island which was formerly patented by White. There is a similar entry in the patent book three years later, but Scarburgh and West were the recipients instead of Walton, and in 1678 a formal patent was issued to both of them. Charles Scarburgh (often now spelled Scarborough) left his interest to his wife Elizabeth in 1702, and John West's interest went to his eldest son a year later. In 1713, two patents were granted to Elizabeth Scarburgh and Anthony West for Tangier Islands. One was for , which included the original plus more found within its bounds. The other grant was for of new land south of Tangier called "Sandy Beach Island" which was probably the hook-shaped part that is now attached to the main of the island. This was the first time Tangier Islands was named in the records. Although Elizabeth Scarburgh left her interest to her daughters, the title went to her oldest son, Bennett. It then passed to Henry Scarburgh and then to a Charles Scarburgh. In 1762, Charles Scarburgh confirmed an undeeded sale of his half to Colonel Thomas Hall. The next year Hall sold this to William Andrews as .
Today many of the inhabitants still have the English surname Crockett. Other common surnames on the island include Pruitt, Thomas, Marshall, Charnock, Dise, Shores, and Parks. By 1900 there were 1,064 inhabitants.
The British used the island as a staging area during the War of 1812, when there were as many as 1,200 British troops recorded on the island at one time. Many slaves escaped to the British on Tangier and were given their freedom. Some joined the Corps of Colonial Marines. When a dozen British sailors were captured, their account of hardships encountered with shortages of food and water on the island, and the building of Fort Albion, were reported in a local newspaper. Tangier was used for the failed British assault on Baltimore, which was the influence for Francis Scott Key's writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner".
The original church on the island was called Bethel, New Site, and burned down sometime in the nineteenth century. A bench marking its location is in the graveyard in Canton. The largest present-day church on the island, Swain Memorial Methodist Church, was established in 1835, and the only other church is called New Testament, a non-denominational Christian place of worship. An old custom once common in colonial America prevailed into the early twentieth century: families often buried their relatives in the yards of their homes. This custom was abandoned because of the space limitation of the small yards on Tangier, and there are now churchyard cemeteries at each of the island's churches.