"Salt marsh on Toms Cove" by U.S. National Park Service , public domain
Nature & Science
Barrier Island Sheep
Brochure about George Washington and the Barrier Island Sheep at Assateague Island National Seashore (NS) in Maryland and Virginia. Published by the National Park Service (NPS).
Assateague Island National Seashore Cultural Resource Brief NationalParkServi ce U.S.Departmentofthelnterior '-::;�:·· ·� __ .-!c'·:· George Washington and the Barrier Island Sheep At first, the landowners grew grain crops in addition to raising livestock. Problems arose when escalating numbers of free roaming animals trampled the grain fields. In 1662, the Eastern Shore courts ruled that land owners would have to build fences; those farmers failing to comply would be fined. Instead of following the law many landowners sought access to the barrier islands. In addition to the "natural fencing" the surrounding waters supplied, these islands, as noted by Custis, provided the natural resources livestock needed. Acquiring Assateague Island Hog Island sheep at Mount Vernon. (NPS Photo) "When we come to compare the Smith Island wool, with the native wool of the country at large we are lost in astonishment at this wonderful interposition of Providence on our behalf, which serves to shew what a benefit we enjoy, and how little we have estimated the gift." - George Washington Parke Custis, 1808 Beginning in the mid-1600s, Eastern Shore landowners utilized barrier islands for rearing livestock. George Washington Parke Custis, step-grandson of the first president of the United States, raised sheep on Smith Island off the coast of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The island provided abundant food, shelter and fresh water making it an excellent environment for raising sheep. Custis introduced ewes from the island to the flocks at his family home near what is now Washington D. C. This experience convinced him that these sheep if moved to similar locations, would adapt and produce the same high quality wool for others. His hope was to continue raising sheep on the island as well as making the sheep available to landowners in other regions of the country. Barrier Islands Used as Pasture Not long after the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, explorers ventured across the Chesapeake Bay to assess the available resources of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Finding these areas acceptable, settlers began to arrive in 1619 to clear the land for settlements and farming. By order of the British Parliament all Virginia lands were the property of the King of England unless claimed through a "patent" by an individual. Once the patent was acquired from the Crown, the individual could hold the claim by building a 12 x 12 house, fencing an acre of land, and living on the land- either in person or through an agent- for one year. The first to acquire such a patent on Assateague was Captain Daniel Jenifer. In April, 1687 he was granted a patent to all of the land on Assateague from the Maryland state line to the southern tip of the island. Jenifer placed four employees on the island to live and watch over his livestock, fulfilling the requirements of the patent. Two years after his purchase, Jenifer sold the land to Maximilian Core for 12,000 pounds of tobacco. For the next century, Assateague was broken into smaller parcels through land sales and inheritance. By the time of the American Revolution, an estimated 25 people were residents of the island. Assateague Village, Virginia In 1794 four men bought a 163 acre parcel of land that would later become Assateague Village. Over the next several decades families began to make their homes in the village. A lighthouse was built in 1833 and that along with an increased interest in harvesting seafood drew people to Assateague. The village spread out between the lighthouse and the channel shoreline facing Chincoteague. At one Experience Your America ™ www.nps.gov/asis/naturescience/index.html