Dynamic Sustainability: Maryland's Atlantic Coast

Photo of ponies on Assateague Island

Ocean City and Assateague Island

Dynamic Sustainability: Shoreline Management on Maryland's Atlantic Coast

1524-1875, Discovery and Early Settlement

Assateague Island

Assateague Island developed differently than Fenwick Island. Assateague was used as a seasonal fishing ground by Native Americans, but by the 18th century, the Native Americans abandoned the area and moved farther west because of disputes with the colonists and diseases that decimated their population.

In the colonial period, Assateague Island was a free grazing ground just like Fenwick Island. In the late 17th century people grazed their animals there to avoid mainland fencing laws.

In the 18th century the island changed hands many times, and by the 19th century a small village was founded on the southern portion of the island, which is in Virginia. Residents of Assateague Village fished, grazed sheep and a few cows, and they farmed small plots.

The natural environment significantly impacted Assateague Island because the waters offshore were dangerous. Frequent shipwrecks resulted in two important developments for Assateague: the building of the lighthouse in 1833 and the opening of Life-Saving Stations.

The lighthouse warned ships of dangerous conditions and it was rebuilt in 1867 to be taller and brighter than the original. In 1875, two Life-Saving Stations opened on Assateague Island to aid shipwrecks. A large part of the village's population was involved in these activities.

More: Fenwick | Assateague

Reviewed 27 Sep 2016

Assateague Island

Assateague Island
Source: IAN Image Library

Horses of Assateague

There is a legend that the horses of Assateague Island arrived after a Spanish shipwreck, but historians now believe that the horses were left on the island by settlers, they became feral, and those that are still there today are the descendants of the previously domesticated horses.