By Tiffany Amber Stockton
Last month, I shared the story of my great-grandfather's cousin marrying President Woodrow Wilson while he was president.
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Maybe some day I can add that to my heirloom items from my grandparents and great-grandparents. Not this year though.
If you missed last month's post, you can view it here: https://www.hhhistory.com/2021/08/presidential-bride-marrying-president.html.
This month, I'm returning to the little island made famous by Assateague ponies and an annual pony penning event which is almost reaching its 100th year celebration.
History of the Chincoteague PoniesWild ponies have inhabited Assateague Island for hundreds of years. A lot of evidence says they are the descendants of the survivors of a Spanish galleon which wrecked off the coast of Assateague. This story, which has been passed from generation to generation on Chincoteague Island, is stronger than fiction. :) I heard it myself from my grandfather, and it's common lore among island residents.
If you’ve ever seen a shipwreck map of the mid Atlantic coastline, then you know there were a remarkable number of shipwrecks. Before modern navigation, ships used lighthouses and the stars to navigate at night. This worked well until a bad storm came up or heavy fog set in, which impaired visibility. This caused ships to get off course and hit sandbars along the coast, which resulted in a lot of wrecks all up and down the eastern coastlines.
These wrecks would usually occur during a storm, and the large waves would beat the wooden ship apart. The large number of shipwrecks, together with the fact that it was very common for ships to be transporting ponies to the Colonies or South America, makes it very likely that ponies originally got to Assateague from a shipwreck.
History of Pony Penning
The penning continued on both islands for years. By 1885, they were held on Assateague one day and Chincoteague the next. Assateague also had a Sheep Penning, which is believed to be a custom even older than the others. Word of the events began to spread, and hotels and boarding houses were booked for the festivities. In 1909, the last Wednesday and Thursday of July were set as the official dates for the yearly events. As Pony Penning increased in popularity, Assateague's Sheep Penning wound down and was discontinued by 1914.
Modern Day Pony Penning
That same year, 1947, Marguerite Henry published Misty of Chincoteague, the story that made Pony Penning internationally famous. A movie followed, as did several sequel books. The tale of the wild pony Phantom, her foal Misty, and the children who buy and raise her has become a classic, still loved and enjoyed by each new generation.
Each year thousands of people flock to Chincoteague Island to watch the Pony Penning and enjoy the Firemen's Carnival. For many of them, the trek to the shores of Assateague Channel on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July has become an annual event, an opportunity to participate in a tradition older than the country itself.
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN:
* Have you ever attended Pony Penning on Chincoteague? When? Have you ever attended an event that's similar in nature featuring wild animals? What is it?
* Did you know anything about Chincoteague or Assateague Islands before my series of blog posts this year, or is this series your first introduction?
* Select one unique fact from the post above that stood out to you and share why it appealed to you.
Leave answers to these questions or any comments on the post below. Next month, I'll share about Chincoteague Island during the Great Depression and some of things the islanders did to survive. Come back on the 9th of October to find out more.
award-winning, best-selling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. She loves to share life-changing products and ideas with others to help better their lives.
She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children, two dogs, and two cats in Colorado. She has sold twenty-four (24) books so far and is represented by Tamela Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on Facebook and GoodReads.