The Eastern Shore of Virginia was inhabited by Algonquin Indian tribes for several centuries before the arrival of Europeans. Many of the towns and creeks have retained their Indian names such as Pungoteague, Onancock, Nandua, Chesconessex and Nassawadox. The first recorded European to visit the area was Givanni de Verrazano, who arrived in 1524. Captain Bartholomew Gilbert of England visited the region in 1603. In 1608, Captain John Smith explored the area and found small tribes of Indians living along tidal creeks. The English permanently settled an area known as Accomack Plantation, which was obtained from the Indians in 1614. In 1643, the name of the area was changed to Northampton.
Accomack County was formed in 1663. The first courthouse was at Onancock, which is one of the oldest towns on the Peninsula. In 1786, a new courthouse was constructed midway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, land owned by Richard Drummond. Thus the county seat, Accomac, is sometimes called Drummondtown. Farming was the primary occupation in colonial Accomack County. The colonists produced salt, cider, brandy, nails, brick, furniture, fabrics, shoes and ships.
The Eastern Shore is mainly rural. It is separated from the mainland by the Chesapeake Bay but has direct access to the mainland by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which was completed in 1964.
The climate is mild in winter and hot and humid in summer. The winds from the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay provide some relief from the summer heat and intensify the cold of winter, although extended periods of bitter cold are rare. Light snowfall is occasional in winter, but snow cover for extended periods is uncommon. Precipitation is well distributed throughout the year and generally is adequate for most of the commonly grown crops.
The southern end is narrower than the northern end and thus is more subject to the moderating influences of the ocean and the bay and their effects on the growing season. For example, farmers in the southern part of the county can plant Irish potatoes about 2 weeks earlier than farmers in the northern part.
The Eastern Shore is subject to frequent steady storms in all seasons. These storms result in local flooding and severe shoreline erosion. Although it is north of the usual track of hurricanes and tropical storms, the Shore was struck by a category 5 hurricane in 1933 which caused extensive damage and loss of life on the mainland. This storm also decimated settlements on the barrier islands.