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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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What's in a name? Kiptopeke, Eastern Shore
by Kate Wiltrout - The Virginian-Pilot

Kiptopeke is a modern place name that pays homage to a historic warrior. Unlike many other regional Indian names - think Chincoteague, Wachapreague and Nassawadox - Kiptopeke isn't a moniker handed down over generations. The Indian word means "big water," and it was first used in 1949 to refer to a place on the western side of the peninsula, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

When the Virginia Ferry Corp. moved its terminal out of Cape Charles in the late '40s, it named the spot in honor of an Indian who befriended Virginia's first colonists, bestowing the name "Kiptopeke Beach" on the site of the old ferry terminal.

In 1992, the name came into greater prominence when officials created the 590-acre Kiptopeke State Park.

Kiptopeke was a real person.

In the early 1600s, he was chief of a small tribe on the Eastern Shore known as the Accohannock tribe. Kiptopeke was the younger brother of the chief of the larger Accomack Indian tribe. Some historical accounts refer to the elder brother as Esmy Shichans; others name him Debedeavon. To the English, he was known as The Laughing King.

Capt. John Smith met both brothers while exploring the Chesapeake Bay.

Despite his brother's English name, Kiptopeke was said to be the more charismatic of the brothers, according to "The Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social and Cultural History," published in 2007.

In the book, authors Frank E. Grizzard and D. Boyd Smith describe Eastern Shore tribes as relying more on fishing and crop cultivation than hunting. They note that Smith himself noticed the natives fished differently than their brethren on the mainland, who used bait and hooks: Eastern Shore tribes used wood-and-bone javelins to spear swimming fish.

Today, Kiptopeke State Park is a popular fishing spot. It has a boat ramp and a long pier, as well as nine sunken concrete ships from World War II that form a breakwater - and artificial reef - about 1,500 feet from shore. Popular catches include speckled trout, rockfish, perch and spot.

Kiptopeke has also become well-known among birders. Birds migrating south follow the Eastern Shore peninsula as it narrows toward the tip, and they often stop at Kiptopeke to fuel up before crossing the Bay.

Some birds get an involuntary rest stop: At various times of year, volunteers snag them in nets, weigh them and band them, then release them to continue their journeys.

Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629,

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