Until 1927 with the opening of the original Downing Bridge across the Rappahannock River at Tappahannock, to leave the lower Northern Neck one had three options:
• Drive to Stafford County and cross on the Route 1 Bridge into Fredericksburg.
• Take a steamboat or other marine craft.
Three centuries of relative isolation resulted in the evolution of our own unique customs and usages, particularly with respect to language.
Until I went to teach in Alabama, I had not grasped the full extent of our uniqueness. Once when lecturing in a freshman class, I asked if anyone had questions. A student raised her hand and said, “Ahh kint understandh you. You tauk phunny.” I concealed my amusement, and replied asking her what I said that was “phunny?” She retorted by imitating my pronunciation of the words out, about and house.
As the term progressed, I found her to be intelligent and an excellent student. She simply had not experienced anyone who spoke with a non-Alabama accent. In the course of my 15 years there I encountered many others who lived in the same linguistic oyster.
I told my student that she was in company with Prince Charles, who, when visiting Washington, was taken to the Capitol to meet senators and representatives. When introduced to the elderly Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the Prince could not understand his heavy Southern accent. Today, with modern media communication abounding, America has lost much of that earlier linguistic diversity.
We have many expressions here in the Northern Neck that set us apart from other areas. Some of them we share with Southern Maryland, such as that of the crab shore, the definition of a dining establishment on the banks of a river or creek that serves local seafood, specializing, obviously, in various crab delicacies. Sadly, many of these institutions have disappeared, thereby causing the term to pass into oblivion.
Locally, one of the most famous such institutions was that at White Stone Beach where the Culver family offered patrons a wonderful experience dining out over the water in a former tomato factory. At Potomac Beach the original Wilkerson’s Crab Shore, which later became the Happy Clam, was taken out by a storm, and not rebuilt, and one of the most famous of them all, Parker’s Crab Shore on Monroe Bay, went through several iterations after leaving the Parker and Rollins families, until it was demolished. Lastly, Miller’s Crab Shore, also on Monroe Bay Avenue at the Beach, has survived, now as a restaurant, but still retaining some of its crab shore nostalgia.
In any rendition of the Northern Neck’s unique qualities, I always end with a discussion of a preposition, perhaps parodying the response attributed to Winston Churchill relative to ending a sentence with one. When corrected by an aide for having done as much, he replied, “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.” Our local prepositional grammar in need of understanding concerns the distinction between “on” and “in.”
We live “IN” the Northern Neck, and not “ON” it. We are not an island, but rather a peninsula geographically tied to the mainland, albeit by a small strip of land. Our neighbors across the Rappahannock live on Gwynn’s Island, but we live in the Northern Neck.
We have the personal definitions of Come-here, Been-here, Left-here, and my Good Wife’s term for herself, Brought-here. To use the expression “on the Northern Neck,” rather than “in the Northern Neck” is to announce that one has not acclimatized to our individuality.
A Frenchman does not live on France, but in France, and the same is true for us. Updating the old adage that 67 million Frenchmen cannot be wrong, we Northern Neckers cannot either when we say in the Northern Neck.