Next to the cul-de-sac at the northern end of Main Street on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, is a small cemetery that contains only a single grave. A wooden sign identifies the patch of land as “Capt. Chandler Cemetery.” The placard also bears the years “1829 – 1877.” Set into the large rectangular concrete slab covering the grave are two grave markers.
The grave markers identify the grave’s occupant as Capt. Joshua L. Chandler, born in October 1829 and died on October 21, 1877. Records indicate that Chandler was born and raised in Delaware and worked as a printer’s apprentice before serving in the Union Army during the American Civil War. After the war, he became a mariner. He moved with his wife and children to the Island of Chincoteague in 1872. While on Chincoteague, Chandler was employed in “light boating” and captained a schooner and an oyster dredger. His two younger sons sailed with him.
On October 21, 1877, a thunderstorm rose while Chandler’s schooner navigated Cat’s Creek near Wallop’s Island. Chandler was struck by lightning and killed instantly. The lightning strike also hit the schooner’s mast, disabling the boat. The crew poled the disabled boat back to Chincoteague. Once docked, Chandler’s son, Ebe, carried his father’s body home.
According to local legend, Chandler was standing on the schooner’s deck at the time of his death—with one hand on the boat’s brass rail and the other hand holding a pan of biscuits. After the tragedy, each crew member took a biscuit by which to remember him. One of the biscuits was sealed in a glass jar and passed down through the Chandler family. They donated the biscuit to the Museum of Chincoteague Island in 2018, where it is still on display.
The memento mori epitaph inscribed on Chandler’s gravestone is typical of the Victorian era. It reads:
“Farewell, wife and children dear; I am not dead but sleeping here. As I am, someday you will be; Prepare for death and follow me.”
Within six months of his death, Chandler’s widow and children left the island and moved back to Delaware. Despite the admonition to “follow” him, no family members are buried with Chandler or on the island and he remains interred alone in the tiny cemetery. Island locals and tourists leave seashells and pennies on the grave to show they visited. They can also visit the Captain’s very old biscuit at the nearby museum.
Know Before You Go
Capt. Chandler Cemetery is located at the end of North Main Street next to the cul-de-sac called "The Turntable."
The Museum of Chincoteague Island is located at 7125 Maddox Blvd, Chincoteague, VA 23336. Its hours are 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday through Saturday.