All Over The Map: SeaTac, WA, meet Seatack, VA

Mar 11, 2022, 8:44 AM | Updated: Oct 25, 2022, 4:22 pm

1907 USGS maps shows location of Seatack, now part of the city of Virginia Beach, VA; the port of Norfolk is to the west. (USGS Archives) In July 1948, Reverend T. Wright and 19 other men formed the Seatack Volunteer Fire Department; Seatack is one of the earliest settlements in the United States of formerly enslaved Black people. (Courtesy Edna Hawkins Hendrix)

Like Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine; Vancouver, Washington, and Vancouver, B.C.; or Long Beach, Washington, and Long Beach, California, it turns out that yet another Pacific Northwest city has a “twin” in another part of the world.

SeaTac, Washington, please allow me to introduce you to Seatack, Virginia.

The eastern Seatack is a neighborhood in the coastal city of Virginia Beach, Virginia. It’s considered one of the earliest communities in the United States of formerly enslaved Black people, who settled there in large numbers not long after the Civil War.

But the history of Seatack — and its unusual name — goes back to an even earlier conflict: the War of 1812.

There are different theories about the true origin of the name and there’s no conclusive proof, but it’s widely believed that “Seatack” comes from the aftermath of a landing by British sailors from a ship called the HMS Atalante in June 1813.

Those British sailors were hungry, and their ship was far from supplies in the nearest friendly British port of Bermuda. Grazing livestock were visible from the ship, south of a point known as Cape Henry, so the captain sent a landing party ashore in search of provisions. The sailors ultimately tried to steal a cow, but Americans with muskets chased them away, though not before those British sailors burnt down a corn mill.

It was just another typical day in early 19th century America.

But, it was also a “sea attack,” and its being rebuffed purportedly became the stuff of local legend. So much so, in fact, that the place-name of “Sea Attack” stuck for much of that part of Princess Anne County, which eventually, in 1963, incorporated as the City of Virginia Beach. It’s not clear when, but the full name of “Sea Attack” was shortened at some point and became “Seatack.”

Most of this history comes from Tammie Mullins-Rice. She’s lived in Seatack for nearly 30 years, and is president of the Seatack Community Civic League.

Meanwhile, Kyle Moore is government relations and communications manager for the City of SeaTac, Washington. After receiving an email from KIRO Newsradio on Thursday, Moore checked with fellow city staffers as well as with former city councilmembers and other old-timers about the name “SeaTac.”

“I talked to some of our original council members, which date back 30 years, to ask them why they named the city ‘SeaTac,’” Moore said. “And what they told me is at the time when they were forming the community – we used to be [part of] unincorporated King County – that the business community really wanted to be named after the airport, because so much of our business community had some type of tie to the airport. So that’s how the name SeaTac came up.”

Unlike the Sea-Tac Airport, Moore said, “We’re just SeaTac without a hyphen.”

No one Moore talked to, he also confirmed, had ever heard of Seatack, Virginia, before.

That’s when it was clearly time – in the midst of this often bitter and divisive era – for “All Over The Map” to help bring America together.

Moore and Mullins-Rice agreed to an impromptu and historic “telephone summit” to share histories, and to explore possible ways to honor their connections. After a few technological hiccups, and with KIRO Newsradio serving as moderator, the two spoke for nearly 10 minutes about their communities, and marveled at the similar names of “Seatack” and “SeaTac.”

“It’s been read into the Congressional Record about Seatack being one of the oldest free African-American communities in the country,” Mullins-Rice told Moore.

“Well, that’s wonderful to hear,” Moore replied. “We’re a very diverse population here in our city. More than 60% of our population is non-white [and] we have actually over 80 languages spoken in my city.”

SeaTac and Seatack are very different in many ways. Seatack, Virginia, is a mostly residential community with maybe a few thousand residents, while SeaTac, Washington, has a population of 32,000, and 100,000 or more people more coming through every day via Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, as well as hotel guests and the thousands of people who work in various aspects of the travel industry.

As it turns out, one thing the two communities do have in common is loud aviation: Seatack, Virginia, is right next to a Naval Air Station.

“We have Navy Air Station Oceana, so we hear planes all the time,” Mullins-Rice said. “So we call it the ‘Sound of Freedom.’ It’s just part of our life, you know, daily living.”

“Wow,” Moore said. “I appreciate that your city is part of protecting our country. I don’t have a military base, I have the largest airport in the state of Washington, and we have the sounds of airplanes every day.”

“But I don’t think we call it the ‘Sound of Freedom,’ though,” Moore continued, as Mullins-Rice laughed along with his joke.

During the historic 10-minute summit, KIRO Newsradio gently and repeatedly suggested the notion of establishing some kind of sister city relationship – or perhaps dedicating a simple monument to the power of local radio to bring Americans together – but neither Mullins-Rice or Moore was willing to commit to either initiative at this point.

Moore did say he would like to experience Seatack, Virginia, in person someday.

“Your community sounds amazing,” Moore said. “I would love to come out and see it sometime. … I haven’t really traveled since COVID, so maybe this is going to give me the excuse to go across country and come and visit.”

Monuments to radio or to sister-cityhood notwithstanding, KIRO Newsradio appreciates Kyle Moore and Tammie Mullins-Rice for both being good sports.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: SeaTac, WA, meet Seatack, VA