The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (2024)

The following text was scanned and OCRed from the book MARTHA'S VINEYARD by Henry Franklin Norton. Copyright 1923 by Henry Franklin Norton and Robert Emmett Pyne, Publishers.

See also Tisbury (Vineyard Haven) by H. F. Norton.

Part First

The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (2)ARTHA'SVINEYARD, called "Noepe" by the Indians, which means in theirpicturesque language "In the Midst of the Sea," is the largestisland on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. It is twenty miles longand nine miles wide and but a few feet above the sea level in the easternpart, which is known as the Plains, one of the largest tracts of level groundin New England. However, the land gradually rises to an elevation of overthree hundred feet above the sea level at Peaked Hill in Chilmark, not IndianHill as believed by many summer visitors.

Martha's Vineyard, with Chappaquiddick, No-Man's-Land, and the ElizabethIslands comprise the County of Dukes County, which was incorporated November1, 1668. The county was named for the Duke of York by the first governor,Thomas Mayhew, who was hoping thereby to gain royal favor. There are sixtowns on Martha's Vineyard. Edgartown on the east, named for Edgar, sonof James II, who bore the title of Duke of Cambridge; Oak Bluffs on thenortheast, named for its location and oak trees; Tisbury for the MayhewParish in England; later the village post-office was named Vineyard Havenbecause of its location; West Tisbury; Chilmark, for the English Parishof Governor Mayhew's wife, and Gay Head on the west, named for its wonderfulcliffs of different colored clay.


The first Europeans that visited Martha's Vineyard were the Northmen,who landed about the year 1000, naming it Vineland. In some of their writingshave been found descriptions that can be of no other place than Martha'sVineyard.

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The Famous Cliffs at Gay Head

Another discoverer of this island was Verrazano, an Italian explorer,who first sighted the western extremity in 1524, and called it Claudia,in honor of the mother of Francis II of France.

The next explorer, and the first one to leave any account of the island,was Bartholomew Gosnold, of Falmouth, England. In 1602 he sailed for Virginia.Contrary winds drove him to the Azores; thence he sailed a little northof west, and struck out boldly across the Atlantic. He was the first Englishmanto sail directly to the American coast, thereby saving nearly a thousandmiles in distance and at least a week in sailing time. He landed on a capewhich he named Cape Cod from the abundance of codfish found there. Thendoubling the cape and sailing to the southward he landed on a small islandabout six miles southeast of Gay Head. He called this small island Martha'sVineyard. The next day he landed on the larger island. After exploring itand finding it so large, well wooded, and with such luxuriant grape vines,many beautiful lakes, and springs of the purest water, he transferred thename and called it Martha's Vineyard, in honor of his mother whose namewas Martha. The other island he named No-Man's-Land.


Soon after Gosnold explored the group of islands to the northwest ofthe Vineyard, naming them the Elizabeth Islands in honor of Queen Elizabethwho was still reigning. There are eight islands in this group, named asfollows: Naushon, Nonamesset, Uncatena, Wepecket, Nashawena, Pasque, Cuttyhunk,and Penekese. On May 28, 1602, Gosnold founded a colony on Cuttyhunk. Herehe built the first house and fort erected in New England, intending to leavea colony there, but when he had loaded a cargo of sassafras root and cedarlogs, the settlers were determined to return with him because they wereafraid of the Indians

The sassafras root was then in great demand in England as a popular medicineand cure-all. Gosnold counted on getting a great sum for it, but Sir WalterRaleigh accused him of trespassing on his land, which was from north latitude34 to 45, and seized the whole cargo, much to the disappointment and disgustof the industrious sassafras diggers.

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Cuttyhunk Light and Gosnold Monument

Referring to Gay Head Cliffs in one of his accounts, Gosnold called themDover Cliffs, because they somewhat reminded him of the white cliffs ofthe same name in England. He found on Martha's Vineyard "an abundanceof trees and vines of luxuriant growth."

His expedition was not a failure because it showed Europe a shorter andmore direct route to America and kept up the interest in the new country.The Mayflower followed this route eighteen years later. In 1902 a largemonument was erected to Gosnold's memory on Cuttyhunk, where the first fortwas built three hundred years before.


About five years later, in 1607, Captain Martin Pring, with a more courageouscompany than Gosnold's, anchored in what is now Edgartown harbor on WhitSunday and called it Whitsun Bay. He built a stockade on ChappaquiddickBluffs which he called Mount Aldworth. Pring traded with the Indians, amusedthem with music, but enjoyed terrifying them with the sound of the cannon,and with two large mastiffs which he had on board his ship. He sailed awayat the first sign of hostility with a cargo of the precious sassafras root.Those who attended the Tercentenary Pageant at Plymouth will remember thescene representing Pring trading with the Indians.

By this time the Vineyard had become known to the English by the Indianname of Capawock, and it seems to have been considered one of the most importantplaces on the newly-discovered American coast. This was of course becauseof its geographical location, harbors and springs of purest water.

The following noted discoverers and explorers, the Cabots, Champlain, Cartier,and Captain John Smith, must have passed through Vineyard Sound and mayhave stopped for water at these wonderful springs; especially the one knownas "Scotland Spring" at the head of the Lagoon Pond.

Part Second

The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (5)AVING considered the discovery and exploration of the island let usnow turn to the early settlers and their work which largely contributedto make the Vineyard what it is to-day.

Tradition tells us that there were families living here by the name of Pease,Vincent, Trapp, and Stone before 1640. The story goes that these settlerswere on their way to join the Jamestown colony , but were driven into Edgartownharbor for shelter. They remained here after spending their first winterin a dugout at "Green Hollow," near what is now known as TowerHill. This story seems reasonable enough but history contradicts it as someof these families were living at Watertown, Massachusetts.


Thomas Mayhew, an English merchant and a settler of Watertown, Massachusetts,not far from Boston, bought in October, 1641, from Lord Stirling and SirFerdinando Gorges, through their agent James Forcett, the islands of Martha'sVineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands. Lord Stirling and Sir Gorgeshaving received their right of ownership from the English Crown.

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The Bay, Edgartown

The same year, Mayhew sent his son Thomas, with a few families to settleon his new purchase. They landed at a place they called "Great Harbor,"later named Edgartown. The place of landing is not definitely known butthere is reason to believe that it was between Collins's wharf and TowerHill. Young Mayhew compelled all his company to purchase their lands fromthe Indians. We can find in the old records at Edgartown where the firstsettlers had their grants of lands, for many of the deeds are written inthe Indian as well as the English language. The following year, 1642, GovernorThomas Mayhew came to the Vineyard with other settlers. He brought domesticanimals, tools, and many things which were needed to start a new colony.

Among the families that were here in 1650 we find the names of Butler, Bland,Smith, Burchard, Daggett, Folger, Bayes, Trapp, Norton, Pease, and Vinson.


Thomas Mayhew, Jr., the only son of Governor Mayhew, was the first missionaryto the Indians of New England. He was a graduate of Oxford, a good Latinand Greek scholar, and was familiar with the Hebrew tongue.

After the arrival of his father, young Mayhew found the English flock small.The sphere was not large enough for so bright a star to move in, so he commencedhis work among the Indians. He worked diligently, and the first Indian whobelieved in the true God was Hiacoomes who lived not far from Great Harborand used to attend the meetings of the English. First he stood outside andeach Sunday came a little nearer. After a few weeks he dared to enter andtake a back seat. Soon the Indian and the young missionary became fast friends.At the end of the first summer Hiacoomes and his whole family were attendingthe white man's church. During the second winter a terrible fever brokeout among the Indians and many of them died. The family of Hiacoomes wasnot afflicted. Mayhew took this opportunity to preach a sermon from theninety-first psalm, "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shallany plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge overthee, to keep thee in all thy ways." At this time Hiacoomes joinedthe Church of Christ, the first Indian on Martha's Vineyard to give up theworship of the false gods.

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Quatapog Pond, where Thomas Mayhew, Jr, preached to theIndians. Oak Bluffs

After this Mayhew spent considerable time with his new convert learningthe Indian language. In a short time he had mastered the Indian tongue sothat he was able to hold meetings at the wigwam of Hiacoomes. After thathis Indian converts became more numerous. A few years later we find youngMayhew traveling all over the Vineyard preaching to the Indians and tellingthem of the wonderful works of God in their own language. He would spendhalf the night telling the Indians and the children Bible stories. In orderto strengthen his teachings Mayhew was accustomed to question the Indianson the principles of religion so as to make sure that they understood hisdoctrine.

This young man of twenty-four may be pictured with his Indian band besidethe lake at Tashmoo, by the waters of Quatapog, on the great cliffs at GayHead, explaining to them the songs of David, with God's handiwork all aroundhim and the spirit of the Great Master within him.


January 11, 1651, Thomas Mayhew, Jr., established the first school onMartha's Vineyard to teach the native children and any of the young Indianmen who were willing to learn. He hired Peter Folger to become the firstteacher. Folger later became the grandfather of Benjamin Franklin, and hisdescendants still make their home on the island. Folger found the Indian"very quick to learn and willing to be instructed in the ways of theEnglish."

In 1657, in his thirty-seventh year, young Mayhew proposed a short tripto England in order to give a better account of his work among the Indiansthan he could by letter. He also planned to purchase books and to bringback ministers and teachers to help him carry on his work.

He spent his last week with his Indian converts. While at what is now FarmNeck the Sachem of Sanchakantackett gave him a big "powwow." Afterthe dinner Mayhew praised the good split eels for which that neighborhoodis famous. The Sachem said: "Mr. Mayhew, him no eels, him black snakefrom big swamp; no venison, him my best dog me kill for you." Whetheror not young Mayhew enjoyed the feast may be left to the reader. In anyevent it showed that the Indian thought a great deal of him and the bestdog was none too good for him.

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"The Place on the Wayside" where young Mayhewbade farewell to the Indians

Mayhew's last meeting with the Indians before he sailed was held at aplace about half-way between Edgartown and West Tisbury known as "ThePlace on the Wayside." Here all the Indian converts met him, aboutfifteen hundred in number. The chiefs and all their tribes came and formeda semicircle about the place where Mayhew was to stand. Many of these Indianshad followed him from Gay Head as he came down towards Edgartown. The servicewas opened with prayer by Mayhew. Then he preached to them, taking his textfrom the first and twenty-third psalms: "He shall be like a tree plantedby the rivers of waters, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; hisleaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.""The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." A song was sung.He gave his Indians unto the care of Peter Folger; another short prayerand then the farewell. At the close, Hiacoomes came forward and shook thehand of his beloved teacher, and, bursting into tears, placed a white stoneat his feet, saying: "I put this stone here in your name and wheneverI pass, here I shall place a stone in your memory until you return."Mayhew answered; "Hiacoomes, not in my name, nor in my memory; butin the name and memory of the Great Master of whom I have taught you, Christ."All the chiefs placed a stone where Mayhew stood, and throwing their blanketsover their faces and with their heads bowed in grief, followed by theirtribes, marched in Indian file over the Plains to their homes.


The next morning Mayhew sailed, taking with him his wife's brother, andthe first Indian graduate of Harvard college, who was a preacher among theaborigines. The Indians stood on the beach with bowed heads as the shipsailed and the Indian runners followed as far as they could. Alas, the mysteriousways of Providence; neither the ship nor its passengers were ever heardfrom again. Young Mayhew's name was never mentioned without tears and asone who expected no reward but from Him who said: "Go teach all nations,Lo I am with you."

When the writer was a young boy his family had an old Gay Head Indian womanworking for them. She was planning to go home, for a short visit and hewas to take her as far as West Tisbury where she could get the stage forGay Head. Just before starting she asked him if he would go by the Indiantrail along the South Side. She picked up a white stone, put it in the wagonand they then started on their trip.

At that time the writer knew nothing about "The Place on the Wayside"but as they neared it she told him how, when she was a little girl walkingwith her grandmother from Gay Head to visit her people on Chappaquiddick,they had stopped and placed a stone in the memory of the Saviour, and thefirst white man who had taught them to know Him. When they came to the placeshe got out of the wagon and placed the stone on the pile which must havebeen between three and four feet high. She said a short prayer and returnedto the wagon.

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Rock on Which Young Mayhew Stood When He Preached to theIndians. Farm Neck, Oak Bluffs

As the writer looks back and sees that old Indian woman, the granddaughterof the last Sachem of Gay Head, and the great grand-daughter of the lastSachem of Chappaquiddick, placing her tribute on that pile of stones, theplace becomes Holy Ground. What grander monument could one wish than tohave a stone placed to his memory two hundred and forty years after by theIndians because of his work among them!

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Mayhew Monument at "The Place on the Wayside"

The writer has stood on the rock in Farm Neck where Thomas Mayhew, Jr.,preached to the Indians of Sanchakantackett. He also attended the dedicationof the Mayhew monument at "The Place on the Wayside," in 1901.This monument was a boulder given by the Indians of Gay Head. The Martha'sVineyard Chapter, D. A. R., had a bronze tablet placed on the boulder tellingthe story of young Mayhew's work and death. Since the dedication in 1901the greater part of the original pile of stones has been removed by souvenirhunters.

"PLACE ON THE WAYSIDE"The links by which our storied spots are chained,
Fast riveted by years of brilliant dreams,
Ambitions spent and hopes, perhaps attained,
To present hours reflecting brightest gleams
Of deeds benevolent, heroic, grand,
Are varied as the matchless tints of flowers,
The glittering gems on oceans whitened strand,
Or blending glories charming sunset hours.

Beyond two centuries and more, I look,
As in a picture, scene, historic view,
And plainly see, as in an open book,
The younger Mayhew and his foll'wers true;
Long lines of dusky Indians come to clasp
The friendly hand of him whose teachings pure
Had turned their minds from war's revengeful grasp
To thoughts of Christ, and peace that should endure.

They sadly stood in oaken grove divest,
A little while ago bedecked in gayest green,
And wooing sweet the birds from winter nest,
To cradle soft, its leafy boughs between.
The lonely hills inclined to cloudy sky,
And drear and brown the heath-clad plains;
November's chill and portent gloom are nigh;
And homeless birds are singing sad refrains.

O mem'ried stones, with saddest word "Farewell,"
Impressed, in fancy, by such tearful grief,
Not pean grand, nor solemn dirge can tell,
The love, the trust, the simple heart's belief
Conveyed to them through him who kindly taught
To native souls the message Christ imbued,
As one by one the stolid Indians brought
A stone unpolished, but with tears bedewed.

As sped the years, the spot was holy ground,
To all that band of Indian converts bold,
And not a man among them could he found,
So freed from credulous belief of old,
Who dared when passing mystic spot enshrined,
In tedious march or chase for forest game,
Forget the symbol with its love entwined,
But placed thereon a stone in Jesus' name.

Since that event whose story we recall,
The Indian darts at white men swiftly hurled;
The wars that freed our land from England's thrall,
And saw the minute man amaze the world;
The strife in which a Worth, to victory led,
The war for Slave in which our fathers fell,
And the world's conflict bringing sadness, dread,
Have made and kept our nation's freedom well.

The patriotic fires that ever glowed,
In sires of Revolutionary fame,
Have lately gained a fav'ring sure abode,
In hearts of daughters, hundred race and name;
Who backward glance to dreary primal days,
To time when feet of white men rarely trod
The wave-lulled, sandy beach, or sylvan ways
Where wordless music raised the soul to God.

As poet, we will loudly cry, O save!
And let no touch of blasting hand consume
These stones, with which rare memories pave
This place of parting and of deepest gloom,
O forest dark o'ercapped by cloudlets white
Whose tranquil beauty slow unfolding rose,
Attested ye, on Martha's Vineyard's site,
How simply savage hearts in Christ repose.

Place on the Wayside! In seclusion sweet,
Thy name in mellowed light of years is known;
The tablet's lasting bronze will now repeat
The honor claimed for Mayhew quite alone
And clinging vines, in wildness Nature owns,
Shall intertwine as years fast glide away,
To hallow all the sacred mem'ried stones,
That lie in silence by the woodland way.


After the death of his only son, Governor Mayhew, although in his sixty-fifthyear, took up the work among the Indians, preaching to them one day everyweek as long as he lived. Sparing no pains or fatigue, sometimes walkingtwenty miles through the woods to Gay Head, to carry on the noble work commencedby his son.

Though the loss of his only son was a great sorrow to him, Governor Mayhewlived to see a son of that son associated with him in the Indian service.This man was Rev. John Mayhew, whose son Experience and grandson ZachariahMayhew were great missionaries to the Indians of Martha's Vineyard. Afterthe death of Zachariah Mayhew the work was taken up by Rev. Frederick Baylies.

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Old Mayhew House, Edgartown (Torn Down in 1910)

August 22, 1670, the first Indian church was organized. The famous Mr.John Eliot was prcscut, for in a letter published at London in 1671 he writes:"Passing over the Vineyard many were added to the church, both menand women. The church was desirous to have chosen Governor Mayhew, but hewaived it." Mr. John Cotton of Boston was hired to carry on the work.

Governor Mayhew died at the age of ninety-two. His death was greatly lamentedby both the English and the Indian. The Indian had always found a fatherand protector in him, for he made it evident to them that he did not ruleby self-will or humor, but by wisdom, justice and reason. It was for thisreason that during the Indian Wars this island was guarded by the ChristianIndians.

Governor Mayhew requested that his grave should not be marked, so at thistime the question has come up as to the place where the Governor rests.Without doubt he was buried in what is now Collins's back yard near a largeblack stone. Governor Mayhew's home was only a short distance and his favoritegrandson Mathew Mayhew and family are buried near this spot.

Before leaving the story of Governor Mayhew, perhaps it might be of interestto mention an old deed which was found in the Edgartown records, readingas follows: "I do sell the island of Nantucket for thirty pounds Stirlingand two beaver hats, one for my wife, and one for myself."


To-day the race has become extinct in all the portions of the fair islandwhere young Mayhew dwelt and worked; a few scant remnants alone surviveabout the painted cliffs at Gay Hcad. Old deacon Simon Johnson, the lastfull-blooded Indian, is remembered only by our oldest inhabitants. The lastwigwam fell into decay on the slopes of Sampson's Hill long ago. They sleepin unknown graves; their names are for gotten. No chronicle of their livescan ever be written, but they have left us a stainless memory. A pleasantheritage they have bequeathed us, of sweet sounding names for our hills,ponds and many quiet nooks.

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Sampson's Hill Meeting House, Chappaquiddick

Chappaquiddick becomes holy ground, made forever sacred by the lovingtoil of Hiacoomes. Its air is resoundant with the prayer and praises ofthe God-fearing people who have built their wigwams and their meeting housein its quiet retreat. Nashmois, Tashmoo, Ahquapasha, Pohoganot, Mattakessett,Sanchakantackett, Quansue, Scribnocket, and all the rest of these pleasantplaces are invested with an intensely human interest by the remembranceof the good and true lives lived here by the Christian Indians.

Reach back over the centuries to give a clasp to the Indian as our friendand brother. We are constrained to say, had there been Mayhews to deal withthe fierce Indians of the mainland, had the Pequot and the King Philip peopleexperienced the happy lot of the Vineyard Indians in their contact withthe white men, there would have been no Swamp Fight, no Bloody Brook, andthe burning of Deerfield, and all the unspeakable horrors of King Philip'sWar, and French and Indian Wars would have been unknown. The Indian wouldhave proved himself everywhere a kindly, well-disposed person, susceptibleto the fine influences and capable of sustaining an honored place amid thegreat families of the world.

Part Third

The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (13)HE early colonists that came to the Vineyard found the island well adaptedto grazing and agriculture. The climate was mild in comparison with theother New England settlements. The island was well-wooded, chiefly withoak and pine, sufficient for all building purposes. Sawmills were soon establishedand homes built. One of the first houses built in what is now Oak Bluffswas built at Farm Neck by Joseph Norton before 1670. It stood near the half-waywatering place on the highway that leads from Edgartown to Vineyard Haven.A description of this house will apply to nearly all the houses built atthat time. With two or three exceptions they were of one story; large onthe base and low in the post. They were always located near springs of freshwater, or where water could be had by digging shallow wells at which old-fashionedsweeps could be used. Another interesting fact is that near the site ofthese ancient dwellings can be seen old pear and cherry trees, which traditionsays were planted soon after these houses were built The frames of thesehouses were of oak and pine which grew near. There was a saw pit he theneighborhood, to which these great trees, many of which were three feetin diameter, were hauled by oxen and sawed into convenient dimensions byhand, one man in the pit and another above.

Foundation and cellar walls were of old field stone; one hardly, if ever,finds a stone that has been split by drill or wedge. The chimneys were verylarge, many eight feet square at the base, made of crude bricks burnt inthe neighborhood The lime used to make the mortar was as of the very bestquality, made by burning oyster, clam, and other shells found along theshores. Specimens of it are as hard as rock at the present time. Anotherkind made mostly of clay was used where it didn't come to the weather.

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The Norton Homestead at Farm Neck 1750

The rooms were arranged conveniently for use, a small front entry, withstairs leading to the chamber from it. Two large front rooms to the rightand left, usually sixteen or eighteen feet square, and always on the southerlyside of the house. The panel work over the fireplaces in these rooms wasvery elaborate and is now considered worthy of preservation. The "beaufat"must not he forgotten as it was the receptacle for the best china and silverwarewhich the house afforded. Next was the large kitchen in the rear, with itsfireplace eight by six feet, in the center of which hung the trammel usedto hold the great kettle for the cooking of the savory meals for the largefamilies of those days. To the right and left of the kitchen were four roomsused for sleeping and storerooms. The "up stairs part" of thehouse was divided into two sleeping rooms and the "open chamber,"which was used for storing everything from the India shawl to grandfather'schair. This was also used as the spinning and weaving room, for the housewifemade all the cloth and linen used by the family.

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Old Pewter Pieces

It is interesting to observe the fine quality of lumber used in the outsidefinish; handmade shingles on the upright two feet long and good after ahundred and fifty years weathering. The nails were of the best hammerediron. The old wide boards were called "Bayboards" because theycame from Buzzards Bay.

These early homes were lighted before 1700 by the light of the fireplaceand burning of large pine knots of the fat pitch pine trees which grew herein abundance All the settlers kept sheep and oxen, and the tallow from theseanimals was made into candles by hand at first, known as dip candles Laterthey were made by molds. Later the tallow candles were abandoned for spermcandles made from oil from the sperm whale. The largest sperm candle factoryin America was at Edgartown. Still later the sperm candle was given up forthe sperm oil lamp These lamps were made of pewter, brass and glass, andare much sought after by the "Collector of the Antique."


In looking over the pages of the history of our country we find thatone of the first things the colonists did after they had founded a churchand a government was to establish a school. Five years after the comingof the Puritans at Boston the Boston Latin School was established, and thefollowing year Harvard was founded by John Harvard. Many instances couldbe related where the school was one of the first organizations. It has alreadybeen told how Thomas Mayhew, Jr., established the first school in 1651 toteach the Indian. Long before that date there had been a school to teachthe English children.

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The First School House in Oak Bluffs 1761

In the early part of the eighteenth century there was a law passed thatevery town with fifty families should establish a public school. At thattime public schools were established at Edgartown, Tisbury and Chilmark.In September, 1748, a town meeting was held in Tisbury at which it was votedto have a "moving school," in the following manner: "In thefirst place to be kept at Holmes Hole, now Vineyard Haven, two months beginningin the fall; then at Checkemmo school-house for three months; then at aplace called Kiphigan for two months; then at the schoolhouse near the meetinghouse at Tisbury, now West Tisbury, for five months" It also providedthat the whole town should have full and free liberty to send their childrento any of the said places for schooling without molestation throughout thewhole year if they or any or all of them saw fit. The best school of theeighteenth century and the first part of the nineteenth was kept by "ParsonThaxter" at Edgartown. Scholars attended this school from all of theneighboring islands. Under "Parson Thaxter" many of the Vineyardboys were prepared to enter college, and Latin was studied at the age ofseven.

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Thaxter Academy, Edgartown

Rev. Joseph Thaxter was pastor of the Congregational Church at Edgartownfor nearly fifty years and was always spoken of as "Parson Thaxter."He was the first chaplain of the United States Army. On the fiftieth anniversaryof the "Battle of Bunker Hill," Josiah Quincy says: "Thefirst exercises of the day had a peculiar interest. The occasion was ofcourse to be consecrated by prayer, and venerable Joseph Thaxter of Edgartown,chaplain of Prescott's own regiment, arose to officiate. Fifty years beforehe had stood on the same spot, and in the presence of many to whom thatmorning sun should know no setting, called upon Him, who can save by manyor few, for His aid in the approaching struggle. His sermon brought thescene vividly to the view of all those present."

In imagination they could almost hear the thunder of the broadside thatushered in that eventful morning. They could almost see Prescott and Warrenand their gallant host pausing from their labors to listen to an invocation to Him before whom many would appear before nightfall. They could almostrealize what thoughts filled the minds of the patriots before that decisiveconflict. How things have changed since then. All except the Being beforewhom they bowed, God alone is the same yesterday, to-day and forever.

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Academy Lane, Now Davis Street Edgartown

In 1825 the Thaxter School was dedicated as Thaxter Academy, with Hon.Leavitt Thaxter, son of "Parson Thaxter," as principal.

Another school was the Davis Academy, located diagonally across the streetfrom the Thaxter Academy. This school was conducted by David Davis of Farmington,Maine.

There was also an academy established at Vineyard Haven by Deacon NathanMayhew. The students were called to school by a piece of steel in the shapeof a triangle; this was struck with a hammer and the sound would travela long distance. This building was bought by the Sea Coast Defense Chapter,D. A, R., and is used as an historical building.

In the early part of the last century many private schools were kept. Someof the following teachers will be remembered by the older inhabitants: MariaNorton, Catherine Bassett, Emily Worth, Frances Mayhew, and Jedidah Pease,known to this day as "Old Jedidah Whipper."

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Sea Coast Defense Cheater, D. A. R. Vineyard Haven


It seems, because of the scarcity of money, to have been the custom amongthe Vineyard people during colonial times to barter, not only with theirneighbors but with ships that came into the harbor. The pilot would exchangehome-made mittens, cookies, pies and other things for molasses, sugar, ginger,spices and Holland rum. The housewives of Eastville and Edgartown were richin supplies of all kinds. Coal was burned at Eastville before they everhad it at Boston.

The shoemaker would exchange his home-made shoes for wool, mutton, beefor whatever he wanted which the farmer had on hand. The blacksmith woulddo the same. Mr. Dexter, a blacksmith at The-Head-of- The-Pond, did ironwork for a farmer and received in payment two fat goats, two bushels ofrye, corn and pine timber.


The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (20)UNE 20, 1775, a general notice was given to all the inhabitants of Martha'sVineyard to turn out and assemble at Tisbury on June 25th to see what measuresshould be taken because of the Island's exposed position. There was a largemajority in favor of applying to the General Court at Boston for soldiers.At this meeting all their arms were inspected. The next step, as expressedin the quaint language of the period, was: "To sound the minds amongstthe young men to see who would join the volunteer corps of Edgartown."They soon found that nearly all were ready.

The first act of the Revolution that stirred the ''Islanders'' was the attemptof the enemy to plunder the few houses on the Elizabeth islands.

When independence was declared by Congress in 1777, an order came from theGeneral Court at Boston to the several towns in the Province located onthe Vineyard to assemble, and for the inhabitants to give their opinionon this very important transaction. On this occasion one of the towns wouldnot even meet, and the other two at their meetings positively refused toact on the matter.


It was for their own good to stand neutral because of their exposed position;but they were willing to send all their men to fight with Washington, forthere was not a battle of the whole war from Bunker Hill to the surrenderof Cornwallis at Yorktown in which a Vineyarder did not take part and dohis duty. One of the leading citizens of the time expressed the whole matteras follows: "The British come here and pay you good prices for yoursheep, cattle and provisions. You can take this money and help our armyin many ways. If you refuse they wilt take everything as they can land anywhere,anytime, and you haven't any way to protect yourselves." This was saidat a town meeting. The citizen was called a traitor, and a vote was passedto hang him. He looked up with a smile and said: "Here I am, boys.You will find that I have told the truth sometime." They let the matterdrop. Later the Vineyard openly declared herself for the cause of liberty.

The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (21)
Huzzleton's Head, Vineyard Haven

September 10, 1778, General Grey in command of a transport of eighty-twosails and ten thousand British troops made a raid upon the Vineyard, carryingoff all the sheep, swine, cattle and oxen that could be found. To opposethis wholesale spoliation the "Islanders" had no power so theysubmitted in sullen and despairing silence, at times even assisting to driveaway the captured flocks, hoping thereby to prevent still greater wasteand outrage. A very good idea of this period is given in the diary of ColonelBeriah Norton, which reads as follows:

"September 10th. -- Gen. Grey commanding a detachment of his Majesty'sarmy arrived at Martha's Vineyard, when I waited on him on shipboard. Agreedto deliver him 10,000 sheep, 300 head of cattle; the General informed methat payment would be made for the same if they were not resisted. The Generalthen required the stock to be brought to the landing the next day, whichwas punctually complied with.

"September 11th. - This day the troops landed under the command ofCol. Sterling. Said Sterling then informed me that Gen. Grey had directedhim to assure me that the whole stock would be paid for if they came downaccording to the conversation of the evening before. Sterling then informedme that a person must be appointed to appraise the stock before they wouldtake any on shipboard. To which I agreed and we jointly agreed to. I didappoint proper persons to do that business; who were sworn by me to do theirduty faithfully by the request of Col. Sterling. The stock was by this timecoming down to the landing and was taken on board to the amount of 10,000sheep and 312 head of cattle.

"September 14th. - Col. Sterling then informed me and other inhabitantsof the island that he had a message to deliver to the people. Then he recommendedthem to meet in a field for there was not room for them in doors, accordinglythey met to the amount of several hundred. He informed us that we were toapply to New York for payment for the stock that they had received. I askedthe Colonel if we best send a man in the fleet at this time for the paymentto which the Colonel replied, we might if we chose but he recommended usto wait a little time before application was made.

"September 15th. -- The fleet sailed for New York."

It must seem to the reader that this Colonel Beriah Norton was a traitorto his own people, but what could he do but give in to Grey's command! Greyhad the force and the power and could have destroyed the towns on the islandin half a day, and would have done so if they had resisted in any way. Inthe diary, September 12th and 13th are omitted. Those were the days whenthe British troops were ravaging the island from Edgartown to Gay Head.

A man was sent to New York to receive payment for the stock, but Grey hadforgotten that he had ever stopped at Martha's Vineyard. Colonel BeriahNorton made two special trips to London for the same purpose, and at onetime he was given a hearing in Parliament. Very little was accomplishedin these two trips to England.


Whale fishing was carried on by the Indians long before the arrival ofthe white men. After the whites came whenever a dead whale was washed ashorethe Indians always claimed a share. In many cases when Indians sold landthey reserved a certain "whale right" on all whales that driftedashore, and also the "rights to fish and whale."

All Vineyard boats in its early history had a number of Indians among thecrews because they knew the habits of these fish and could manage the boatswhile the fierce struggle was going on.

When Captain John Smith passed through Vineyard Sound in 1614 he saw: "mightywhales spewing up water like the smoke of a chimney, and making the seaabout them white and hoary."

John Butler was the first known whaler of Martha's Vineyard. He was an expertfor, at times, he killed seven or eight whales a month.

The first whaleship on record that sailed from the Vineyard was the schooner"Lydia," with Peter Pease as master, which left Edgartown fora voyage to Davis Straits in 1765.

Before this time whales were plentiful about the shores. Men would go outin small boats and capture them. After a while all the whales near the islandhere caught, and the men were obliged to go farther and farther away fromhome, until finally they were compelled to go on voyages lasting from threeto five years. In 1850 Vineyard ships commanded by the brave and hardy sonsof this island were found on every ocean of the globe. Wherever whales wereto be found they were very sure to feel the harpoon thrust to their vitalsby a Vineyard arm. Fifty ships were fitted out at Edgartown at one time.In those days the Port of Edgartown was one of the most important on thecoast, having its own custom house and doing thousands of dollars worthof business. Ships from all parts of the world came there for clearancepapers and to pay the duty on cargoes. In 1850 whalebone was worth twelvecents a pound; now it is worth from three to five dollars a pound.

The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (22)
The Last of the Whale Ships

Now when a captain or officer goes on a whaling voyage he packs his trunkand takes the train for San Francisco where his ship or steamer is readyfor him. He starts for the Arctic Ocean about the first of May, where heremains about three months returns to San Francisco and arrives back inEdgartown about the first of October. Many Vineyard women, the. wives ordaughters of whaling captains, have dared the dangers of the whale fishery,and there are women living on the island today who can tell tales of adventurethat have happened under the sum of the equator or beside the ice floesof the Arctic.

The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 nearly ruined the whale fishery;but when we had gained "The Freedom of the Sea" a new fleet ofwhale ships was soon built.

There is hardly a cemetery on the island but what has a stone to the memoryof some dear husband, father or son, with the inscription "Lost atSea." The first gravestone on the Vineyard so marked is at Lambert'sCove, with the inscription, "To the memory of Anthony Luce, March 20,1769, aged thirty-six years."

Until a few years ago there was a cemetery in the field between the MarineHospital at Vineyard Haven the old Edgartown Road where one could find aslate stone with the following epitaph:

"John and Lydia that lovely pair,
A whale killed him, her body lies here,
There souls we hope with Christ now reign,
So our great loss was there great gain."

Someone had the graves and stones moved from this lot to the Oak GroveCemetery at Vineyard Haven.


Perhaps one of the quaintest institutions on the Vineyard is the Martha'sVineyard Camp-Meeting Association. The first camp-meeting commenced Mondaythe twenty-fourth of August, 1835. A meeting has been held every year sinceexcepting the year 1846. In 1836 what is now Oak Bluffs was a sheep pasture,and the huckleberry brush was so thick that one could hardly get through.The ministers and congregation landed at Eastville, and walked or rode inox-carts to a place called "Wesleyan Grove," where the tabernaclenow stands.

The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (23)
Camp Meeting in 1850. Oak Bluffs

Only nine tents were erected at the first camp-meeting, making a semicircle,in front of which they had erected a stand of old boards and drift wood,which was called the "preacher's stand." The congregation satin the open air on split trees with pegs driven for legs. There were nearlythree hundred at this meeting. These first meetings were very simple andunique in form. Each succeeding year they assumed larger proportions untilthey became the most fully-attended meetings of their kind in this country.

From these few tents, which were later boarded in to make summer cottagesthe town of Oak Bluffs grew, until now it is one of the best-known wateringplaces on the northern Atlantic coast.

The town grew fast, and in 1874 a railroad was built from Oak Bluffs wharfto Edgartown, then to Katama and on to South Beach. The first train wasrun over the road on the twenty-second of August of the same year. Thisroad was kept in operation until 1897.

About 1890 a horse-car line was started at Cottage City, now Oak Bluffs.This line commenced at Oak Bluffs wharf, extending to the Prospect Houseat Lagoon Heights; another branch went through the Camp-ground and on toNew York wharf. Later electric cars were used and the line was continuedto Vineyard Haven. This was discontinued in 1917 and the rails were soldto the government for old iron.


The following celebrated people have visited the Vineyard: John Eliot,the "Apostle," in 1670. John Adams, later President, visited hiscollege chum Jonathan Allen at Chilmark in 1760. John Paul Jones in 1777took refuge in the harbor of Holmes Hole after a fight with a British ship,and obtained medical aid for two of his wounded sailors. From 1835 to 1850Daniel Webster visited Dr. Daniel Fisher at Edgartown. Whittier, Hawthorne,and Charles Sumner were frequent visitors. In 1874 President Ulysses S.Grant came to Oak Bluffs. Agassiz and Alexander Graham Bell were here atdifferent times.

In 1876 Lillian Norton sang for the first time at Edgartown, the home ofher ancestors. In 1908 she came to the Vineyard as the world's greatestinterpreter of Wagnerian operas, at this period known as Madame LillianNordica.

The Vineyard has always done its part in the wars that have kept this countryfree. In the War of 1812 we find that her men were in command of privateersand on all the leading ships of the navy. Some of the men were in Dartmoorprison, England, and two died there. Major-General William J. Worth, a manwho spent his boyhood days at Edgartown, took a prominent part in the MexicanWar. In the Civil War the Vineyard furnished two hundred and forty soldiersand sailors, filling its quota at every call of the President. In the Spanish-AmericanWar four boys enlisted from Oak Bluffs, namely: Herbert Rice, Morton Mills,Manuel Nunes and Stanley Fisher. In the World War the Vineyard more thanfilled its quota at every call, and Gay Head sent the largest number ofmen according to population of any place in New England

The writer has endeavored to give a brief and accurate sketch of the historyof Martha's Vineyard, by touching on the main points and giving an ideaof its colonization and inhabitants who have helped to make the Vineyardwhat it is todaya prosperous, flourishing community of God-fearing citizens,who are trying to carry out the wishes and desires of those great and humanemen who together with the Pilgrim Fathers dared the cold and inhospitableNew England climate.

"From out of thy rude borders have spread far and wide
Thine own sturdy sons, once thy joy and thy pride.
To fell the thick forest, to plough the rough main,
To gather bright laurels of glory and fame."

Comments? Questions? Corrections? Suggestions? Contact C. Baer.
Back to Dukes County History.
The History of Martha's Vineyard by Henry Franklin Norton, 1923 (2024)


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