What is the Correct Name of the Vineyard?

What is the Correct Name of the Vineyard?

by Dr. Charles Edward Banks, c. 1911

[From The History of Martha's Vineyard, Vol. I (c. 1911), pp. 73 - 77.]

'Martin's Vineyard ... some call it Marthaes Vineyard:' thus wrote Whitfield in 'The Light Appearing' (1651), and it is a strange fact that there was great uncertainty in the 17th century, even among the inhabitants of the island, as to its correct name.

An examination of contemporary literature of that period, printed books, letters, public records, legal documents, etc., confirms this curious fact; and as a result of an extended search the author feels safe in saying that in the public and private records of the 17th century, the name Martin's is applied to the Vineyard, to the practical exclusion of Martha's, and this phenomenon has the repeated sanction of Mr. Thomas Mayhew himself, the Governor and 'Lord of the Isles,' in public and private papers. Our first book of land records, kept by Mathew Mayhew as Register, has on the title page the statement that it is the Record of Lands 'Upon Martin's or Martha's Vineyard,' and doubtless this legend was engrossed by the Register himself. [In most of the jurats on legal documents before 1700 Matthew Mayhew dodged the issue, and dated the acknowledgments at 'Mart. Vineyard,' which can be read either way.] With such eminent authority as the proprietor and his family in doubt as to the name of the territory they owned, it is small wonder that the general public elsewhere became mixed on the subject.

That an island south of Cape Cod was called Marthaes Vineyard by someone connected with the expedition under command of the explorer Gosnold in 1602, is well known (3 Mass. Hist. Coll., VIII, 75), and it seems certain that it was applied to the small isle, now called Noman's Land, lying directly southwest from the Vineyard of to-day. That this cognomen was finally transferred to the present Martha's Vineyard seems equally certain; but that the name Martin's was used up to about 1700, even by the residents of the Vineyard, by local historians and cartographers, by public officials throughout New England and New York, must be accepted by the reader upon the array of authorities which follows. What gave rise to this confusion in the 17th century, for in the next it was settled by the Colonial government of Massachusetts as 'Martha,' is not easily explained. Such a difference of names, so long persisted in, must have had some substantial basis in fact, for it is not credible that accident or chance or mistake will account for all this mixture.

The question naturally arises, who christened this small island 'Martha's Vineyard?' Why should such an insignificant place as Noman's Land be marked by Gosnold himself for distinction in honor of any female member of his family, especially when it was given only a temporary visit by members of his party? Naturally he would reserve such a mark of courtesy for the place he might select as an abode. Unfortunately, the theory advanced that some Martha Gosnold, mother, wife or daughter of the explorer, was so honored, fails of realization because a careful search among the females of this family at that period does not reveal a Martha in any remote generation, who could be available as the patroness of Noman's Land. If any Martha was thus complimented, she was not a Gosnold, and in view of the existing customs and observances of that period, it is doubtful if the name of any woman other than the sovereign or some princess, would be selected for such purposes in a semi-official expedition.

In the following tables is appended a list of references to documents, etc., which show when, where and how the two names were used:


Date.     Author.             Book or Document.        Reference.

1638      Underhill, John     Newes from America       passim. 
1642      Lechford, Thomas    Plaine Dealing           107 
1643      Winthrop, John      Journal                  ii. 151 
1644      Commissioners of United Colonies, Records    passim. 
1647      Paine, Thomas       Suffolk Deeds            i. 86 
1647      Mayhew, Thomas, Sr. Power of Atty. Aspinwall III 
1647      Davison, Nicholas   Suffolk Deeds            i. 91 
1648      Mayhew, Thomas, Sr. Middlesex Deeds          ii. 17
1648      Winslow, Edward     Good News from New England 
1649      Winslow, Edward     Glorious Progress of Gospel, etc. 
1650      Williams, Roger     Letter to John Winthrop, Jr. 
1651      Whitfield, Henry    The Light Appearing 
1651      Bessey, Anthony     Letters,in Further Progress of the Gospel
1651      Endicott, John         '
1651      Allen, Rev. Thomas     '
1652      Butler, Nicholas    Suffolk Deeds            i. 196 
1654      Johnson, Edward     Wonder Working Providence 226 
1654      Massachusetts Colonial Records               iv. (i.) 199.
1656      Johnson, New York   Colonial Documents       i.565,ii.134. _ 
1656      Deed, Thomas Burchard Saybrook Deeds         ii. 99 
1658      Plymouth Colony Records                      x. 209 
1659      Suffolk Co. (Mass.) Prob. Records, G.R.      x. 88 
1660      Nantucket Deeds, History of                  20 
1660      Maverick, Samuel    Description of New England
1660      Folger, Peter Deed, in N. E. Hist. Gen. Reg. xii. 33
1662      Plymouth Colony Records                      x. 275 
1663      Plymouth Colony Records                      x. 293 
1664      Patent to Duke of York, 2 Maine Hist. Coll.  iv. 191 
1665      Royal Commissioners, 2 Maine Hist. Coll.     iv. 300 
1666      Mayhew, Thomas, Sr. York County Deeds        iii. 161 
1666      [Eliot, Rev. John]  Roxbury Church Records 
1667      New York Colonial Documents                  iii. 169 
1667      Plymouth Colony Records                      x. 330 
1669      Morton, Nathaniel   New England Memorial 
1670      Norfolk Co. Records 
1671      Commission of Thomas Mayhew as Governor issued by Lovelace 
1672      Plymouth Colony Records                      x. 356
1674      Andros, Edmund      Commission of, N.Y. Col. Doc. iii. 215
1675      Josselyn, John      Two Voyages, etc         157 
1677      New York Colonial Documents                  iii. 248 
1678      Hubbard, Rev. William History of New England passim. 
1679      Plymouth Colony Records                      vi. 48 
1681      Plymouth Colony Records                      vi. 65 
1682      Dongan, Thomas  Commission of, N.Y. Col. Doc. iii. 328 ' 
1688      New York Colonial Documents                  iii.
1689      [E. R. and S. S.]   Revolution in New England Justified 42
1690      New York Colonial Documents                  iii. 752 
1691      New York Colonial Documents                  iii. 798 
1692      Cadillac, M. de la Mothe I Maine Hist. Coll. vi. 288 
1693      New York Colonial Documents                  iv. 2, 8, IO 
1701      Braintree Town Records                       p. 742

It is also desirable that such books and documents as disclose the name 'Martha's' should be cited, and they are herewith appended:


Date.     Author.             Book or Document.        Reference.
1610      Strachey, William   Travaille into Virginia 
1641      Vines, Richard      Hough's Nantucket Papers 4 
1663      Winthrop, John, Jr. 3 Mass. Hist. Coll. 
1678      Gookin, Daniel, et als 2 Maine Hist. Coll.   iv. 383 
1676      Sewall, Samuel      Diary                    i. 26 
1689      Briefe Relation of the State of New England  19 
1692      Acts and Resolves of the Province of Mass. Bay
1693      Phips, William      New York Colonial Doc.   iv. 6 E 
1696      Mayhew, Matthew     Triumphs and Conquests of Grace, etc.

The maps of the period are disappointing as a rule, but they give corroborative evidence in the same proportion as the documentary and printed authorities, viz:

             Martin's                  Martha's. 
1670 Ogilby.                      1610 [Brown, Genesis i. 475.]
1675 Seller.                      1624 West Indische Spiegel. 
1677 Hubbard.                     1626 Speed. 
 -   French (Mass. Arch. ii. 61   1671 Novi Belgii, etc. 
1688 Blome.                       1690 Thornton. 
1702 Mather.

As to the probability of evidence in favor of either name, the case for 'Martin' must overcome the statement of John Brereton, the historian of Gosnold's voyage, that an island, Noman's Land, received in 1640 the title of 'Marthaes Vineyard.' It is known that a Capt. John Martin was with Gosnold in this voyage, who later figures as an associate of Gosnold in the early settlement of Virginia. [Brown, The First Republic, 33. He was son of Sir Richard Martin, Master of the Mint.] The suggestion that it was this companion's name, John Martin, which was intended to be honored by the baptism, may be entertained; as much so as Point Gilbert, which was named by him for Bartholomew Gilbert, another companion, and Tucker's Terror, which he applied to a shoal or reef for another voyager. Brereton's relation is not above criticism, for many errors as to sailing courses, longitude and other kindred subjects, are to be found in his book.

We have already noted the names of the island as given to it by various discoverers Straumey by the Norsemen, Luisa by Verrazzano, La Soupconneuse by Champlain, and Martha's Vineyard by Gosnold according to the accounts just given. To these must be added another bestowed on it by the Dutch voyagers, probably Block and Christiaensen. Their maps of 1616 (Carte Figurative) and 1621 (West Indische Paskaert), show two names engraved: Texel on the western end and Vlieland on the eastern. These names appear later on Dudley's Arcano del Mare Map of 1646, the Novi Belgii of 1671, and Blaeu's (1685), and for the last time Texel appears alone in 1695 on the Jaillot map. It is probable that these early Dutch cartographers intended to apply Texel to the main island and Vlieland to Chappaquiddick, although the crude drawings could be interpreted so as to apply the latter name to Nantucket. Texel and Vlieland are two contiguous islands off the Netherlands, forming a part of the chain known as the West Friesian Islands, which separates the North Sea from the Zuyder Zee, and the Dutch navigators were undoubtedly reminded of the similarity of arrangement of the group composed of the islands south of Cape Cod. No attempt was made by the Dutch authorities when in power in New York to give official sanction to the name of Texel for our island. As a further curiosity in nomenclature we find ' Maertens Wyngert' applied by Blome, a cartographer, in his map of 1688. This is a Dutchman's attempt to reduce Martin's Vineyard to his own tongue Wyngert being a wine garden or Vineyard! All this does not seem so absurd when we have seen our own people calling it indiscriminately Martin's and Martha's Vineyard, and if uncertainty prevailed among the residents, the outside world might well join in the confusion. But at length Martha, whoever she was, triumphed over them all, and for two centuries the Vineyard has had her name as a prefix unchallenged, and without a rival.

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