Annals of Tisbury

pp. 70 - 82



The first practitioner of medicine on the Vineyard, Dr. Thomas West, was a resident of this town, and three of his descendants in the male line have followed in his professional footsteps here, Elisha West, Elisha West, Jr., and Silas West. Dr. Benjamin Trask came here from Sandwich before 1800, and practiced until his death (1821). He resided on Main street, on the site of Eagleston Block. Dr. Rufus Spalding (1800-1812) was his contemporary and rival in medicine, politics and religion. Dr. Forsyth was settled here before 1832, and about the same date Dr. Leroy Milton Yale, father of the late distinguished New York physician of the same name, came to practice here. In the next decade came David Crossthwaite, a native of England, who died (1849) early in life. In 1850 there were five physicians resident in town, George N. Hall from Baltimore, Md., Moses Brown from Kensington, N.H., Nathaniel Ruggles from Rochester, Mass., and his son, Charles A. Ruggles, and Ralph K. Jones, a young graduate from Stockbridge, Mass. Ten years later George T. Hough was the leading physician. Following him came William Leach (1863) and Winthrop Butler (1868), the latter a native of the village and fresh from arduous duties in the Civil war. Of him it is a duty and a pleasure for the author to record a brief narration of his life and labors in this community. He was born June 25, 1838, the son of Matthew P. and Martha Allen (Robinson) Butler, and received his preliminary education here in the public schools. One year was spent at Cushing's Family school in Middleboro, Mass. (1858), and another (1859) at the Dukes County Academy in the completion of his education in the higher branches. He chose the medical profession for his life work, but his studies were interrupted by the Civil war, and he entered the Navy for service in the medical department, ranking as an Assistant Surgeon. He served three years in the Gulf Squadron, until the close of the war. Then he resumed his course, and was graduated March 6, 1866, from Harvard Medical school. After practicing for one year in Groveland, Mass. (1867), he returned to his native town, and thenceforth devoted himself to a practice which covered the western half of the Vineyard.

In 1903 he suffered a paralytic stroke, and it was the warning signal to him to lay down the exhaustive work of a widespread country practice, and do for himself what he had for thirty-five years so ungrudgingly done for others. Thenceforth he lived in quiet retirement, greeted daily, as he was able to go about, by the affectionate salutations of all who knew him, until on April 22, 1907, a career narrowed only by the natural opportunities of its insular limits, but none the less noble by its perfection of achievements and ideals, passed into the memory of his friends and became a splendid heritage for this community. He was the typical physician of the 'old school' of gentlemen, courteous in every relation of life, generous to a fault, charitable in his estimates and splendid in his standards of action. His portrait opposite this, gives an index of the handsome head, which was well carried by his tall graceful figure, and it will serve to us of his day and generation as a reminder of this fine, gentle, manly spirit, this skilful, loyal, well beloved physician. [The Duodecimo Club of Vineyard Haven, of which he was the president, contributes this portrait to the Annals of Tisbury as a tribute to his memory.]

Dr. Charles F. Lane and Orlando S. Mayhew are the present representatives of this profession in Vineyard Haven. [Dr. Frank B. Look (1858-1908), a native of West Tisbury, established a sanitarium in this town in 1905, remodeling the Owen house for the purpose, but his death in 1908 terminated his career after three years of labor in founding the institution.]


Crossways. - This 'acre' contains the oldest interments in the town, beginning with the year 1717, the date of the earliest remaining stone, but it is probable that it was in use some years before that, although Dr. Thomas West who died here in 1706, and his wife (d. 1724) are buried in West Tisbury. It was located on the West property, and probably was given to the town for a public burial place. In 1756 Abner West donated an acre to the 'People of Homes Hole' on the Edgartown road, 'to build a meeting house upon, or Scoule house or to bury our dead in.' [Dukes Deeds, VIII, 437.] It is not known whether this gift was accepted for the purposes specified.

Franklin Street. - In the rear of Association hall is a burying ground on the corner of Centre and Franklin streets, occupied as such before 1800, and increased in size in 1803 by a gift from Abraham Chase. [Ibid, XV, 27. The deed of 133 rods began at the 'corner of the Land now and formerly occupied as a Burying Ground.'] The oldest stone in this ground is that of Abigail, wife of Isaac Daggett, who died in 1770, but the inscription states that the body was removed, in 1805, from the family burying ground. The oldest stone, after this, is dated February, 1803, and most of the older stones range from 1805 to 1817.

Oak Grove. - This latest addition to the town's cemeteries is on the old highway from the village to West Tisbury, and was first acquired in 1863 and plotted for use. The original owner, Edward T. T. Smith, engaged in this as a private venture, and in 1869 he sold his interests to James Lyon Luce. In 1886, the heirs of the late James Lyon Luce sold it to Stephen Carey Luce and Henry H. Smith, and acquiring adjacent property laid out additional lots according to plans drawn by John H. Crowell. [ Dukes Deeds, LXXVI, 572.] On May 2, 1900, this was conveyed by the owners to the Town of Tisbury, and the ground is now under the care of commissioners elected by the town. Since then additional land has been acquired, the ground suitably fenced, and an ornamental stone gateway completes the attractiveness of this resting place for the town's dead. The cemetery now contains about twenty-four acres.

Private Grounds. - The Holmes-Dunham plot on the West Chop road, has been occupied since 1791. The famous John and Lydia Claghorn stone is in a separate enclosure on the heights back of the hospital, and a stone to Seth Daggett, who died of small pox in 1779, is on the Tashmoo farm.


There are no annals of a military nature in connection with this town that are worthy of record, except some earthworks constructed during the Revolution. They were situated just north of the Seamen's chapel (Stevens) on the harbor side, and a similar breastwork was thrown up on the Soundshore. It is probable that they were nothing more than trenches for the protection of musketeers. [In a remarkable document prepared for English reading by Col. Beriah Norton when he was prosecuting the claim for repayment of the value of cattle, &c., taken by General Grey, and trying to impress the British authorities with the loyalty of the people of Martha's Vineyard, he stated that these works were constructed by soldiers from the mainland, to keep the people of the Vineyard under subjection to the rebel government !!]


King Solomon's Lodge in Perfection 1783. - The first lodge of Free and Accepted Masons to be organized on the Vineyard was chartered in this town under the title of 'King Solomon's Lodge in Perfection' in 1783, by the thrice illustrious Bro. Moses Michael Hayes, Deputy Inspector General, S. R., for North America. [ This curious name was bestowed to distinguish it from a lodge elsewhere having the name of King Solomon.] It was authorized to confer fourteen degrees through the Royal Arch, in addition to its functions as a lodge of Master Masons.

The Scottish Rite Masons in America derived their authority from the order in France, established in Paris, under the title of The Sovereign Lodge of St. John of Jerusalem. The Grand Lodge of Free Masons of France, in conjunction with this Scottish Rite body, issued to Stephen Morin, in 1761, a joint warrant to establish symbolic and Scottish Rite lodges in America. Morin first went to the West Indies, where he instituted lodges and granted charters in several of the colonies belonging to this archipelago. In Jamaica he met Moses Michael Hayes, a Portuguese Jew, and Morin conferred upon him the title and powers of Deputy Inspector General of the Scottish Rite for North America. Hayes first went to New York and later to Newport, R. I., where he instituted a symbolic lodge called King David. Little was known then about Free Masonry, and the higher degrees were looked upon with suspicion, even by the Blue Lodge Masons. Hayes finally removed to Boston, where he soon became identified with the existing order, working under the Grand Lodge of England, and through the influence of John Warren (brother of Gen. Joseph) he dropped the new-fangled Scottish Rite work and was made Grand Master of Massachusetts in recognition of his labors for the craft.

The earliest documentary evidence of the life of this Royal Arch lodge has recently been found, dated May 16, 1787, and is a certificate of membership, engrossed, and signed by the Master and Wardens. It is worth printing verbatim because of its prime importance as establishing the status of the lodge so early.

'And the darkness Comprehended it not.
In the East a place of Light where Reigns Silence and Peace.
Wee the Master, Wardens, and Secretary of the Royal Arch King Solomon's Lodge held at Edgartown in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts do certifie that the bearer hereof our worthy Brother Arthur Fenner has been Regularly Initiated into the third Degree of Masonry.
As such he has been Received by us; and being a True and faithful Brother, he is hereby recommended to the fever and prote'n of all free and accepted Masons wheresoever Dispersed.
In witness whereof we have Caused the Seal of our said Lodge to be afixed this sixteenth day of May in the year of our Lord 1787 and of Masonry 5787.
John Cooke, Mr.
John Peas, S. W.
Daniel Read, J. W.
Arthur Fenner. Benj. Smith, Sec'y.'

While it is believed that this lodge was instituted in 1783, yet the actual proof is not available.

The language of the certificate raises some interesting questions. It will be noticed that the location of the lodge is omitted, while the meeting was 'held at Edgartown,' and that all the officers are residents of that town. It is not supposed that there was a lodge room or building used exclusively by Masons for their meetings at this time. It was customary elsewhere to hold these communications in taverns or private houses, and doubtless this was the situation here, and we may suppose the lodge met both at Edgartown and Homes Hole to accommodate the brethren. The lodge is specifically called 'of Homes Hole,' in 1797, and for that reason it may be assumed to have always belonged here by its official location, and that the brethren met in Eastville Tisbury at the taverns of these localities. Both towns bordered on Homes Hole, but the settlement on the west side was always known as the precinct or village of Homes Hole. [Masonic Observer, March 7, 1910, The original certificate is in the possession of the Masonic Library Association, of Minneapolis, Minn. The name of the Master, John Cooke, is believed to be an error for Thomas Cooke, who is known to have been a member of the lodge in later years. There was no John Cooke then residing in Edgartown. The size of the document is about six by eight inches, and the seal referred to is a square piece of paper, affixed diagonally to the upper left corner by a wafer. The text is enclosed in a border of double lines. It is not known to whom the certificate is made, as no person of that name resided here as far as can be learned. There were several Arthur Fenners living in Rhode Island in 1790, but why the person came to the Vineyard to join a lodge when one existed in Newport,is not understood.]

No records of this lodge are known to be in existence, and but fragmentary references to it remain. In 1797 a new charter was granted by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, and in 1799 a complaint was filed against it with the supreme officers, but nothing is known of its character and nothing appears to have been done.

In 1798 Abijah Luce was W. M. and in 1802 the following officers are of record: W. M., Dr. Rufus Spalding; S. W., Elijah Hillman; J. W., Jonathan Luce; Sec., Benjamin Smith; Treas., Jesse Luce; Tiler, Jesse Luce, Jr. Other known members at this period were David Pease, Levi Pease, Thomas Cooke, Paul Dunham, Lot Luce, Samuel Luce, Silas Daggett and John Pease. These names include residents of Edgartown as well as Tisbury. Dr. Spalding was the Master in 1807, and it is probable he continued as such until his departure from Holmes Hole five years later. [Kendall Travels, II, 183.]

The lodge was represented in the Grand Lodge each year, at the annual communications, usually by a proxy, but after 1812 it ceased to send anybody regularly and fell into arrears. This condition lasted until 1820 when the report of the District Deputy of the 12th Masonic district states: 'King Solomon's Lodge in Perfection at Holmes Hole is 8 years in arrears and has manifested a spirit of insubordination inconsistent with their obligations and the known and acknowledged principles of Masonry.' A committee was appointed to investigate the status of the lodge and they reported that it had held no meetings for about eight years. Elijah Hillman, who was probably the W. M. in succession to Dr. Spalding, in a letter to the D. D. G. M. for the 12th District, admitted the conditions reported, but threatened, by implication, if the Grand Lodge revoked their charter, to continue to work the degrees under the original charter granted by Hayes.

At the quarterly communication of the Grand Lodge held December 27, 1822, it was reported that this lodge, after being many years in arrears, had finally surrendered its charter and gone out of existence. The records and jewels of the lodge were surrendered to the Grand Lodge, and were destroyed at the burning of the Masonic Temple in Boston.

Martha's Vineyard Lodge, 1859. - Twenty-five years elapsed before the interest in the craft was revived. At that date (1852) but three members of the old King Solomon's Lodge survived, and when approached by a recent arrival in the town, a Mason, Mr. Joseph T. James, with a proposition to reorganize, they could not be persuaded to join the movement. After some time this zealous brother interested Captain Benjamin Clough, Henry Bradley, Alexander W. Smith, Dr. William Leach, Daniel F. Worth and Alexander Newcomb to apply to Marine Lodge, Falmouth, for the necessary degrees. After these men were made Master Masons in that Lodge, application for a dispensation to work was presented to the Grand Lodge and granted. [Mr. James states that he 'labored hard to have the old records and jewels of King Solomon's lodge restored, but the Grand Lodge would not give them up.'] A lodge-room was fitted up in Hiram Nye's paint shop (near the Martha 's Vineyard Bank building) at a cost of $1000, and in September, 1859, these seven brothers, with James as Worshipful Master, Clough as Senior Warden, and Bradley as Junior Warden restored speculative Masonry to its respected place in the community. A charter was granted Sept. 12, 1860, and from that time the growth of the lodge was rapid, until at the close of the term of Mr. James as Master in 1863 it had about seventy members. In the half century of its life the lodge has prospered through much adversity and many discouragements. In 1883 a new lodgeroom was just completed at large outlay, when the great fire of that year swept it out of existence after one meeting had been held in it. With it went the records and jewels. After recovering from the disaster a room was fitted up over Swift Brothers' store on Main street, and there the regular meetings were held for twelve years. In 1895 a charter member, Capt. Daniel F. Worth, who had returned to his old home after an absence of thirty-five years, urged the acquisition of a building which should be owned exclusively by the lodge, and as a result of his efforts the old Capawock hall was purchased and remodeled interiorly to meet the special needs of the order, at considerable added cost. [The lodgeroom on the second floor is 34 x 48 feet, with the usual anterooms. On the ground floor there is a banquet hall 25 X 34 feet with kitchen, toilet, coat room and smoking room. The interior is finished throughout with southern pine and ample heating arrangements make this one of the best suburban lodge buildings in the State. The name of Capt. Gilbert L. Smith should be associated with that of Capt. Worth in the project of acquiring and improving the property.] It was dedicated Oct. 25, 1895, with the elaborate ritual of the order by the Grand Master of Massachusetts, assisted by other Grand officers.

The Masters of the lodge since the charter have been: Joseph T. James, 1859-63; Benjamin Clough, 1863-4; HenryBradley, 1865-6; William Leach, 1867; J. Wheldon Holmes,1868; William Leach, 1869; S. A. Thomas, 1870-2; Henry W. Beetle, 1873-5; William Leach, 1876; Andrew Hillman, I 1877-8; Matthew L. Smith, 1879-80; Gilbert L. Smith, 1881-90; John H. Crowell, 1891; Charles F. Chadwick, 1892;Gilbert L. Smith, 1893; William W. Neifert, 1894-6; WilliamD. Harding, 1897; Herbert N. Hinckley, 1899; Henry W.McLellan, 1901; William J. Look, 1905; and Alvin H.Cleveland, 1906.


The first cable to be laid between this island and the main land had its shore connection at West Chop, and it was constructed by the Cape Cod Telegraph Co. as a part of their existing system. [See Vol. I, 466.] This was in 1856, and the particulars of this important event are here detailed.

The steamer Neptune with a party of invited guests sailed from Boston, and on the following morning, July 16, 1856, took in tow, in Homes Hole harbor, the schooner Wm. T. Conquest of New York. The schooner was placed in position at Woods Hole and commenced paying out cable, which in two and a half hours was satisfactorily laid from Woods Hole to the West Chop, a distance of five miles.

Upon its arrival the village presented a scene of unwonted animation and excitement. The connection of the island with the main was celebrated with various festivities, and more than a thousand persons were gathered to participate in the enjoyment of the occasion. At two o'clock a procession was formed under the direction of Mr. Thomas Barrows, marshal of the day, which, escorted by the New Bedford Brass Band, marched through the principal streets of the town to the grove where the tables were laid for the dinner. About four hundred ladies and gentlemen sat down to the tables, more than twice that number being assembled in the grove. After the viands had been fully discussed, the president of the day, Capt. Thomas Bradley, briefly addressed the assembly, tendering those who were strangers a hearty welcome to the Vineyard, and congratulating all upon the successful completion of the union of the island and the main. He then introduced the toast master, Capt. Enoch Cook, Jr., who read the first regular toast, as follows:

'Our Prodigal Sons, we hail their return from much wandering with joy and to-day greet them with the best the house affords.' This toast was responded to by Chas. A. Luce, Esq., of New York, a native of the Vineyard.

The next toast was: 'The memory of Franklin. He aided in our political separation from our Mother country, may his more modern successor in electric science soon unite America, not only with England, but with all the world.' This toast was eloquently responded to by James B. Congdon, Esq., of New Bedford. Mr. Congdon alluded to the fact that Franklin was connected with the Vineyard through his grandfather, Peter Folger, who was the first schoolmaster on the Island.

The third toast: 'To the inventor of the system of electrotelegraphic communication,' called up Dr. Chas. T. Jackson of Boston, who gave a succinct and lucid history of the electric telegraph.

Toasts were given also to the 'Cape Cod Telegraph Co.,' to the 'Press,' the 'Union,' 'Massachusetts' and 'New York,' all of which were fittingly responded to, the last two by Mr. Bates of Plymouth Rock, and Mr. W. L. Burroughs of New York, vice-president of the New York and Washington Printing Telegraph Company, 'a man of infinite jest and most excellent fancy,' well known upon the Vineyard, 'where he has troops of friends,'' as appears by the contemporary account of the celebration.

Numerous volunteer toasts were made and responded to. The last sentiment was given by Mr. J. T. Allen of Dorchester, who, with characteristic gallantry, gave 'The Marthas of the Vineyard, the true galvanic power that moves the world.'

In the evening Messrs. Edge of Jersey City made a grand ; display of fireworks upon a hill just outside the town. The display was beautiful and brilliant and won loud plaudits from the spectators. [Boston Traveller of July 17, 1856, abstracted from a letter giving an account of the celebration of the laying of the Submarine Telegraph to Martha's Vineyard, dated at Homes Hole, July 16, 1856.]

The cable was in use about five years.


On Saturday night, Aug. 11, 1883, occurred the greatest disaster in the history of the town. A fire started in the harness factory, and before it could be smothered the whole building was ablaze. Quickly the adjoining structures caught fire, and before an hour had elapsed it was seen that a disastrous conflagration was in full sweep. The destroying flames took a southerly direction, burning many buildings on Main street on both sides its entire length. A property loss of more than $100,000 was involved in this conflagration, a terrible blow to the small village. It was the greatest disaster in the annals of the island.

When the last embers had died out it was found that the Baptist meeting-house, 32 dwelling houses, 26 stores, 12 barns, and 2 stables had been burned to the ground. A damage more irreparable was done to the beautiful shade trees on the Main street and others covered by the burnt district, as these noble trees were all killed by the flames. Such a blow might well have staggered and discouraged any community, but the present beautiful village arisen from the ashes is an evidence of the bravery of its people. Having little outside assistance except for temporary necessities, the residents got together to restore their destroyed buildings. With characteristic energy Mr. R. W. Crocker, the proprietor of the harness factory, began work on a new structure while the unburnt timbers were yet smouldering, and others followed in quick order. The quaint street had vanished, but a new line of buildings soon arose on the old thoroughfare.


A number of organizations in this town, having for their object the direct personal benefit of the members and the general welfare of the community indirectly, merit brief mention in its annals.

The Public Library. - There was one library of 200 volumes in 1850 connected with the school system, probably the first public collection of books in the town. In the autumn of 1878 Miss Hannah T. Bradley organized a number of young ladies into a society called the Ladies' Library League, and in March, 1879, their books (71 volumes) were first made available for public use upon payment of a weekly charge for each loan. [The first officers were: President, Miss Hannah T. Bradley; Vice President, Miss Annie Daggett; Secretary, Mrs. Mary Morgan.] Four years later, at the date of the great fire, they had accumulated 483 volumes, with necessary library furniture and equipment, and these were all lost in the night of that disaster. The members took immediate measures to replace their loss, with the aid of a small insurance, and in May, 1884, new rooms were opened, specially fitted for their use by the late Dr. Winthrop Butler, over his office and drug store. In the spring of 1895 steps were taken to dissolve the League and turn over the collection to the town as a public library, under the provision of the statutes governing such matters. The library numbered at this time about 2500 volumes, the accretions of the past eleven years. [Of this number about half came to it as a gift, the books from the library of the late Rev. D. W. Stevens.] With appropriate exercises, participated in by some of the original founders of the League, the Public Library of Tisbury was formally opened, July 31, 1895, and since that date it has grown in usefulness and strength. It now numbers 3000 volumes on its shelves.

Mrs. John R. McArthur, a daughter of the late Judge Arnoux has announced her intention this year (1909) of donating land on Main street for the uses of a public library.

Duodecimo Club. - This organization, composed of twelve gentlemen, as its name indicates, was launched in the spring of 1891, through the efforts of Dr. Charles E. Banks, to briny together the leading men of the community for mutual improvement. The club meets monthly, usually at the residences of the members in rotation, and the members present papers on subjects selected by themselves, and the meeting is then open for general discussion. This is followed by a light lunch and social intercourse. The club has been in existence for eighteen years, maintaining with continued vigor and activity a high standard in the literary life of the town.

Sea Coast Defence Chapter, D.A.R. - This flourishing chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was organized in 1896, after preliminary interest in the movement had been aroused by Mrs. Florence M. Banks, a member of the organization in another state. It was chartered Oct. 30, 1896, and now numbers 62 members. In 1904 the Chapter acquired the old Mayhew school-house, the 'Chapel' of 1830, and converted it into headquarters for the organization, and a museum of historic and local relics. It has now a large and valuable collection of such articles, which is constantly increasing in interest by the donations of members and friends. In 1898 the Chapter erected a flag staff in front of this building, on which a bronze tablet was placed, commemorative of the Liberty Pole incident of Revolutionary days. This tablet bears the following inscription:-


Nobnocket Club. - A social club for gentlemen was organized Oct. 4, 1902, under the name of Nobnocket Club. It has a commodious house fitted for this special purpose on the harbor front, containing billard room, card room, reading room and sleeping chambers for guests.


This town is now two hundred and thirty-seven years old, and although but a moiety of the original territory is now comprised in it, yet it has prospered and developed wonderfully in that period. The following statistics show the material condition of the town as it exists at this time: personal estate assessed, $154,475.00; real estate assessed, $1,178,667.00; total, $1,333,142.00. The total tax assessed May 1, 1908, was $14,476.37; acres of land, 3,878; number of dwelling houses, 420; horses, 152; cows, 62; taxpayers, 647, of whom 95 are polls only. The town has real and movable property to the value of $11,900.00, including schools, fire apparatus, etc. In addition to this the town owns, by purchase in 1907 at a cost of $95,000.00, the public water works, the Tashmoo Spring, the purest water supply in the state, which is one of the town's most valuable assets.

Comments? Questions? Corrections? Suggestions? Write the compiler.
Back to the Tisbury History Home Page