The History of Martha's Vineyard by Dr. Charles Banks:
Volume II, Annals of Chilmark:  pp. 29 - 41


 Nathan Bassett Thomas Mayhew, 3d.
 John Hillman Benjamin Skiffe
William Hunt Samuel Tilton
Thomas Little John Chipman
John Mayhew Richard Ellingham


Nathan Bassett was the first of his name to come to the Vineyard. He was a native of Cape Cod, born about 1666-7, and prior to his migration hither had married Mary, daughter of John and Hope (Chipman) Huckins, about 1690, at Barnstable. He came to Chilmark about 1694, bringing two children and established his residence on his purchase near Abel's hill. By occupation he was a blacksmith, and he carried on his smithing in a shop near his house. Parson Homes said of him, "he was one that feared God and was peaceable and industrious," and this character he maintained throughout his long life. His public services were of a modest nature being chosen surveyor of highways in 1713, 1718-21, 1724-6, 1736, and fence viewer on several occasions. He was an invalid for a long time, being a sufferer from palsy before his death, which occurred Nov. 16, 1743, in the 77th year of his age. His will, dated Jan. 31, 1740, in which he styles himself "gentleman," was probated Nov. 29, 1743, and the inventory of his estate amounted to £256-18-8 as reported by appraisers. His wife, "a peaceable, industrious and pious woman," predeceased him eight days, and left a will dated Jan. 31, 1739-40, which was probated the same time with her husband's will. [*Dukes Probate, III, 154-163. In his will he bequeaths a silver tankard and a deal ring to his eldest son, Samuel.] He was a public spirited man and gave to the town, in 1724, the site for a meeting-house.
[See their gravestones at Abel's Hill.]



There is a tradition common to all the scattered descendants of this pioneer that he was "shanghaied" and brought to this country when 16 years of age, being taken from a fishing boat in the river Thames.

As he was born in 1651 this would make it about the year 1667 when he landed here. The intervening time (1667-1675) is a blank, for being only a youth on arrival he was probably employed as a servant or apprentice until he reached his majority. It may be surmised that he lived in the vicinity of Salisbury or Hampton, whence came so many of the earliest settlers of this island and Nantucket. Where this place was is not known, and the first definite knowledge we have of him is at Tisbury some time between 1675 and 1678, when he came into possession of the half lot and share of Samuel Tilton, on the east side of Old Mill brook. This he sold in January, 1679, to Elizabeth Norton, and the next record we have about him is at Nantucket. At that place his oldest child was born in 1682, and there he had found his wife, Hannah, daughter of Edward Cottle. One account states that he was a Welchman and a gardener, but the others call him a worsted comber, and the records describe him as a weaver. In a legal document he is called "an Englishman," which may be taken in the restricted sense, or as an English subject.

He returned from Nantucket about 1685 and again settled in Tisbury where "he hired a farme of Simon Athearn … for the Terme of 7 years at a place called Wampache, the which he quietly dwelt on 3 years of the time.'' [*Deposition of John Hillman in 1698 aged 47 years (Sup. Jud. Court files, No. 4974). The deposition means that he resided on this farm the whole time, but that the latter part of his occupancy was in litigation.] This tract of land was called the "Red Ground" and became the source of prolonged litigation between Athearn and the Praying Indians, who claimed it belonged to Christiantown. There is likewise no record to show when he removed to Chilmark unless we accept the purchase of Oct. 3, 1711, consisting of twenty acres and a quarter share of common rights, as the date of his settlement in the town.[*Ibid., III, 280.] This leaves thirteen years unaccounted for since the expiration of his lease from Athearn, and so far the gap cannot be bridged. In fact, his whole residence here, covering a period of perhaps forty years, till his death, has given us but few indications of his presence during that entire time.



He was the son of Ephraim and Ebbot (______) Hunt of Weymouth, born about 1655, and prior to his removal to Chilmark he had resided in Dorchester for a time. His purchase of land in 1697 is the probable date of his coming here, and that he was married, his wife's name being Jane, and brought a family with him, appears from collateral evidence. His life here was without incident as far as the records show and the only public office he held was selectman in 1705, which he kept one year. Homes, in his diary, makes the following note of his death under date of January 8, 1726-7: "Last night before sundown Old William Hunt departed this life he was a man of good age, had been long fraile. He died suddenly none of his family knowing when he died." His age was "about 73 years," according to the gravestone. He made his last will March 13, 1721-2, and it was proven April 5, 1727. In it he bequeathed the personal property to his grandchildren and the residue to his son William, who was appointed as executor. [*Dukes Probate, II, 19.] His wife died some years before him on May 7, 1720, and some of their descendants live in Nova Scotia. The name is extinct in the town.



Early in the 18th century there came to Chilmark this young man, son of Lieut. Isaac Little of Marshfield, born Dec. 15, 1674, and graduated in the class of 1695 from Harvard College. He had married, Dec. 5, 1698, Mary Mayhew (42) of Edgartown, and in May, 1709, purchased two twenty acre lots in Chilmark, which is the presumed date of his settlement here. While a resident here he practiced law and presumably medicine, for his education warranted, in those days, the employment of his talents in all the arts and sciences. [*He is called "Doctor" in the Probate Records.] He died early, however, in 1715, leaving a widow and six minor children. His estate was divided in June, 1725, at which time his eldest son Thomas was residing in the town, succeeding to his father's professional work. [*Dukes Probate, I, 3.] The widow married Jonathan Bryant of Pembroke before 1719, and the younger children became residents of Plymouth and Middleborough. The family became extinct here a decade before the Revolution.



He was the youngest son of Thomas and Jane (Paine) Mayhew and was born in 1652 at Edgartown. An excellent contemporary sketch of his life, written by Rev. Thomas Prince of Boston, is here quoted in full, as published. (Indian Converts, pp. 302-6).

This Gentleman being but about five Years of Age at the Loss of his Father, thereby unhappily missed the Advantage of a learned Education; for want of which, together with his full Employment at home, and his not being inclined to appear abroad, he very much confined himself to the Island, and was not so extensively known: and thence it is, there has been too little hitherto publickly said of this Gentleman, considering his great Worth and Usefulness. But I can assure my Reader that he fell not short either of the eminent Genius or Piety of his excellent Progenitors.

He was early inclined to the Ministerial Work: and having the Benefit of the Grandfather's wise Instructions, and of his Father's Library; and being a Person of more than ordinary natural Parts, great Industry and sincere Piety, he made such a large Proficiency in the Study and Knowledge of divine Things, that about 1673, when he was twenty one Years of Age, he was first called to the Ministry among the English in a new and small Settlement, at a Place named Tisbury, near the middle of the Island; where he preached to great Acceptance, not only of the People under his Care, but of very able Judges that occasionally heard him.

But he also naturally cared for the Good of the Indians, and, understanding their Language well while he was a very young Man, he used frequently to give them good instructions, and even the chief Indians on the Island often resorted to him for Counsel. And being arrived at the Age above-said, they would not be contented till he became a publick Preacher to them likewise: so ardent and urgent were their Desires, that he could not deny them, even tho his thrice honoured Grandfather was then a laborious and acceptable Preacher among them.

He taught alternately in all their Assemblies a Lecture every Week, and assisted them in the Management of all their Ecclesiastical Affairs. And tho what was allowed him was very inconsiderable indeed, yet he went steadily on in this pious Work, and would not suffer any Affairs of his own to divert him from it, nor was there scarce any Weather so bad as to hinder him.

And having both the English and Indians under his Care, his Diligence was now to be doubled, especially after his Grandfather's Death in 1681; and this much the more, by reason of certain erroneous Opinions in danger of taking Root in the Island. Mr. Mayhew was rightly for repelling them with spiritual Weapons: and being a Person of very superior Abilities, and Acquaintance with the Scriptures, he used to desire such as began to imbibe those Principles, to produce their Reasons; and those who wanted to be resolved in their Difficulties, to give him the advantage to resolve them in publick, that others might also receive Light and Satisfaction; whereby they came to be more clearly instructed, and more fully conduced and satisfy’d, than in the ordinary Way of Preaching, which yet always preceded the other. In short, he had such an excellent Talent for the Defence of the Truth against Gainsayers, that those who would have spread their Errors, found themselves so effectually opposed by the Brightness of his Knowledge and Piety, and the Strength of his argumentative Genius, that they could make no Progres in their Designs on the Island: and the churches and People, and in them their Posterity were happily saved from the spreading of those erroneous Opinions, and the Disturbance and Troubles they would have produced among there.

And as for the Indians, his Custom was to tarry some time with them after the publick Exercise was over, allowing them to put Questions to him for their own Instruction, and also trying their Knowledge, by putting Questions to them. And he was so well skilled in their Language, as to be able to discourse freely with them upon any kind of Subject, and to preach and pray in their Tongue with the greatest Readiness.

He was a person of clear Judgement, great Prudence, and of an excellent Spirit; and the Indians very much repaired to his House for Advice and Instruction, and also for Relief in their Wants. And as he was fully persuaded, that many of them were truly religious he would sometimes say, "that tho he had but little Reward from Men, (having but about five Pounds a year for his Labours among them) yet if he might be instrumental in saving any, he should be fully satisfy'd, and think himself to be sufficiently recompensed." But after the honourable Commissioners came to be acquainted with him, and the eminent Service he did, they raised his Salary to thirty Pounds, which was about two years before his Death.

He walked in his House with a perfect Heart; having his Children and Servants in all Subjection, they both loving and fearing him, and being frequently and seriously instructed and counselled by him.

He lived and dy'd within the Bounds of Chilmark, but constantly preached to the English at Tisbury, for the space of fifteen Years to his Death, and about as long once every Week to one or other of the Indian Assemblies on the Island; besides abundance of Pains he took more privately with them. He rather made it his aim to serve his Generation by the Will of GOD, than to be known or observed in the World; and therefore went but little abroad. The whole of what was allowed hint for his incessant Labours both among the English and Indians, put together, would scarce amount to ten Pounds per Annum, except the two last years of his Life as aforesaid; and yet he went on cheerfully, in Hopes of a rich and joyful Harvest in Heaven.

And having finished what GOD in his all-wise and perfect Providence saw meet to imploy him in, he deceased on February 3, 1688-9, about two in the Morning, in the 37th Year of his Age, and the 16th of his Min-istry; leaving the Indians in a very orderly Way of assembling on the Lord's Day for publick Worship in four or five several Places, and of hearing their several well instructed Teachers, who usually began with Prayer, and then after singing of a Psalm, from some Portion of Scripture spake to the Auditors: as also an Indian Church, of one hundred Com-municants, walking according to the Rule of the Scriptures.

In his last Sickness he expressed a Desire "if it were the Divine Will, that he might live a while longer, to have seen his Children a little grown up before he died, and to have done more Service for CHRIST on the Earth." But with respect to his own State before GOD, he enjoyed a great Serenity and Calmness of Mind, having a lively Apprehension of the Mercy of GOD, thro' the merits of CHRIST; Far from being afraid to die, having Hopes, thro' Grace, of obtaining eternal Life by JESUS CHRIST our Lord. He counselled, exhorted and incouraged his Relatives and others who came to visit him: And with respect to himself, among other things, said, "He was persuaded that GOD would not place him with those after his Death, in whose Company he could take no Delight in his Life-time."

His Distemper was an heavy Pain in his Stomach, Shortness of Breath, Faintness, etc. and continued from the End of September to the time of his Death. And thus expired this third Successive Indian Preacher of this worthy Family; after he had set another bright Example of disin-terested Zeal for the Glory of GOD, a lively Faith of the invisible and eternal World, and a generous and great Concern for the Salvation of all about him.

And now I need not say, that his loss in the Flower of his Age, and especially so soon after his Grandfather, was much lamented by both English and Indians; and many good People yet living express a very grateful Remembrance of him.

He left eight children, the eldest of which was but sixteen Years of Age, and soon succeeded him in the Indian Service.

[See his grave at West Tisbury Village Cemetery. Also see The Mayhew Family of Martha's Vineyard for more information about his family.]


The second son of Rev. Thomas Mayhew, Jr., born in 1650 chose this town as his home, although he resided for a while in Tisbury, where from 1674 to 1679 he was town clerk. In 1680 he purchased sixty acres of land in the new settlement at Chilmark, and thenceforth spent his life here as a resident. His birth gave him prominence through family influences and during all of his adult life he was an office holder. He was an associate justice of the King's Bench from 1692 to 1699 and chief justice 1699 to 1713 of the same court. Parson Homes, in his diary, gives us this account of his last days:—

On the twenty first of July Anno 1715 being Thursday about two of the clock in the morning Thomas Mayhew Esqu'r of Chilmarke de-parted this life he had been for several yeares troubled with the dis-temper called the kings evil by which he was brought neere the gates of Death but by some applications made to him by an Indian doctor he re-covered so far that he was able to rid about and look after his affairs, but in the latter end of the spring or begining of summer this year he was suddenly taken with a stopag of his urine and a violent pain in his right leg, after some time his left leg swelled pretty much yet the Paine continued in the other leg, by the use of means the stopag of his urine was removed, yet the other symptoms continued. After some time there came a doctor to the Island that thought the swelling and pain in his legs might be removed by bathing and sweathing, which preceded accordingly in some measure, but after some time the swelling proceeded upwardly and he was siesed with an inwerd fever and shortness of breth which prevaild upon him till it carried him off. His nostril and throat grew so sore some days before he died that he could not speak so as to be under-stood, he was a man of good sense considering his education and seemed to be piously inclined tho he did entertain some singular opinions in religion.

The nephew, Experience, has also left this brief notice of his uncle:—

He was long impowered in the Government of the Indians there, and was both singularly spirited & accomplished for that service as he was on divers other accounts a very excellent Person. [*Brief account of the State of the Indians (1720).]

He married Sarah Skiffe (5), who was born Oct. 12, 1646, and survived her husband until Dec. 30, 1740, when she passed away in the 95th year of her age.

[See The Mayhew Family of Martha's Vineyard for more information about his family.]


In his day and generation Benjamin Skiffe was the most prominent man in Chilmark and held a commanding posi-tion in civil and military affairs throughout the county. Indeed, he was the leading citizen of the Vineyard, after the death of Matthew Mayhew. Benjamin was next to the youngest of the four sons of James Skiffe, Senior, who came to the Vineyard. He was born Nov. 5, 1655, probably in Sandwich, where his father resided and had been a prominent citizen for many years. He was a witness to a deed in Tisbury on Dec. 4, 1677, [*Dukes Deeds, I, 267.] and it is probable that he had gone to Tisbury before that with one of his brothers, either James or Nathaniel, as an inmate of their homes. [*James came to Tisbury in 1671 and Nathaniel before 1674. The younger brother Nathan does not appear on record till 1675.] There he first saw the young girl who had lately moved there from Hampton, and who first attracted his admiration.

The girl, Hannah, daughter of Joseph Merry, was five years his junior, and on Feb. 20, 1679-80 they were married. Where they set up housekeeping is not known, but the next record we find of him is a purchase of land in this town on Feb. 6, 1681, consisting of a tract on the west side of Roaring brook. [*Dukes Deeds, I, 233] The next year on July so, 1682, he bought the land called "Nathaniel's Neck," but it cannot be determined whether either of these were used by him as a place of residence. [*Ibid., I, 346] From all evidences he still remained in Tisbury and is called of that town in 168I, 1682 and 1688, and on March 17, 1687, was chosen town clerk there. [*Tisbury Records, 18.] He was elected county commissioner in 1686, apparently to represent Chilmark, as the other two were citizens of the sister townships. He continued to act as town clerk of Tisbury from his first election in 1687 to 1693 inclusive, and not until 1695 is he called "of Chil-mark." He was a proprietor of one share in the town, how-ever, in 1692. [*Court Records, Vol. I. It is difficult to separate the relations of proprietors and residents, as there were non-resident proprietors who were entitled to hold office and draw lots.] His residence was on the east side of the Fulling Mill brook, not far from the site of the mill which stood on its banks, in sight of the South road. He bought one hundred acres on Feb. 13, 1694, jointly with Pain Mayhew, and it is supposed that it was for the purpose of carrying on the mill which he had erected there for fulling cloth. [*Dukes Deeds, I, 233.] Two years later he bought the mill privileges of New Mill river "to improve for a mill," but it is not known whether another one was built there by him. [*Ibid., I, 125.]

When the great political change of jurisdiction over the Vineyard took place in 1791, it appears that Skiffe was one of those who did not like the transfer, and he took sides with the Mayhews in the policy of passive opposition. "Capt'n ben Skiffe," wrote Simon Athearn in October of that year, "have bene very bussie against the government from this place," and as a consequence he recommended that Skiffe be super-seded as Captain of the military company as "the most likely way to bring the company to obedience." [*Mass. Archives, CXII, 424.]

But Athearn was not able to carry his point in this matter, and Skiffe continued to be a leader in military affairs as well as in civil life. He was for some time prior to 1792 Captain of the Foot Company of Militia of Tisbury and Chilmark combined, and is referred to as Captain Skiffe in 1693 and 1695. In 1703 he appears as Major Skiffe and thereafter is known by that title, and late as 1709 he was in command of this body of troopers. [*Savage says he was employed "in an important trust" by Governor Dudley in 1704, but the author has no data in confirmation of it (Gen. Dict., IV, 706).]

The town availed itself little of his services in an official capacity. For three years only, 1706-7-8, he served it as selectman, but his time was in requisition for more important duties to which the whole island unanimously called him. In those days the three towns, as at present, sent but one repre-sentative to the General Court, and for five years, 1707-1711, 1715, and 171 7, he was the "member from the Vineyard." [*Chilmark Town Records, 6, 7, 8; Tisbury Records, 62.] In 1716 Edgartown voted to send him again if Chilmark would join, but it does not appear that this was done. [*Edgartown Records, II, 79.] In 1700 he was one of the judges of the Court of Common Pleas for this county, and on the death of Matthew Mayhew in 1710, Major Skiffe was Appointed Judge of Probate for this county in suc-cession arid held the office until his own decease eight years later. It will thus be seen that this man was one of the fore-most men of his time, whom all were ready to honor with such marks of confidence and respect as was in their power to bestow. He seemed to have stood well with the influential Mayhews and thus steered clear of the difficulties into which his brother fell by antagonizing them. There is an entry in the town records of Edgartown significant of the esteem in which he was held by other communities. On Jan. 22, 1707-8, the town voted that "Major Benjamin Skiffe, Esqr. shall be requested by their Clerk, Thomas Trapp, to be at their next meeting at Edgertown to assist them in their public or common affairs as moderator; and do order their said clerk to request the same in their behalf." [*Ibid., II, 90.] This appears to be an unusual and unique compliment.

Major Skiffe, in his last illness, made his will on Feb. 15, 1717-18, and died two days later. He left a large property which was inventoried by the appraisers on Feb. 23, 1719, and returned as amounting to £2748-10-5, probably being the richest man in the town. [*Dukes Probate, I, 65-7.] He was childless, but had adopted young Beriah Tilton (23), born in 1703, and to him he bequeathed, subject to Mrs. Skiffe's contingent interest, the homestead and mill adjoining. He also gave bequests in his will to his niece, Sarah Athearn, daughter of his brother Nathan, and to his brother-in-law, Thomas Pease. The following is an abstract of his will:—

To Hannah my dear and loving wife … my sole executrix … all my estate … to dispose of as she sees fit if she dont dispose of the same in her life time then my will farther is that Beriah Tilton, a lad that now dwells with me, shall have my housing, mill and lands adjoining. … to Sarah, wife of Solomon Athearn of Tisbury, a certain tract of land lying in the Town of Chilmark, near the Stone Wall pond, being partly purchased of the Indians & not purchased—the lands intended being held by me under Col. Thomas Dongan. I give her the whale of said tract as well the right to purchase as the already purchased.

I give to my brother Nathan Skiffe the right of purchase or patent right in a certain tract of land lying at Monamesha in the town of Chil-mark, which patent or right of purchase I had of Major Matthew Mayhew, deceased.

I give to Thomas Pease of Edgartown all the right title and interest which I have to any lands in Sanchacantucket Neck. [*Dukes Probate, I, 63.]

His widow survived him many years and died Feb. 27, 1758, at the great age of 98 years. They lie buried in the Chilmark burying ground on Abel's hill. She was a woman who partook of the distinctions accorded to her honored husband, and was called and known as Madame Skiffe. At her death she bequeathed to Beriah Tilton her "whole and sole personal estate" and made him executor. She had dis-posed of her real estate by deeds of gift and otherwise, but the homestead and mill remained in his possession as designed by her husband. [*Ibid., IV, 53.] This property descended to Beriah's son William and thence to his children, and was held by descendants till about 1897, when it was sold to George W. Blackwell.



This progenitor of a family, prominent in the annals of Chilmark for two and a half centuries, was the son of William Tilton of Lynn, Mass., by his second wife, Susanna. He was born in 1637-8, probably in that town, and at the age of sixteen was orphaned by the death of his father. The widow remarried shortly after, Roger Shaw of Hampton, N.H., whither the young family of Tiltons moved and resided with their step-father. His mother died before 1660, and the young man, left without either parent, learned the trade of carpenter, and on Dec. 17, 1662, married Hannah Moulton of that town. [*Hampton Town Records. It is not known who her parents were. Two families of Moultons lived in Hampton at this time, headed by Robert and William, both from Orrnsby, County Norfolk, England.] About 1673 he came to the Vineyard with his wife and three children, probably in company with Isaac Chase and Jacob Perkins, his Hampton neighbors. He was granted a lot of land in Tisbury, Feb. 5, 1674, on the east side of Old Mill Brook, and two years later in partnership with Chase and Perkins, bought one-sixth of Homes Hole neck. [*Tisbury Records, 7; comp., Deeds, I, 283. He was called "of Homes Hole" in this deed and this section was probably his actual residence from the time of his settlement on the Vineyard until removal to Chilmark.] He sold out his home lot in Tisbury before 1678, and took his residence in this town about that date. By various purchases he acquired a large tract in the Kephigon district, bordering on the Sound and extending to the Middle line. Here he lived an uneventful life, without known public service for nearly sixty years. His wife died April 11, 1720, and he survived her eleven years. He died Nov. 29, 1731, "in the 94th year of his age" and Parson Homes thus characterizes him: "He was a man of good understanding, was an antipedobaptist in his judgment, but pious and regular in his conversation. He was against swearin and usery." His will dated June 15, 1718, and probated March 7, 1732, disposes of his property, including carpenter's tools, to his sons, and the daughters received shares of personal and real estate. [*Dukes Probate, II, 69.]

[See The Tilton Family of Martha's Vineyard for more information about this family.]





This transient resident came in the early part of the 18th century from Sandwich. He was related by marriage Nathan Bassett, being a native of Barnstable, the son of Elder John and Hope (Howland) Chipman. He was born arch 3, 1669-70, and resided in Sandwich from 1691 to 1719, when he removed to Chilmark and staid a couple of years. Returning to Sandwich, he lived there from 1714 to 1720 and again settled here. He was a man of distinction, versed in legal knowledge which he exercised in a professional way, though calling himself a "cordwainer." [*Dukes Deeds, III, 93.] While here he was local agent for the Society for Propagating the Gospel. He removed to Newport, R. I., about 1727, soon acquired political prominence and became one of the Governor's assistants. He died in 1756, aged 86 years. He was thrice married, (1) to Mary Skiffe, (2) widow Elizabeth Russell and (3) to Miss Hookey of Rhode Island.



This early settler came from Barnstable to the Vineyard about 1683. It is probable that he was a carpenter and builder, as in 1685 a committee of Edgartown were empowered "to treat with Richard Ellingham about finishing the Meeting house" in that town. His residence here extended over a period of nine years, until 1692, when, with his wife Hannah, he sold his property on the Middle road and returned to the Cape. It is not known whether he left any descendants here in the female line, there being none of his own name after his departure.


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