The Population of Martha's Vineyard

The Population of Martha's Vineyard

The following pages are from pp. 28 - 30 of
The History of Martha's Vineyard, Volume I
by Dr. Charles E. Banks (originally published 1911.)

From 1641 to 1670, the period elapsing between the first settlement at Great Harbor and the beginning of the new town at Takemmy, the entire English population was resident at the east end of the island. We have no records bearing upon this subject at that early date, but we can reach some proximate and satisfactory conclusion from a knowledge of the families who lived here at that time. The first list of proprietors embraces nineteen men, some of whom were not then married, and of the others we are in possession of the number of their children. It is possible to estimate sixty-five persons as constituting the total of whites at that time. In 1660, a second list gives twenty-six different proprietors, and the same process yields about eighty-five persons, and by the end of the next decade there might have been a hundred, in round numbers. The settlement of Tisbury brought, between 1670 and 1680, about a dozen families, so that in a statement of the relative strength of the Indians and whites on the Vineyard in 1675, it was reported that there were "not above forty men on the island capable of bearing Armes." [N. Y. Col. Mss. (Council Minutes), II (2), 51.] This means men between the ages of sixteen and sixty, and reckoning three-fourths of them as married and heads of families, with six as a multiple, we can place the population at 180, at the time of King Philip's War. No further data until 1692 enables us to estimate the intervening increases. In that year Simon Athearn informed the General Court: "We are but about fifty 7 or 8 famelys on the Iland," and allowing two families for the Elizabeth Islands, making sixty, and computing the ratio which has since obtained in the county, we are justified in calculating 350 as the total at that time. [Mass. Archives, CXII, 422.] Probably at the close of the 17th century there were four hundred English people residing within the limits of Dukes County. There is no subsequent statement or record for fifty years, during which time immigration and the natural increase had greatly affected the numerical strength of the white race. In 1742, a contemporary writer placed "about two hundred fencible white men on the Vineyard,'' [Douglass, Summary, I, 405.] and computing the known increase, with the adopted multiple, we have about twelve hundred persons resident in the county, exclusive of negroes and native aborigines.

The Provincial census of 1765 gives us the first definite figures of enumerators, and from it the following statistics are extracted:

                           Whites under 16  Whites above 16   Negroes      Indians
           Houses Families   Male Female     Male Female    Male Female  Male Female   Total

Edgartown 128 150 234 209 233 248 12 8 37 49 1030 Chilmark 90 114 152 156 159 179 9 8 72 116 851 Tisbury 110 100 165 166 226 233 4 5 15 24 838
328 364 551 531 618 660 25 21 124 189 2719

It will be seen that there were 2460 white persons, a doubling in twenty years and an average annual gain of about three hundred in the half century. It will be seen that the average family consisted of six persons, the multiple used in previous computations, and that the families exceeded the number of houses by sixty-six, and there were seven persons to a house. When we recall the size of the buildings erected in those days for dwellings, it is easy to understand that they lived in "close quarters." The next enumeration by the Provincial authorities in 1776, shows the following statistics: families, 482; persons, 2822; negroes, 59, an increase of nearly twenty-five per cent. in twelve years. These figures take no account of the population of the Indian settlements, which will be dealt with in a separate chapter. In the period between 1641 and 1776, the average annual growth had been two hundred, while in the same time the unfortunate native element had been decreasing in about the same ratio. No further figures are available for statistical purposes until 1790, the date of the first census of the general government, from which time, by decades, with the intervening enumerations of the state, we reach accurate tabulations.

The following figures show the population of the county as enumerated in the decennial census of the United States from 1790 to the present time:

In 1790 were 3245; in 1800, 3118; in 1810, 3290; in 1820, 3292; in 1830, 3517; in 1840, 3958; in 1850, 4540; in 1860, 4403; in 1870, 3787; in 1880, 4300; in 1890, 4369; in 1900, 4561.

The population of the county shows a gradual increase of 1300 for sixty years, when the number dropped about 800 from 1850 to 1870, which may be accounted for by the losses and changes of residence during the war of the Rebellion.

During the 110 years of the census enumerations, the county has increased 40% notwithstanding the losses which followed the emigration into Maine in the first decade of the above named period, and a similar exodus into the western states between 1820 and 1840. Losses of this character have been constant ever since, but they are in part made up by the immigration of others who in recent years have availed themselves of its climatic and natural attractions to select the island not only as a summer home but for a permanent residence.

Comments? Questions? Corrections? Suggestions? Write the compiler.
Back to Dukes County History