This was the Indian name for Chilmark, although the bounds of the section known to the Indians as Nashowakemmuck do not entirely correspond to the present limits of this town. This name of the greater part of Chilmark is formed of two Algonquian words, Nashowa- and kemmuck, meaning "the half way house," the significance of which is not clear. It may have referred to a school house, or an Indian house or stockade.
As defined in the charter of Tisbury Manor, in 1671, this region was bounded as follows: "beginning at a Place called Wakachakoyck & goeth to the River Arkspah, running from the said Wakachakoyck by a straight line to the middle of the Island, where is the middle line that divides the Land of Towtoe and others & the Land sold to the said Thomas Mayhew and from the Place that line meeteth the middle Lyne soe dividing the land as aforesaid to goe to the Harbour on the North side of the Island called Wawattick."
On May 12, 1685, Matthew Mayhew gave the following description of Nashowakemmuck: "The land called Nasho wakemmuck, bounded easterly by the bounds of line between Takemmy or Tisbury and the said Nashowakemmuck; south erly by the sea; northerly by a line called the Middle Line, beginning at a rock which parteth, or is bound between the north and south partition of that part of the said Island of Martin's Vineyard, and from thence extending westardly, as the line hath been run or set until it meet with a line to be drawn from the harbour on the north side of the Island, called Waweaktick, to the westermost part of the fence, now standing on the south side of the Island, called Wesquobscutt now or late in the tenure or occupation of Nathaniel Skiff; which said line so to be drawn is the western bounds of the said| lands."
Chilmark was a unique town, territorially, for many years, as it comprised three outlying tracts, widely separated, viz: Chickemmoo, which was within the corporate limits of Tisbury, Nomans Land and the Elizabeth Islands. In 1736 Chickemmoo was made a part of Tisbury, and in 1864 the town of Gosnold was formed from the Elizabeth Islands. Including Nomans Land, which still remains to her of her ancient possessions, the town boundaries on the east, adjoining Tisbury, have not changed. The western boundaries are at Menemsha creek, thence by a line drawn through the Menemsha pond to the narrowest part of Nashowaquidset neck where it joins Gay Head; thence across in a straight line to Squibnocket pond; thence southerly across to the point near the old house of Abner Mayhew; thence northerly to the northwest corner of the pond; thence across the beach to the sea in a south west direction, as marked by stones.
Chilmark was the last of the three original towns to become settled, and it is not until toward the end of the 17th century that any appreciable population resided in its limits. [In 1692 there were about twenty families residing in Tisbury and Chilmark the exact number in each not known. It is not far from the actual truth to divide this number in two and thus give twelve and eight respectively to these adjoining settlements. We can thus estimate about 40 persons living in Chilmark at that date.] By reference to the genealogies of the families known to have been living here in 1700, a total of 73 persons can be counted at that date. This makes no account of "others" who may have been here in the capacity of teachers, servants or laborers on the farms, exclusive of Indians. Perhaps ten or a dozen more, at the outside, would cover this class of transient residents. That Chilmark increased more rapidly than the other towns in population in this century is known from taxation and valuation lists, but no definite statistics are available until 1757 in an "alarm list" of males which numbers 91 able to respond. Using 5 as a multiple we have a total of 455 souls at this date. The Provincial census of 1765 is more accurate and from this we obtain the following figures:- families, 114, comprising a total of 546 souls living in go houses. Of these 159 were males and 179 females above sixteen years of age; In male and 156 female below sixteen; 17 negroes (9 male and 8 female) and 188 Indians, of whom were male and 116 female.
It was the second town in population at that date, though the large proportion of Indians living here accounts for this lead over Tisbury. Ten years later, in 1776, the population is estimated at about 700, or about one quarter of the entire enumeration of the island.
The first national census of 1790 gives us the enumeration by names, and from this the following statistics are drawn: total population 770 (whites), of which number there were 199 males above sixteen years, 157 below sixteen and 404 "free white" females. There were ten "other free persons," presumably negroes.
The following figures show the population of Chilmark as enumerated in the decennial censuses of the United States from 1800 to the present time:-
In 1800 it was 800; in 1810, 723; in 1820, 695; in 1830, 691; in 1840, 702; in 1850, 747; in 1860, 654; in 1870, 476; in 1880, 494; in 1890, 353; and in 1900, 324.
Chilmark has had an irregular but steady decrease in population since 1800, although the two towns of Gosnold and Gay Head were formed from this population, which in a large measure accounts for losses since 1860. The state census of 1905 showed a population of 322.
The crude but valuable sketch plan of Chilmark in 1694 (on the preceding page) is the earliest one of its kind known to the author, and it is a part of a rough map of the whole island. The legends on the plan are as follows:-
This included lands is considrd unsettled but is in propr(ie)ty by a fenc(e) made a Cross the Iland by the people of Chilmark and Chilmark is fenced by the same under their peculiar improvement.
This included is by pattant Called the mannor of tisbury and named Chilmark and includes Chikkemoo and the Nashan Ilse.
Seven houses are shown on the south road, one near the present Middle road, and two in the Keephiggon district, ten in all. The houses on the south road can in part be identified as the residences of James Allen, Nathaniel Skiff, Benjamin Skiff, Nathan Skiff, Rev. Rodolphus Thatcher, and probably Thomas Mayhew and Nathan Bassett. The house in the region of New Mill river is that of Richard Ellingham, and in Kephigon of Samuel Tilton.