Annals of Gay Head by Dr. Charles E. Banks

Annals of Gay Head

The following pages are from pp. 3 - 8 of
The History of Martha's Vineyard Volume II
by Dr. Charles E. Banks (originally published 1911.)


The discovery and christening of this peninsula has a definite date, in 1602, and an authentic sponsor in the person of Bartholomew Gosnold. "The four and twentieth of May," wrote the journalist of that voyager, after they had left Nomans Land, "we set sail and doubled the cape of another island next unto this, which we called Dover Cliff, and then came into a fair sound." The resemblance of this remarkable headland to the famous high chalky cliffs at Dover on the English channel, doubtless suggested to Gosnold and his companions the appropriation of the name for these new-found cliffs of like character. This name, however, did not survive the pages of Gosnold's journal, and it remained for later comers to apply a name to it of their own conception. Some time before 1662 it was "called . . . by the English Gayhead," and this name has lasted as its title ever since. [Dukes Deeds, III, 12. It is always written Gayhead, as if one word, with a lower case h in head.] This name, of course, was given to it as descriptive of the gaily colored cliffs seen from the west when approaching the island from the sea.

The Algonquian names at that period were Aquinniuh and Kuhtuhquehtuet, which are elsewhere considered in their philology.


Under a resolve of the General Court, approved March 9, 1855, three commissioners, appointed by the Governor to establish a boundary between the Indian lands on Gay Head and the lands of the white inhabitants of Chilmark, determined upon the following lines:

Beginning at a rock on Nicodemus' Neck, on Squibnocket pond, thence due south across marsh and beach to the sea. From the same rock S. 55 E, across Squibnocket pond to a rock on Hillman's Point, so called; thence N. 10 1/2 E, crossing said pond to the southern end of a stone wall on Nashawaqueedsee, which parteth that neck from Gay Head; thence N. 25 E, three rods, by said wall; thence N. 47 1/2 E. sixty-seven rods, by said wall; thence N. 26 E. three and three-quarter rods, by said wall to its northern end, by Menamsha pond. Thence N. 51 1/4 E. crossing said Menamsha pond, in the direction of a rock upon Pease's Point, so called distant about four hundred and fifty rods, until it strikes the middle of the channel or outlet from said pond to the Sound; then by the middle of the said channel as the same now is, or hereafter may be, - the said channel being somewhat subject to change-unto the Vineyard Sound. [House Document, No. 48, pp. 8-9. Report of the Commissioners, John Vinson, Asa R. Nye and J. Whelden Holmes. A previous commission had run a division line about 1830 between Gay Head and Squibnocket, but no record of it remains.]

On all other sides it is bounded by the waters of the Sound and ocean.

The stone wall referred to has been the dividing line between Nashaquitsa and Gay Head for nearly two centuries. It was first set up in 1714, shortly after "The Corporation" acquired control of the land. [Sewall Diary.] The other lines are modern.


There is very little accurate material at hand for a resume of the population of this town, except within recent years. The inhabitants being of Indian extraction and of a roving disposition, gave but little concern to the census takers before the 19th century. In 1698 there were 260 souls reported as attending church services at Gay Head. [Report of Commissioners for Society for Propagating the Gospel.] There were fifty eight houses on Gay Head neck in 1712 (Sewall). In 1747 the guardians of the Indians stated that they were "in number about one hundred & twelve, men women and children," [Mass. Arch., XXXI, 550. There may be an error of 100 in the count. The report states: "the number of houses at Gayhead is 28; we compute four persons to a house which is 112, and of these about 19 Labouring men."] a decrease which is not understood, as shortly before 1786 they numbered 203, [Memoirs of American Academy, II, 153.] and in 1790 there were reported to be 276 Indians living in the peninsula. [information furnished by Capt. Thomas Jernegan and Benjamin Bassett that year (1st Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., I, 206).] In 1806 a traveler, visiting the island, states their number to have been 240 that year, [Kendall, "Travels," II, 196.] In 1838 there were 235 residents in the town. [Barber, "Historical Collections" (Mass.), 148.] In 1860 an official report states there were 46 families actually resident, comprising 204 souls, of whom 106 were male and 98 female. In addition to these there were 49 persons of the Gay Head " tribe " living elsewhere, temporarily, but claiming tribal rights, making a total of 253 belonging to the town by birth or residence.[Report of Indian Commission to Governor and Council, 1861. Senate Document, No. 96, pp. 30-1.] The oldest was 86 years of age, and six others were over seventy.

Since the incorporation of the town four national censuses give the following figures: 1870, 160 persons; 1880, 161; 1890, 139; and 1900, 173. The state census of 1905 showed a population of 178.



Aquiniuh (1662). - This name as applied to Gay Head, is composed of the words, Ukque-adene-auke, or Acquiadene-auke, meaning "land under the hill," perhaps referring to the shore under Gay Head itself.

Kugh-tah-quich-e-watt (1681). - This is the Indian name for the narrow neck of land joining Nashaquitsa and Gay Head. Kuh-kuh-equht-wutt, or Kuh-tuh-que-i-yeu-ut, means "at the going up," as of a hill, and probably refers to the topography of that region, the ascent to the Gay Head plateau. A variation used in 1687 was Catackutcho (Deeds, IV, 128).

Mash-atan-auke.-This aboriginal name has been curiously corrupted into "Shot and Arrow" and "Shot Nigher" hill! It is a compound word, meaning the "great hill land," descriptive of the hilly character of the neck.

Wanummusit.-This name occurs but once (1681) in the records, without any indication of its exact locality. It marked the terminal point of the sachemship of Metaark, starting from Nashaquitsa, and may refer to the Gay Head cliff.


Ever since the settlement of the Vineyard, in 1642, Gay Head has remained an Indian reservation and town, and very little of its annals in two hundred and sixty-seven years of existence relates to the white man or the white man's customs and development. Every attempt of the Caucasian to introduce himself with a view to permanent attachment has resulted in his withdrawal from the field, and today this peninsular and insular town is unquestionably Indian in the warp and woof of its very fibre.

As usual the English made early efforts to obtain it from its owners. The first occasion was when "Womsuttan alias Alexander, chief sachem of Cossomsett & of the rest of the country thereunto adjacent," sold Gay Head to William Brenton, merchant of Newport, on May 5, 1661-2. [Dukes Deeds, III, 12. This sale was "certified" by Tahcomahbatack, Papamoo Pessuccook, Poxine, Akeemo, Caleneanute, Teequannum, "natives and Inhabitants on the westermost end of Nope."] This sachem was the elder brother of King Philip and son of Massasoit of the Pokanoket tribe. In this sale he reserved one twelfth to himself. Nothing ever developed from this grant, as Brenton never made any attempt to claim the rights deeded to him. It may have been that the Sachem of Gay Head, Nohtoaksaet, refused to recognize this transfer made by a chief on the mainland, but for some reason it had the distinction of being recorded in our local land records and in the registry at New York. [It was recorded in 1670 at Fort James.]

After the death of Nohtoaksaet his younger son, Metaark, succeeded to the sachemship in the absence of an elder brother. In 1675 this elder brother returned to the Vineyard and claimed a portion of Gay Head as his birthright. The negotiations are thus recorded:

This was at Gayhead in 1675.

To me Mittark Sachim at Gayhead there came the person called Ompohhannut, and said I am older than thou art, and I ought to be the Sachim, for I am the first born of our father Nohtoaksaet; or otherwise I should have some part of the land of the Gayhead parted off to me, that so I may be still (or quiet) as may be found right by the Indian Sachims and Chiefmen.

Agreeable hereunto I Mettark, Sachim, and my Councel (or chief men) and also the Common Men of Gayhead did appoint a Great Court. We called the Sachims of this Island, and the people as far as the main land to find what might be right with respect to us and Ompohhannut, relating to his claim of land, or of the Sachimship; and we held a Court at that time in Sept. 1675; and we found or did thus in our Court:-we made or sent a jury to judge of the matter of Ompoh-hannuts rights in Gayhead and we gave them, the jury, such proves that what they should determine we would confirm. And these were their names:-Samuel Cashomon foreman, Hosea Manhut, John Hannet, Masquattukquit, Joshua Momatehogin, Stephen Togomasun, Japheth Hannet, Isac Ompany, Samuel James, Pattompan, Matthew Nohnahshesket, Joseph Pemmahchohoo.

And we the jury have found by persons knowing that Ompohhannut speaks true and in the whole, therefore, we now judge that in a division of four parts of the Gayhead, one belongeth to him, and all his heirs forever.

[Dukes Deeds. VI, 369.]

In accordance with the decision of the "Sachems and Chief Men" Metaark executed a deed conveying to his brother, Ompohhannut, one-quarter part of Gay Head, and requested the "Great Rulers among the English" to confirm the deed. [Dukes Deeds, VI, 370.]

Several years after this, on Sept. 11, 1681, Metaark issued a formal declaration, signed by himself and some of his chiefmen, that none of the lands in his sachemship should be alienated. In the quaint formulary of the Algonquian language this idea was expressed as follows:

I Mettack Sachem att Kuhtuhquehtuet and Nashauakquetget as far as Wanummuset:

Know yee all People that I Mettack and my principal men my children & people are owners of this: this our land forever. They are ours, and our offspring forever shall enjoy them:-

I Mettack and we principall men together with our children and all our people are agreed that no person shall sell any Land; but if any person will stealingly sell any Land: take yee your Land because it is yours forever: but if any one will not perform this Covenant he shall fail to have any of this Land at Kuhtuhquehtuut and Nashanaquetget forever:

I Mettack sachem and we princicpall men and our children say this shall be forever................

I Mettack sachem and my chief men speak this in the presence of God it shall be thus forever.

[Mass. Archives, XXXI, 10. This was signed by Metaark, John Keps, Puttuhquannon and Tasuapinu. The paper was used in 1700 at Barnstable before a committee of which William Bassett was a member. At that time Metaark had been a "praying Indian" for nearly twenty years.]


The authenticity of this document was disputed twenty years later, and it was alleged to be a forgery, as will be explained further on. Shortly after this the old sachem died, Jan. 20, 1683, and was succeeded by his son, called Joseph Metaark. Two years later (April 25, 1685) Matthew Mayhew received the grant of the "Manor and Lordship of Martin's Vineyard" from Governor Thomas Dongan of New York, and less than a month after (May 12th) the latter had purchased from the grantee the title and the property appertaining to it, as previously detailed. [Vol. I, 174-7.] ...

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