Annals of Gosnold by Dr. Charles E. Banks



The following pages are from pp. 3 - 9 of
The History of Martha's Vineyard Volume II
by Dr. Charles E. Banks (originally published 1911.)


The chain of a dozen islands, large and small, running westward from the mainland of Cape Cod at Woods Hole, between Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound, constitute the Elizabeth Islands, known now as the town of Gosnold, an integral part of the County of Dukes County. These islands, varying in size from a few acres to several thousand, now bear the following names, beginning at Woods Hole and going westward in sequence: Nonamesset, Uncatena, Monohansett, Naushon, Weepecket, Pasque, Nashawena, Penekese, Gull, and Cuttyhunk. They have been, since the first purchase by Mayhew in 1641, a part of the political life of Martha's Vineyard and this county, at first forming one of the outlying portions of the Manor of Tisbury, later of Chilmark and for the past quarter of a century as an independent township.


There are but few references at hand for computing the number of persons living on these islands before 1800, and none prior to the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1761 it was stated that there were "near twenty families" here, and we can estimate that this represents about ninety souls. In 1777 there were reported seventeen families and "about 100 souls" (Mass. Arch., CXVII, 758). The census of 1790 gives 13 on Cuttyhunk, 10 on Nashawena, 21 on Pasque, and 59 on Naushon, a total of 103.

No further records of the separate enumeration of people resident here until after its incorporation as a township exist. The decennial censuses of the United States show the popula lion of Gosnold as follows: In 1870 it was 99; in 1880 it was 152; in 1890 it was 135; in 1900 it was 164. The state census of 1905 showed a population of 161 in the entire group.


The voyage of Captain Bartholomew Gosnold and his landfall at Nomans Land in the spring of 1602! has been narrated in this history (Vol. I, pp. 59-65), and it will only be necessary to refer to his landing and settlement on the westernmost of the group, now called Cuttyhunk. Leaving Nomans Land on May N, 1602, the "Concord" sailed past Gay Head, which was "doubled," in their course, "and then came into a fair sound where we rode all night." This was the Vineyard Sound. "The next morning," the journalist continues, "we sent off one boat to discover another cape that lay northwest of this, between us and the main, from which were a ledge of rocks a mile into the sea, but all above water and without danger.'' [The "Sow and Pigs" reef.] Sailing around this they anchored in "one of the stateliest sounds," which was named by them Gosnold's Hope.[Now called Buzzards Bay.] "This island," near which they dropped anchor, wrote the journalist, "Captain Gosnold called Elizabeths Isle," the one now known by its Indian name, Cuttyhunk. [At the close of his narrative of the voyage the statement is repeated as to Captain Gosnold naming it, "which he called Elizabeths Island," is the language used. It may be assumed that it was bestowed in honor of the Queen of England.] This little Elizabeth's Isle, has thus survived three centuries as one of the landmarks of the early voyagers, and spread itself in the plural form over the entire group. [In 1702 Wait Winthrop, in a letter, spoke of the present Naushon as Elizabeth's Island.]

These islands thus taken possession of and named became English soil by right of discovery and occupancy. They were included in the territorial grant of the King to the Council for New England in 1606, but when that corporation dissolved in 1635, and divided the New England coast among them selves they were not assigned by name to either Gorges or Stirling. In the then hazy knowledge of this region it can not be said which of the members of the Council had a definite legal claim to these islands.


Stirling's agent asserted his right of jurisdiction over them, however, as he had done in the Vineyard and Nan tucket, and when he sold those two islands, in 1641, he gave Thomas Mayhew, under date of Oct. 23, that year, a sup plementary authorization to "plant" upon the Elizabeth Isles. The agent of Gorges made no pretensions of title to them. At this time they were probably unsettled, either by whites or Indians. Three years before this (1638) Underhill, in his "Newes from America," stated that the "Elizabeth Ilands all these places are yet uninhabited." It does not appear that Mayhew took any steps to attract settlers or to dispose of his rights to others for many years, nor is there any contemporary evidence of Englishmen living here for the next twenty-five years. The name of Quick's Hole is of contemporary usage (before 1670), and suggests an original form of an English surname of a person who may have lived at that place. [One William Quick, a mariner, was of Charlestown (1636), and removed to Newport two years later. He left Rhode Island in June, 1644, on account of religious troubles [4th Mass. Hist. Coll., V, 194; VII, 55, 323-4]. His avocation as a mariner would naturally lead him to and fro through the Vineyard Sound when going betweenBoston and Newport.] This, however, is but a conjecture.

Mayhew and his son began, in 1654, the purchase of the Indian "rights" to these islands, securing Cataymuck first (1654), while Nonamessit "with several other islands" had been conveyed by the Sachem Seayick in various deeds, before 1668, but unrecorded. Coincident with this, in the larger domain of government politics, the proprietorship of these islands was being transferred from Lord Stirling's heirs to the Duke of York, in 1663, although in the Duke's Patent of 1665 they are not mentioned by name. This, however, was of small moment to court politicians, and on Jan. 3, 1667-8, Colonel Richard Nicolls, the Duke's representative in New York, wrote to Mayhew that "all the Islands except Block Island from Cape Cod to Cape May are included in my Masters patent." This was sufficiently comprehensive to include the Elizabeth group, and Col. Francis Lovelace, in his notice of May 16, 1670, addressed it "to all Persons concerned who lay clayme or have any presence of Interest in any of the Elizabeth Isles," among the other places enumerated. By this process of benevolent assimilation these waifs and strays on the map came to be under the jurisdiction of New York. The individual ownership of such indefinite property was of little concern in those times, and transfers of title were seldom recorded. For this reason the early holders of the several islands composing this group have pretty successfully evaded detection. It is known that some of them were purchased before 1671 by William Brenton of Newport, but no record of it has been preserved other than an adjudication of his title in that year. [In his will, proved Nov. 13, 1674, Brenton gave to his son-in-law, Peleg Sanford, "all interests in Elizabeth Islands and Gay Head lands." The inventory of his estate includes "my part in Elizabeth Island, 40."]


This group of islands was known as Nashanow to the Indians of the seventeenth century, and the following statements relative to the aboriginal ownership of some of the group establishes the priority of this name. It is the only occurrence of it known to the author, and its similarity to Naushon will be noted. Probably it is the origin of the name of the largest island, Naushon.

The testimony of Old Hope, the Indian of Mannomett, as followeth:- Saith, that tree knew the little island, lying next Saconessett, called Nanomeesett, and a necke of land or little iland called Uckatimest, belonging to the great iland called Katomucke, and another little iland lying between the said great iland and Nanomesett belonging to Job Antiko, his grandfather Comucke, and soe to Jobs father, Thomas Antiko; and said Hope further saith that the said great iland, called Katomucke, and another little iland called Peshchameesett, to belonge to Webacowett.

Washamwatt, Indian of Nanomeesett, witnesseth also to the truth of what the abovesd Hope hath affirmed as abovesaid.

And William Numacke testifyeth that tree hath heard his father, Nanquatumacke, often say the same things as is above testifyed by Hope and Washawatt concerning the ilands comonly called Nashanow Ilands.

And Washamatt further testifyeth that he hath heard the abovesaid Thomas Antiko to give the above said Iland Nanomeesett, and the said necke and little iland unto his two sons James and the abovesaid Job Antiko, for many year agon, being near the time that Napoitan, sachem of Barnstable died of the smale pox. [PIymouth Colony Records, VI, 21, 22. The date of this testimony is not given in the record but it was not far from 1675.]

The meaning of this word Nashanow is uncertain, but probably signifies the midway islands, between Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound.


It is doubtful if there were many Indians who lived on these islands as a permanent abode. They were not fitted for their support on account of their size, with the exception of Naushon, and we may conclude that they were temporary habitations for them during the summer season and when the fishing was good. These Indians seemed to have no tribal connection with those of the Vineyard, but held allegiance to the Sachem of Buzzards Bay, who was a vassal of "a great Sachime upon the Mayne near Pacannakicke." In 1654 Seayick was the local Sachem and in 1666 it was Quaquaquijott.

Few myths and traditions of Algonquian origin relating to these islands have been preserved. Wait Winthrop, Jr., who used to spend some vacations here about 1700 at his father's island (Naushon), has recorded some that he heard. One was to the effect that before the English came to America there was a white whale kept in the great pond at the west end of Naushon. Another relates to the great Indian deity building a stone bridge from the mainland to Nonamessitt, during which he was bitten by a crab. Snatching his hand away suddenly with pain he flung the crab over to Nantucket whence grew all the crabs in that region.

There is a singular absence of Algonquian place names, exclusive of the names of the islands forming the group, and this is a further indication that it was not much more than a place of resort and rather less than an abode. In 1671 Mayhew stated that there were "15 families [of Indians] at Elizabeth Iles 7 whereof praying families."

These islands were likewise in the missionary field of the Mayhews, the work beginning about this date with some native converts as assistants to the elder Thomas Mayhew. How long the work was continued regularly is not known, but John Weeks was preaching to the Indians in 1700 at a salary of 10 per annum, [New York Col. Doc., IV, 75.] and later a native preacher, Jannohquosso, held services here. In 1727 another native, Daniel Shohkau, "still preached the Gospel to a few families at Winthrops Island" (Naushon). With the increase of the white settlers the conditions were not favorable nor congenial for the two races to live on these small islands together, and it is probable that the last Indian had left before the close of that century. [Mayhew, "Indian Converts", 123, 131.]


When the Mayhews were in New York arranging their affairs with Governor Lovelace in 1671, the charter of Tisbury Manor was created on July 8th, as explained elsewhere, and this group of islands was made a part of that disjointed manor. Its connection with the town of Chilmark thus began and was to continue for nearly two centuries. Again, on Nov. I, 1683, it was included by name in the establishment of Dukes County as "Elizabeth's Island,"-and when the Lordship and Manor of Martha's Vineyard was created in 1685 the Elizabeth Islands were included in the new dignity. [In the transfer of the Manor back to Governor Dongan, the Elizabeth Islands were not in the "excepted" list and inferentially they remained a part of the Lordship, though never after mentioned in its affairs.] After the transfer of jurisdiction from New York to Massachusetts by the charter of 1691, the Elizabeth Islands were again named in the act confirming the settlement of the County of Dukes County. From these various acts this group came to have a habitation and a name, and henceforth its status was fixed. A curious legal complication occurred in connection with them shortly after the change. A suit for trespass on the island of Naushon had been entered for the October term of the County Court at Edgartown in 1695, and the defendant, Anthony Blaney by his attorney, demurred to the competency of the court to try the case. He contended that the Justices and "the Marshall who a rested him" had no authority "for such action on Ilesabeth Ilands" because their commissions were for "Marthas Vineyard" only. Upon an examination of this allegation the judges were forced to "allow the defendants plea Sufficient to barre such proceedings." New commissions were accordingly issued the next year in which the words "Dukes County" was substituted for "Martha's Vineyard," and the defect was healed. [Mass. Archives, Council Records, II, 421.]

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