The present limits of West Tisbury represent the old township of Tisbury as it was originally laid out, and the history of this town, though the latest creation in our corporate galaxy, begins actually two and a third centuries ago. West Tisbury occupying as it does the original settlement once called Middletown is therefore the historic Tisbury, though bearing a modified title. The Algonquian name of this locality was Takemmy, as it is generally written in English by the first settlers.
Taacame and Taukemy are variations of the Indian name for the territory mostly comprised in the present town of West Tisbury. Through this section flows the largest stream on the island, and this big "river" when the whites first purchased Takemmy in 1669-70 was called "Old Mill River" giving evidence that some sort of a mill had been erected there by previous settlers or residents of the island long before its purchase from the natives, possibly soon after the settlement of Edgartown. This first mill was, probably, a primitive affair, but quite sufficient for the wants of the settlers. It is possible that it was merely a large wooden mortar and pestle run by an undershot wheel, enclosed by a temporary structure. The road leading from Edgartown to Takemmy was and is still called the " Mill Path, " and the road from Chilmark running east to Takemmy was also called the " Mill Path " as early as 1664. These facts are strongly corroborative of our study of the name. The full etymology of it is Tackhum-min-eyi, of which -hum is a special affix, and implies exertion of strength, as he forces him or it after the manner expressed by the root Tack, i.e., to pound, grind, strike the object which is -min, (Grammar of the Cree, 86, 87). Min was the generic term for any small berry, nut or grain. Here it denotes the grain, par excellence, corn, (Trumbull). In the Narragansett and Massachusetts dialects Mayi, May or Meyi, signifies a path, road, which is formed from the suppositive (subjunctive) of the verb au, auf, meaning he goes to or towards (a place), with the indefinite m' prefixed, where anybody goes (Trumbull).
Hence we have ackhum-min-eyi, with the reading "where anybody goes to grind corn," in allusion to the mill erected by the whites.
The original bounds of Tisbury, as given in the charter of 1671 were as follows:-
neare the middle of the said Island on the south side thereof granted to several Inhabitants, freeholders there for a Towne-ship, who have made purchase of the Indian Right, the said Towne formerly known by the name of Middle-Town, the Precincts whereof are bounded on the East by the Land heretofore belonging to the Sachem Towonquateck: on the West by Nashowakemmuck: on the South by Qua-niems & a fresh Pond & on the North by the Sound:
When West Tisbury was incorporated, May 1, 1892, it was given the following division lines, as shown by the several bound marks between the towns adjoining to her limits:-
WEST TISBURY AND TISBURY
1st. Stone monument at Makonikey near the Sound shore.
2nd. same on top of the hill at Makonikey.
3rd. same on south side of North Shore Road, near old school house site.
4th. same, top of hill, southerly from No. 2, in D. D. Norton's pasture.
5th. same in woods, westerly from outside gate of Shubael Weeks' place.
6th. same on south side of West Tisbury-Tisbury State Highway.
7th. same south-westerly from M. M. Smith's, in edge of the woods.
8th. same on easterly side of Chickamoo Path.
9th. the "four town bound."
WEST TISBURY AND EDGARTOWN
1st. Stone monument at the "four town bound."
2nd. same on south side of Farm Path.
3rd. same on south side of Smith's Path.
4th. same on north side of West Tisbury-Edgartown Road-old track.
5th. same on south side of Watcha Road.
6th. same on south side of first clump of woodland in Watcha.
7th same on south side of obscure wood road in Watcha.
8th same on south side of middle section of woodland in Watcha.
9th. same on south side of southermost woodland in Watcha.
10th. same near South Beach on the bluff.
WEST TISBURY AND CHILMARK
1st. Rock in Vineyard Sound, with a copper bolt.
2nd. Stone monument in Prof. Shaler's Place, on top of hill.
3rd. Great Rock, (Wascoseems).
4th. Stone monument in Orlin F. Davis' meadow.
5th. same on South Road at "Nab's Corner."
6th. same at southerly side of Look's brook, westerly side of road.
7th. same about four rods easterly from No. 6.
8th. same on South Beach, at the half width of the Tisbury Great Pond.
The above limits are practically those of the original township grant.
West Tisbury had no known population before 1670, when the four proprietors made their first purchase of the soil and opened it up for settlement. From a computation based on the genealogies of families known to have been living here ten years later (1680) we can enumerate about 120 souls resident then. The map of Simon Athearn (1694) shows twenty-two houses in the town, and as families always exceed houses in numbers, we may reckon 25 families of five each at that date, or a total of 125 souls. Removals and the opening up of Chilmark to settlement took away in the intervening time what would be the normal increase. In 1700 there were probably about 150 people here. No further basis of computation until 1757 has been found. In a list of members of the "Foot Company" for that year, 132 men are listed for military service, and-using the accepted multiple-a total of 660 souls can be reckoned as then living in the town.
The first Provincial census of 1765 shows the following figures relating to Tisbury:-families 100, comprising a total of 838 souls, living in 110 houses. Of these there were 226 males and 233 females above sixteen years of age; 165 males and 166 females below sixteen; 9 negroes (4 male and 5 female) and 39 Indians (15 male and 24 female). Tisbury was then the smallest town, numerically, on the Island, though second excluding negroes and Indians. In the census of 1776 there were 1033 persons resident in the town.
The first federal census of 1790 gives us an enumeration by names, and from this the following statistics are drawn: total population, 1,135 (whites), of which number there were 287 males above sixteen years, 238 below sixteen, and 609 "free white" females and seven "other free persons," presumably negroes. Tisbury was then the second town in population on the Vineyard. All computations, however, do not make any distinction between the two sections (Homes Hole and West Tisbury) which then made up the whole town.
The following figures show the population of Tisbury as enumerated in the decennial censuses of the United States from 1800 to the present time: In 1800 it was 1092; in 1810, 1202; in 1820, 1223; in 1830, 1317; in 1840, 1520; in 1850, 1803; in 1860, 1631; in 1870, 1536; in 1880, 1518; in 1890, 1506; in 1900, 1149.
The population of Tisbury reached the maximum in 1850 and showed a gradual decrease to 1900, when the population was but fifty-seven above that of the census of 1800. The town of West Tisbury, which was formed from Tisbury in 1892 had a population of about 450, and the loss in the census of 1900 is thus accounted for to the parent town.
Tisbury was the first in population of the three original towns, 1860-1890 inclusive, as shown in the three decennial censuses. The state census of 1905 showed a population of 1120.
The settlement at Great Harbor had continued for twenty five years to be the sole settlement on the island, but by 1666 the necessity for an extension of their territorial occupation became more apparent, and it is probable that by this date some persons had taken up land here, or occupied it for tillage purposes. Doubtless the attraction to this place was the fine water courses and the fertile meadows, which have made this the garden spot of the Vineyard. In what way the original proprietors of Tisbury were induced to invest in this territory is not known. They had no previous association with the Vineyard as land owners, nor were they connected by marriage with any of the existing families on the island. Surmises on the influences which caused them to turn their faces hither would be useless. It is sufficient to state that on the first day of July, 1668, as a result of previous negotiations, Thomas Mayhew gave authority to William Pabodie and Josiah Standish of Duxbury, and James Allen of Sandwich to enter into agreement with the Sachem of Takemmy to buy what land they wished within his bounds, and confirming previous purchases made by them. ...