Notes on the Genealogical Origins of Martha's Vineyard Families

Notes on the Genealogical Origins of Martha's Vineyard Families

The following pages are from pp. vii - x of the preface to
The History of Martha's Vineyard Volume III
by Dr. Charles E. Banks (originally published c. 1925.)

Source of Immigration

The first settlers of Edgartown came from a limited area, principally from the towns tributary to Boston, Watertown, Dorchester, Salem, Weymouth while a few were drafted from the several Cape settlements. The new town of Tisbury, after 1690, drew a goodly number from Sandwich and Plymouth, Hampton, N. H., and Salisbury. At the beginning of the 18th century there was a gradual influx of new inhabitants from the adjoining island of Nantucket, the towns on the shores of Buzzards Bay, and always a contribution from some of the contiguous villages on Cape Cod. About 1770 our first Portuguese resident (Jose Diaz or Joseph Dias) came to Tisbury and he was followed by several others before 1800. In the last century there has been a steady increment from the Western Islands. The only alien element in our population, excepting an occasional "stray".

Family Peculiarities

It is an interesting fact that certain families who have lived on the Vineyard for two hundred years or more have been identified almost exclusively with the town where they originally settled. Considering the limited area of the island this is quite remarkable, but it is a fact that many families are scarcely ever known to have lived outside of the original habitation of their immigrant ancestor.




The Mayhews are found in plenty in Chilmark and Edgartown, but almost never in Tisbury.

Certain families of the Vineyard are almost unknown else where in New England, as Mayhew, Athearn, Luce, Hillman, Manter and it is safe to say that any person bearing those names anywhere in 1800 were descendants of our Vineyard blood. Exception is to be made, of course, to "strays" who wandered to America from England for transient residence.

Like all other people of their time with current custom predominating, our island families preserved certain names in families. There has been a peculiar tendency to perpetuate family names as baptismal names, particularly names of the first settlers who left no male issue, as Bayes, Sarson, (corrupted to Sisson) Whitten, Eddy. There has been a Bayes Norton in the latter family from 1698 to the present day.

Emigration to the Mainland

While there was a constant ebb and flow of people between Nantucket and the Cape and the Island, there was no exodus of distinct character until the last quarter of the 18th century. The newer settlements in northwestern Massachusetts were being opened up and land was freely granted there to desirable persons for the asking or it could be cheaply bought. This region between the outbreak of the Revolution and 1790 attracted a large number of Vineyard people to its fertile valleys and wooded hills. Whether this migration was due to surplus age of population here, the infertility of the soil or the constant annoyance of vessels of war marauding the island, is not clear. But one thing is of traditional memory as a factor in the causation of the exodus. For several generations almost every family on the Vineyard had paid its toll of death to the remorseless ocean. Mothers, wives and sisters would see their "men folks" go forth in the frail craft of that period to scour the seven seas for the leviathan of the ocean, never to return alive to their island home. In time this tribute of human life to the perils of the deep became a constant spectre haunting their visions by day and their dreams by night. They came to wish for the time to come spoken of in the promises of the Revelations—"and there shall be no more sea". The romance and mystery of the vast waters held no more charm for them and their one desire was to go to some remote inland country far from its sound and sight where they would have no more of the awful reminders of those tragic and often unknown deaths tallied up at the season's close as "lost at sea". In this spirit doubtless many went to the hill country of western Massachusetts, and for a like reason, certainly, a large quota of Vineyard families sought the productive valley of the Kennebec in Maine about 1790 and became the pioneers of Farmington, Industry and New Vineyard. A considerable number went to eastern New York about the same time probably, attracted thither by their kinsmen, who had pushed on there after a brief earlier sojourn in the hill towns of Franklin County, Massachusetts.

About the time of the second British war another contingent left the Vineyard and went into the new "Western Reserve" called Ohio and aided in the development of that splendid state.

Resident Families 250 Years Old

About a score of families who were settled here prior to 1700 are still represented by name in the male lines at this time, viz:— Allen, Butler, Cottle, Cleveland, Chase, Coffin, Daggett, Dunham, Hillman, Lambert, Look, Luce, Mayhew, Manter, Marchant, Merry, Norton, Pease, Smith, Tilton, Vincent, and West. Those printed in italics in this list have been here for 250 years or more, seven in all, and these seven are the most prolific of all the Vineyard families.

In this same period nearly two score of families have disappeared entirely from the Vineyard in the male line, either through failure of issue or removal. Of the former class may be named Bayes, Browning, Bland, Eddy, Gee, Harlock, Presbury and Sarson; of the latter class the names of Cathcart, Covell, Cartwright, Foster, Gray, Homer, Hunt, Hatch, Jenkins, Jones, Kelley, Martin, Milliken, Skiff, Trapp, Wass, Weeks, and Wheldon have no male representation on the island today.

As above stated some families have maintained a numerical supremacy in the past two and a half centuries, and the following table will prove of interest in showing comparative results, viz:-

      NAME        1790      1800      1810        1850
                 CENSUS	   CENSUS    CENSUS      CENSUS
      Allen        13        19        21          11
      Athearn       9         9        14          16
      Butler       23        15        11           7
      Chase         7         3         5           5
      Cleveland     6         8         9          16
      Coffin       13        14        13          19
      Cottle       10         8        12           8
      Daggett      15        14        13          21
      Davis         8         3         5          12
      Dunham       16        20        16          15
      Fisher       14        13        20          17
      Hillman      13         9         9          12
      Look         10        10        10          10
      Luce         41        45        49          66
      Manter        7         6         9          12
      Merry         8         7         7           5
      Mayhew       26        27        25          38
      Norton       39        33        24          50
      Pease        27        22        26          31
      Tilton       16        14        18          21
      Vincent       9        14        16          25

It will be noted that the Luce family was the leading factor in populating the island fifty years ago with Norton second, followed by Smith, Mayhew, Pease and Vincent in the order named. The Allen, Butler, Chase, Cottle and Merry families show a loss, the Butlers especially, with a drop from 23 to 7 households in the period of sixty years, 1790 to 1850. The others about hold their place without much loss or gain.

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