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The history of Martha's Vineyard, Dukes County, Massachusetts online

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further encroachments of the sea, when in 1893 the third and
present light-tower was built still further back from the tip
of the cape. The first keeper was Matthew Mayhew (360),
who continued in office until his death in 1834, when he was
succeeded by Lot Norton (1019) who held the post about
eight years.^ Succeeding keepers have been Aaron Norton,
Edward Worth, 1850-53; Daniel Smith, 1853-59;^ George R.
Marchant, 1859-65; Edward Worth, 1865; Jethro Worth,
George Fisher and George Dolby.

The light was originally a fixed one, but was changed
about 1885 to a revolving light.

The Harbor light was authorized by an act approved
May 23, 1828, and the sum of $5,500 was appropriated for
its erection about a quarter of a mile from the shore at the
harbor entrance.* Communication with the town was main-
tained by boats for over a year after its completion, when the
sum of $2,500 was allowed "for extending the pier on which
the lighthouse is built to the shore." 'J'his bridge was built
of wood and eventually cost $7,000 before it was completed;^
and by reason of its box construction it was frequently broken
by storms and ice. In 1847 the sum of $4,000 was allowed
for a breakwater of rock construction, and the existing stone
causeway was built on the lines as it runs to the shore today.

INDUSTRIES.

This town has never been a manufacturing centre, and
but few records are to be found relating to the production of
finished articles of merchandise from the raw material. The

^U. S. Statutes, II, 88; III, 405; comp. Mass. Laws, 1800, p. 70. The consider-
ation was $36 for four acres. It was the twelfth hght erected by the government on
the Massachusetts coast.

^An interim appointment of Benjamin C. Smith of Chappaquiddick followed
after Mayhew's death.

^During Mr. Smith's term the lighting power was changed from the reflector
system to prisms.

*U. S. Statutes, IV, 282; VIII, 64.

'Devens, "Sketches of Martha's Vineyard," p. 18.

187



History of Martha's Vineyard

sea and its wealth gave a distinctive feature to such industries
as grew into being here from time to time. The whale and
other fisheries have constituted the chief occupation of the
people from the earliest times to the last quarter of the past
century. The whaling industry has already been described.^
Second in importance were the general fisheries and the by-
products of marine sea foods. In 1850 the largest single
industry of this character was the oil and candle works of
Daniel Fisher & Co., with a capital of $40,000 invested in
the business, and the annual product for that year was 118,000
pounds of candles, 13,200 barrels of strained and refined oils.
With other minor products the annual value of this business
was reported to be $284,370, an industry far exceeding in
direct cash income to the town the whale fishery interests.
The general government was supplied with oil and candles for
the lighthouses by this firm, and this business grew in im-
portance in later years till the time of the Civil War. Whole
cargoes of oil were contracted for at one time, involving values
of over $100,000 at a purchase, and the industry gave em-
ployment to many men.

The general fisheries in 1850 yielded a value in product
of $15,325, of which $4,500 is credited to the Mattakeeset
herring fishery, the latter representing a catch of 1,250
barrels. At the present time the shell fisheries are an equally
important industry, and rival in value the other sea foods
collected in these waters for the metropolitan markets. It is
impossible to give an accurate account of the yield, financially
considered, of these several industries, but the value may be
estimated by a "catch" made in the first week of January,
1908, when about 10,000 of fish were taken by five boats, having
a market value of $2,000.

In the years preceding the Revolution the manufacture
of salt by the process of evaporation of sea water in large
wooden vats or pans was an important industry, and it was
followed up as late as 1840. This business, at one time so
valuable in the state, has entirely disappeared as an occupa-
tion hereabouts since the development of salt mining in other
sections of the country.

Other industries allied to the above sea products, cooper-
age, blocks and tackling, and boat building have been in

'Vol. I, pp. 430-451. The annual value of the whaling business to Edgartown
in 1850 was $83,267, but this was only the product of one vessel owned in the town
at that time, the ship Vineyard. (U. S. Census Report, 1850.)

188



Annals of Edgartown

existence in the town for brief periods in the past, but were
of ephemeral importance and are only worthy of incidental
mention/ The only mills operated in town have been pro-
pelled by wind power and were local grist mills only. Before
the days of the great manufactories of cloth the limited pro-
duction of hand looms from wool was an occupation of the
women in their spare hours, but of no great importance.

SCHOOLS.

The earliest mention of the subject of education in the
town records occurs under date of 1652, when the "school
house" is referred to, showing the establishment of schools
prior to that year. Peter Folger was the first school-master,
and the building where he taught was on the Old Mill path
near the Sarson lot on Slough hill. He probably kept school
until his departure from town in 1662, but it is not known
who was his successor, nor what arrangements were in existence
prior to the beginning of the next century. In 1687 Thomas
Peat was " skoollemaster of Edgartown," and the school was
then held in the house of Richard Arey.^ Not until 1710
is there further reference to the subject, when a committee
was chosen to procure a schoolmaster, to be paid at the rate
of ;^3o per annum ''for learning of children for to read, right
and learn arithmetick," with the privilege of "taking of six
scolers for the learning of Latten" outside of his school hours.'
In 1 71 2 Josiah Bridge, "now resident in Edgartown," was
chosen schoolmaster at the rate of ;^25 per annum, and two
years later the town voted "to hire him as reasonably as they
can." In 1723 Thomas Cathcart was called "schoolmaster
of Edgartown." From this time forward the records contain
almost yearly reference to the subject of schools, and the
manner of maintenance. Committees were chosen yearly to
hire masters, and an annual appropriation was made, varying
from ;,^45 in 1738 to ;^6o in 1747, for the support of education.
After this the amount dropped to ;^i3 in 1750 and £S in
1760, but this decrease may be explained by the fluctuations
of the provincial currency, in old and new tenor.

'A spool house, erected about 1777, is mentioned in the records, but its significance
is not known (Deeds, XI, 463).

'Dukes Court Records. The identity of this person is not established. It is
possible the name should be read Peac (Pease), as the writing in the records at this
date by the clerk of courts is execrable and often undecipherable.

'Town Records, I, 53.

189



History of Martha's Vineyard

The growth of the town northward, and the development
of the Farm Neck settlement, necessitated, as early as 1750,
the division of the school funds and separate schools for these
widely separated districts. The expedient of "moving"
schools was first adopted, meaning the holding of sessions
alternating in time and place between the districts. In 1760
the old school-house was sold, and in May, 1765, the town
voted that "there should be but one school house built in
the town and no more." This was located by a vote of 14 to 8
on the "road that leadeth to the meeting house," about fifteen
or twenty rods to the southward of Silas Marchant's, "a spot
near the center of the inhabitants," now Cleveland town.^
In the following month, however, two school-houses were
authorized, one of which was for the northern district in
Farm Neck, and ;^ioo was voted for this combined object.
Before the Revolution the town was divided into four dis-
tricts.^

The names of the school-masters do not appear in the
records, and only occasional collateral documents reveal them
to us. Ichabod Wiswall, a cousin of the pastor, was one
in 1746 and doubtless was such before and after this date.'

The growth of population in the next century necessitated
new district divisions, and schools at Pohoganut, the Plains,
and on Chappaquiddick were maintained in addition to
those in the village. The "old red school house" of song
and story, on Pease Point way near the meeting house, was
a landmark and a childhood reminiscence for the older gen-
eration now living, but it gave up its primacy before 1850,
and new buildings took its place in other sections. The
North school was situated on Planting Field way and ac-
commodated two grades, grammar and primary, for scholars
on that side of Main Street. The South School followed in
point of time, being dedicated in 1850, and was located on
the corner of School and High streets. It contained what
corresponds to the modern high-school grade, besides the
grammar and primary. At the present time the North school

'Town Records, I, 245-246.

*The north-west section was to draw its "proportionable" share, and a committee
of residents there appointed to locate the building. This arrangement was observed
ever after. In 1771 Chappaquiddick was granted a separate school with "their pro-
portion of money they pay" (Ibid, I, 295).

^Probate Records, III, 206. He was born in Newton, Mass., 1709, and was
graduated at Harvard. He married Jerusha Norton (404) of Edgartown and died
here in 1782 aged 78 years. He came of a family of teachers and ministers.

190




HON. LEAVITT THAXTER

FOUNDER OF THAXTER'S ACADEMY

I78S-1863



Annals of Edgartown

has the intermediate and primary grades, and the high and
grammar grades are taught in the South School.

Sometime before 1850 an additional school was built on
the corner of Summer and Thomas streets, and was in operation
for a number of years. The following named persons have
taught in Edgartown schools, and will be remembered by the
older residents: Frances E. Mayhew, Harriet R. Fisher,
Caroline Arey, Emeline Marchant, Eliza A. Worth, Maria
L. Norton, Eliza F. Pease, Hannah Davis, Eunice Lambert,
and Emily Worth. The masters have been George A. Walton,
Constant Norton, Joseph B. Gow, Richard L. Pease, John
J. Leland, Smith 13. Goodenow, and Henry Baylies.

THAXTER ACADEMY.

A complete survey of the subject of education in this
town could not be made without devoting adequate space
to the life and work of Hon. Leavitt Thaxter, a noble scion
of a worthy sire. Born here, March 13, 1788, the second
son of Parson Thaxter, he was trained for the duties of life
by his distinguished father. Although he had prepared for
Harvard College, which he entered at an early age, he did not
complete the course, but was led like so many of his youthful
companions by the lure of the sea, and apparently began the
life of a sailor. He made a number of voyages to the East
Indies, and during our second war with Great Britain, although
not a belligerent, he was made a prisoner at Calcutta, and
experienced the discomforts of a British prison in that climate.
After several years of the seafaring life, for which he was not
fitted, he turned to the work better suited to his temperament
and training. Gifted with a superior mind, his father had
encouraged him to use it for the benefit of others and urged
the occupation of a teacher as one best fitted for his talents.
A letter addressed to him by his father, bearing date New
Year's day, 1819, says: "I early devoted 3^ou to God. I have
spared no pains or expense to qualify you to act your part
gracefully as a man and a Christian. By my advice you have
devoted yourself to the instruction of youth. The office is
the most important and useful in which man can be employed.
That ought to be esteemed the most honorable which is the
most useful; it is so in the sight of God."

He taught in several towns in the western part of this
state, Leicester, Northampton, and Williamsburg, and in the

191



History of Martha's Vineyard

latter place found a wife in the person of Martha White May-
hew (741), whose grandfather, Paine Mayhew (201), had
emigrated in 1786 from Chilmark to that town. Thence
Thaxter went, in 18 19, to Sparta, Georgia, where he remained
three or four years in charge of a large and successful academy.
Returning to Edgartown in 1823, he decided to make this
his permanent home, and at once engaged in teaching. With
the aid and influence of his father he erected a school building
for his work on the northwest corner of Davis and Maple
streets, in 1825, and it was dedicated as Thaxter' s Academy,,
November 29th, by public exercises, in which an oration was
delivered by the principal.^ Here for the best part of a long
and useful life he followed the occupation of guide, philosopher,
and friend of the youth of his native town. One of his pupils
in an appreciative review of his career wrote as follows con-
cerning this school and its head : —

The school room where he presided was to those pupils who had caught
his spirit and imbibed his principles, a place of delight and not an irksome
prison house. Strict in his discipline, that was the place for vigorous
application and toilsome study; a paradise for those thirsting for knowl-
edge, but a hard and thorny way to the idle and obdurate. And then
the recess! Indoors and out what teacher ever more sought the comfort
and happiness of his pupils, or more bountifully provided for them the
means of amusement.

His life however was not all devoted to this special work.
He was eminently a leader of thought in all the things that
make for the development of the moral and material welfare
of a community, and his fellov/ citizens honored him with their
places of public trust, until the close of his life. He was
representative to the General Court (1830), senator from
this district (1836,-1847), and Governor's councillor (1839).
Under the National government he held numerous commis-
sions, including judge of the Court of Insolvency, and collector
of customs at this port. He was the first president of the
Dukes County Educational Association (1848), and the first
president of the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Association
(1858), and in this latter capacity his abilities as a practical
horticulturist made him something more than a parliamentary
head of this body. Not a few of the ornamental flora of

'This was published under the title "An Oration Delivered At The Dedication
of Thaxter's Academy in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard, November 29th, 1825. Also,
A Hymn Composed For The Occasion, By Leavitt Thaxter, New Bedford, 1825."
A copy is in the author's collection of the printed literature of the Island. The hymn
was probably composed by Parson Thaxter.

192



Annals of Edgartown

this town now adorning the private gardens were introduced
and cultivated by him, and generously given to others.

His human sympathies led him to entertain a practical
interest in the remnants of the tribe of Indians living in the
town, and in 1836, having been made their legal guardian,
he devoted nearly twenty years' service to their welfare. Such
was the confidence inspired by his execution of this apparently
thankless task, that he was always after regarded by them
as their trusted friend and counsellor, to whom they constantly
came for advice and encouragement. This distinguished son




THE "PARSON THAXTER" HOUSE

Built 1784-5

home of the parson and birthplace op leavitt thaxter

of Edgartown died at his residence on Davis street, Nov. 27,
1863, in the seventy-fifth year of his age, and he lies buried
beside his parents, whose name he bore with increased honor.
The portrait of Mr. Thaxter, which illustrates this, now
hangs in the office of clerk of courts, having been placed
there as a public memorial by "a number of his former pupils."
The sittings were given at their request in 1862, and the
artist, Cyrus Worth Pease (1091) of this town, succeeded in
painting an excellent likeness in his best style.



193



History of Martha's Vineyard

DAVIS ACADEMY.

Another institution for the higher grade of education was
established by David Davis of Farmington, Me. He v^as of
Vineyard ancestry, being the son of Sanford and Mary (Coffin)
Davis of Eastville, born Dec. 23, 1802, and returned to this
town in his early manhood. This school which prospered
under his management was unfortunately destroyed by fire
in 1836 after a few years of existence, but by the aid of con-
tribution from friends and patrons here he rebuilt. This new
academy building is still in existence On the corner of Maple
street, diagonally opposite the building formerly known as
Thaxter's Academy. Owing to ill health which followed
shortly after these events, Mr. Davis was obliged to suspend
teaching, but continued to reside here in the upper story of
this building. The schoolroom was used by other teachers
during the day and in the evening lectures, concerts and similar
public meetings were held in this room, generally called
** Davis Hall." Mr. Davis was a highly esteemed resident
and citizen and was honored by his neighbors in 1855 by an
election to the council, and when Governor Henry S. Gardiner,
his chief, visited Edgartown, he was tendered a public reception
in the schoolroom of his councillor. Mr. Davis died Nov.
6, 1868, at the age of 66 years, generally lamented.

MISCELLANEOUS ANNALS.

THE MASONIC ORDER.

Free Masonry had some following in this town about
1800 though no lodge was in existence here as early as that.
Several residents of Edgartown were members of King Solo-
mon's Lodge in Perfection at Homes Hole at this date and
others became affiliated later with Union. Lodge of Nantucket.
Thomas Cooke, Benjamin Smith and John Pease were mem-
bers of the former lodge, while Thomas M. Vinson, Jared
Coffin, James Banning and Valentine Pease were of the
Nantucket lodge. On Aug. 16, 1819, the Edgartown mem-
bers just named, with three others, laid before the lodge a
petition to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts to establish an
independent lodge in Edgartown, to be known by the name
of ''Seven Stars," and requesting Union Lodge to recommend
the granting of their petition. The lodge took the following
action : —



194



Annals of Edgartown

Voted: — That we recommend to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts
the following brethern to establish a Lodge in Edgartown Martha's
Vinyard : —

Rt. Wor. Thomas M. Vinson to be the first Master.
Wor. Samuel Wheldon to be the first S. W.
Wor. Samuel Worthman to be the first J. W.

The Grand Lodge acted favorably upon the recommen-
dation and the new lodge was chartered Sept. 13, 1820. The
Worshipful Master, Col. Thomas Melville Vinson was not
of the Edgartown family of this name, but a native of New-
port, R. I., where he was born in 1784 and his military title
came from service in the War of 181 2 under General Samuel
McComb on the northern frontier of New York.

Colonel Vinson married Hepsibah Young Marchant (160)
of this town April 5, 1814, and later removed to Dorchester,
Mass., where he resided until his death. He was an employee
in the customs service at the port of Boston, and falling on
the steps of the Custom House, March 4, 1852, received fatal
injuries from which he died four days later. His widow
survived twenty years, dying in Dorchester.

The Senior Warden, Dr. Samuel Wheldon (i 765-1841)
was a native of Edgartown where he married, but he removed
late in life to Coventry, Conn. Samuel Worthman, the Junior
Warden, was a transient resident, "a Scotchman by Birth,"
but he married here. It will be seen that the officers of the
lodge were not associated by birth with this town and that
fact may account for the entire absence of further knowledge
concerning its existence, if it had any, after the above quoted
records of its establishment

A lodge of Master Masons, under the jurisdiction of
Massachusetts, was chartered June 25, 1867, by the name of
Oriental Lodge, and it has been in existence for over forty
years and is now in a flourishing condition. The first officers
elected were: John Pierce, Worshipful Master; Grafton N.
Collins, Senior Warden; James M. Coombs, Jr., Junior
Warden; William L. Lewis, Secretary; and Jonathan H.
Munroe, Treasurer.

The first lodge-room was over the store of Frederick E.
Terrill, on North Water street, which was occupied until
removal to the present room over the store of Jonathan H.
Munroe on Main street. The first installation of officers,
after some brief existence under dispensation, was a public
ceremony held in the Methodist Church. The Grand officers

195 .



History of Martha's Vineyard

of the Grand Lodge of the State were present, and installed
the officers above enumerated in the presence of a large audience
of interested friends.

The following is a list of Worshipful Masters to the
present time: David J. Barney, Francis P. Vincent, Joseph
W. Donalson, Richard G. Shute, Jason L. Dexter, James C.
Sandsbury, John E. White, Zenas D. Linton, John N. Pierce,
Jeremiah Pease, Elmer E. Landers, and Thomas A. Dexter.

PHYSICIANS.

The practice of medicine in the early days has been
elsewhere described as carried on by the clergy, mid wives,
and often by lawyers. Besides those referred to the following-
named persons have followed this profession in the town in
the past two centuries: Solomon Bacon, 1720; John Sander-
son, 1724; Daniel Crittenden, 1747; Nathan Smith, ^ 1767-
^775? John Wright, 1782; Joseph Thaxter (during his
ministry), John Pierce, Samuel Wheldon, W. T. S. Brackett,
E. Maybury, Ivory H. Lucas, Daniel Fisher, Clement F. Shive-
rick, G. B. Cornell, Thomas J. Walker, Theodore P. Cleveland,
and E. P. Worth.

The long services of Dr. John Pierce in this community,
covering nearly half a century (1836- 18 79), deserve special
notice. He was a native of Lebanon, Conn., where he was
born Nov. 25, 1805, and he received his preliminary education
in Monmouth, Maine. He was graduated from Bowdoin
Medical School in 1833, and practiced for a few years in Maine
prior to his settlement in this town. While there he served
as surgeon to the troops called out to quell the disturbances
over the northeastern boundary. During his residence here
he was for eight years in charge of the U. S. Marine Hospital
Service at Homes Hole, and the medical examiner for Dukes
county from the establishment of that office till his death.
He became a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society
in 1840, and held various offices in that organization. He
was a valued town official in various lines of work, a prominent
Mason, and an active member and officer in the Methodist
Church. He died Nov. 25, 1885.



'He was not of the Vineyard Smith families. He was born in 1730 and prac-
tised at Stamford, Conn., before he came here. He removed to St. John, N. B., where
hedied in 1818.

196




DR. JOHN PIERCE
I 805- I 885



Annals of Edgartown



CEMETERIES.

The first tract set apart for the last resting place of the
dead was the acre on Burial Hill. It was on the home lots
of John Bland and John Eddy, adjoining the harbor end,
an equal part being taken from each, and probably was dedi-
cated to its purpose before the division of lots. In 1849 it
contained seventy-five stone memorials, all of slate, but this
number has been reduced in the last half century by breakage
and other causes.^

The second cemetery was a gift to the town in 1768;
the donation being made by Deacon Matthew Norton, "in
consideration of the love, good will and regard that he hath
toward the public worship of almighty God."^ It was an
acre in extent, and was situated on Pease Point way, adjoining
the lot on which the then new meeting house was being
erected. It has since been enlarged by subsequent acqui-
sitions. The first burials were in 1782, when six men of
Edgartown, drow^ned at Gay Head, were interred in the new
ground.^

There was a burial place at Aquampache used by the
residents of that locality, some time prior to 1836, but how
long it had been in existence is not known. In that year
an addition was made to it by Elihu P. Norton as guardian
of an estate.^

As happened in all communities there were private
burial places used by families on their own farms or homesteads.
The most important of these is the Mayhew graveyard on
South Water street, in the Collins lot, just north of the old
Mayhew house. This is doubtless the place where Governor
Mayhew was buried, also Major Matthew Mayhew and his

'The list of these stones was made by Richard L. Pease in April, 1849, and pub-



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