Charles Edward Banks.

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

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Mayhew, who was a contemporary, said "he was a man of
sense and of a regular and Christian life and conversation."
In 1763 Silas Paul was ordained as the pastor. He was born
about 1738, was baptized in 1758, and at the age of twenty-
five began a service as pastor which covered nearly a quarter
of a century. He died in 1787, and his gravestone is one of
the few remaining stones marking the burial places of Indians
on Gay Head. He was the only Baptist minister on the
Vineyard during his ministry. According to the church
records his pastoral labors do not appear to have been success-
ful. "The church at this time," it is written, "was very low

*Sewall, Diary, III, 397. With his well-known fondness for details, as amply
illustrated in his voluminous diaries it is improbable that he would have neglected to
state that this schism had existed for nine years (since 1693) if such had been the case.
The absence of any reference to it in 1698, when commissioners of the Society visited
Gay Head, and Sewall's failure to indicate any lengthy existence to it, confirm the view
that it was of recent growth.

^Backus, Church History, T, 438.


History of Martha's Vineyard

respecting vital piety and practical religion." In 1774 the
society had but thirteen members. " He was succeeded in 1792
by Thomas Jeffers, a native of Plymouth, born 1742, and a
resident of Middleboro in his adult life. He was fifty years of
age when he took charge of this church, but it is said he was
a man of considerable native ability and well received by his
flock. He died Aug. 30, 181 8, aged 76 years, after a service
of about twenty-five years. ^ He followed farming as a principal


means of support as the society could not provide for a clergy-
man who relied on their contributions for a livelihood. At
this date this denomination was worshipping in a meeting-
house of its own. It was a plain wooden structure and stood
"on the brow of a steep hill," about a mile eastward of the
lighthouse.^ How long the vacancy in the pulpit existed after

'A visitor to Gay Head, in 1807, makes the following comment: "The Anabaptist
Clergyman is a large farmer and was when young of great promise, but he is now given
up to drink" (Kendall, Travels, II, 197).

^Kendall, Travels, II, 197.


Annals of Gay Head

Mr. Jeffers death we do not learn, but it appears that in 1830
fifteen members of the society became affiliated with the
Baptist church at Homes Hole/ Whether this occurrence
was precipitated by the lack of a pastor is not known. Two
year^ later they were dismissed to form an independent society,
April 8, 1832, with Joseph Amos, a Marshpee Indian, as
pastor. He was entirely blind, but is described as ''a preacher
of considerable ingenuity."^ The first deacons were Simon
Johnson and Johnson Peters, and Zacheus Howwaswee, parish
clerk. In 1838 there were forty seven communicants; about
sixty in 1861 and 40 in 1870. He supplied the pulpit until
his death, after which the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary
Society began (1855) its supervision over the church and gave
it financial support. The following named clergymen have

since served as pastors: Bray, Sawyer,

Charles G. Hatch, 1861-5; George B. Fitts, 1866-8; Gilman

Stone, 1869-71; Snow, 1872-3; Charles Kent, 1874-7;

Messrs. Shields, father and son, 1877-87; Thompson,

1887; Allen, 1893; Charles Kent; Eng-

strom; Louis B. Purmort, 1900-01; William Carpenter,
1902-04; George W. Hawkins (died June, 1906); and Clarence
L. Whitman, the present incumbent.


It may be assumed that after the establishment of the
Christian worship in this town some means were taken to
provide schools for the education of the Indian children.
Of the character, number, location or scope of such school
or schools we have no record. Doubtless the preachers could
read the scriptures in the Indian tongue, and there were
probably others of the quicker-witted sort who could do the
same. These preachers usually acted as school teachers with
the meeting-house for a schoolroom, and they used the Indian
bible, primers and catechisms as text books. A visitor, in 1702,
wrote that there were here "two schoolmasters chiefly for
winter, Josias Hassawit the Anabaptist preacher and Peter
Chavin."^ It is not probable that English received much
attention, if any, and doubtless what little the children learned
was picked up by association with the whites. In 1714, in

'Records, Baptist Church, Vineyard Haven. In 1827 a Sunday school had been

^Barber, Historical Collections of Massachusetts, 148.
'Sewall, Diary, HI, 397.


History of Martha's Vineyard

an assemblage which numbered nearly half the population,

inquiry was made " if any one could read English

At last only two young men were produced. I set him [ Josiah
Hosuit Jr] to read in my Psalmbook with red Covers and then
gave it him. Promised a testament to the 2d [Abel Sacahcas-
sauet]."^ We may believe that theological books, catechisms
and sermons, however excellent in design, were not calculated
to encourage the spirit of learning in these youthful aborigines,
and the lack of proper text books suited to their age and capacity
prevented the spread of knowledge among them.

The first schoolhouse of which we have any definite
knowledge existed in 1807 in the basement of the Baptist
church and was described in the following terms: ''Beneath
against the hill is an apartment of stone called by no better
name than the cellar, in which, a school master keeps the
Indian school. The winter season is the only part of the year
in which it is kept .... Some of his scholars are remark-
ably apt and the rest are not below the ordinary level. "^ The
person who then taught in this forbidding "apartment" was
Ebenezer Skiff, the light keeper, who walked a mile daily over
the sandhills to fulfill his task. Frederick Baylies, the mission-
ary, succeeded him for a brief period about 1815,^ and he was
followed by a native, Aaron, son of Cyrus Cooper. Of him a
modern authority on local annals writes: "After many years
spent in 'furrin parts,' where he learned to speak French
and acquired much other information — where he had
possessed himself of a set of navigation instruments and many
books — Aaron returned home, and his learning soon secured
him employment as a teacher."* Another returning son of
Aquinniuh, fresh from traveling "abroad," Tristram Weeks
(b. 1800), was the next teacher, and many of the books used
by him are still preserved. He received in part payment for
his services the timber that then remained in the abandoned
Congregational meeting-house.

At this time, as in the past, and until 1870, the school
system was under the control of the state, which paid the
expenses, in part, for the Indians were wards of the Common-
wealth with a commissioner to govern them. The reports

'Sewall Diary, III, 432. Josiah was afterwards a preacher.

^Kendall, Travels, II, 196.

^A recent writer in referring to this teacher said: "This pedagogue occupied
three chairs and spent much of his time in sleeping" (Vanderhoop, "Gay Head
Indians, &c.," in New Bedford Evening Standard).



Annals of Gay Head

of these commissioners, regular and special, show an unpromis-
ing and generally wTetched state of affairs in the school. In
1849, for example, there was an inadequate supply of books
for reading and writing according to the commissioner. ''But
the contemptible and beggarly appropriations (from $50 to
$100)," says one of their people who had investigated this
subject, "continued to be doled out by the anxious authorities,
who never allowed their love of enlightenment and their ' interest
in the cause of education ' to run away with their parsimonious
principles. Is it any wonder that little or no creditable work
was ever performed by the natives? Those having the funds
in charge always recommended the employment of home
talent in order to keep the money at home. Here was a fine
example of the blind leading the bhnd."^ About this time
young ladies from other towns on the island came to teach,
one of whom, Mary Jane Tilton (Mrs. Cottle), is most pleasant-
ly remembered for her care and attention to the children under
her charge.

The missionary preacher. Rev. Mr. Hatch (1861-5), gave
a new impetus to the cause. Those students who had the
desire, and those whom he could influence to learn more than
was provided in the curriculum, were encouraged to come to
his home, where he taught them the higher and more useful
branches. His untimely death seemed a blow to the prospects
of the scholars, but another, equally as zealous, was found to
take up the work. Rev. George B. Fitts of Middleboro. This
young man was just out of college (1866), and for nearly three
years he was the "guide, philosopher and friend" of these
wards of the State, and by the application of methods suitable
to the molding of this crude material, the school made a great
stride forward.^ Through his influence philanthropic people
in Boston became interested in the work, funds were secured
for the modern equipment of a schoolhouse, and visits of
these influential patrons gave an added encouragement to the
pupils. The school term then comprised eight months, and
the expense, about $300, was borne, in part, by the state.
A special committee of the General Court appointed in 1869,
reported favorably on this appropriation as follows:

In view of the peculiar situation of this people and their circumstances
we earnestly hope this aid will be continued. In no better way can the

'Vanderhoop, "Gay Head Indians, &c.," in New Bedford Evening Standard.
^Some of his pupils became teachers and secured employment in the southern
states. One became his assistant after a course at the Normal school.


History of Martha's Vineyard

Commonwealth compensate the long years of degradation to which an
unjust denial of the rights of citizenship doomed them, than by generous
assistance towards the education of their children.^

The recommendations of this committee were adopted and,
until 1889, when this state aid was withdrawn, the school had
the benefit of twenty years of satisfactory maintenance. Since
then the ability of the town to give proper financial support to
the school has greatly increased, and a term of nine months
is now provided with two teachers. Scholarships have been
presented by public spirited friends, and one of the boys has
taken a course at the Boston Latin school.


One hundred years ago a visitor to this town stated:
''on the Indian lands there are no made roads, and for the most
part only horse paths." This condition existed for about
fifty *years more, when a continuation of the county road from
the Chilmark line to the lighthouse was laid out. Its con-
struction was without design and unscientific, and soon became
a continuous sand rut for lack of repairs. In 1870, when the
town was incorporated, the act provided that the county
commissioners should forthwith "proceed to lay out and
construct a road from Chilmark to the lighthouse on Gay
Head, and may appropriate such sum from the funds of the
county as may be necessary to defray the expense of the same."
It was further provided that it should be maintained for five
years by the state. This legislation resulted in the construction
of the present and only public highway in the town, which
since 1875 has been a town charge.



Only one lighthouse exists in the town, but it is of such
an important character that it warrants extended consideration.
It was the first one erected on the Vineyard by the general
government, and was authorized by an act of Congress approved
July 16, 1798, which provided for its construction "As soon as
urisdiction of such land at Gay-head .... shall have been
ceded to the United States." This formality was accomplished

'Senate Report, No. 14, 1870, p. 7.

Annals of Gay Head

Feb. 22, 1799, by the General Court of this state/ and a
tract of two acres and four rods passed into the possession of
the government. The tower first built was of wood, forty feet
high, and the lantern, supported by eight large pine beams,


was reached by ladders. The light, which was a white flash,
was produced by fourteen lamps burning sperm oil, and it is
a part of the tradition of the place that there was quite as
much smoke as flame resulting from the combustion of this

^Laws of Massachusetts, H, 847. The original proclamation of President Adams
concerning these acts is preserved at the lighthouse.


History of Martha's Vineyard

illuminant. The keeper was often obliged to wear a veil
while in the tower, and the cleansing of the smudge on the
glass lantern was no small part of his job. This wooden
tower, which had been reduced ten feet in height, lasted sixty
years, and the site of it, nearer the brow of the cliffs than the
present one, can be seen yet in a circular elevation of the soil.
The second and present tower was built in 1858-9, and is of
brick construction sixty feet high/

This new lighthouse was placed in the class of the first
order and equipped with one of the most powerful illuminators
on the Atlantic coast. The compound lens, made by Fresnel,
a French expert, consist of 1,003 prisms of the finest cut and
polished crystal glass, scientifically arranged in three sections.''
This results in a refraction of the rays of light from the lamp
above and below to the middle of "bull's eye" whence they
are projected horizontally in concentrated power. The il-
luminator is a lamp with five concentric wicks, the largest
being five inches in diameter, and it consumes two quarts of
oil an hour, or about seven and a half gallons on the longest
nights. The distinctive flash effect was retained, but a red
one was added. Every ten seconds a white light flashes three
times and the fourth is red. This magnificient light sweeps
the sea for twenty miles with its great luminous radiants
majestically revolving around the tower, affording a sublime
spectacle to the beholder standing beneath. A famous writer
of a half century ago describes the effect of this during his visit,
in the following language: "Of all the heavenly phenomena
that I have had the good fortune to witness — borealis lights,
mock suns or meteoric showers — I have never seen anything
that in mystic splendor equalled this trick of the magic lantern
of Gay Head."'

Like a phantom pale, the Gay Head light,

'Gainst the blackening cloud of the squall stands out.

The note of the surf on Menemsha Bight

Murmurs its warning of "Ready! About!"

This light is visited annuafly by thousands of people as
one of the "sights" of the Vineyard.

'The work of construction at this remote point tested the capacity of the contractor.
It required eight pair of oxen to transport the iron deck across the island and hoist
it into position. In 1903 a new keeper's house, costing $10,000, was built to replace
the old one shown in the illustration.

^This cost the government $16,000.

'Porte Crayon, Harper's Magazine, (i860) Vol. XXI.


Annals of Gay Head

The first keeper was Ebenezer Skiff* (i 799-1834), followed
by his son, Ellis Skiff. He was succeeded in turn by Henry
Robinson, John Hayden, Samuel Flanders (a picture of
whom appeared in Harper^ s Magazine in i860), Ichabod N.
Luce, Calvin C. Adams, Horatio N. Pease, William Atchison,
Edward Lowe and Crosby L. Crocker (1886), at present in


Until 1873 this town was served from the Chilmark office
at Squibnocket, and on Feb. 14 of that year Isaac D. Rose
was appointed the first postmaster of the newly-established
office. He served eleven years, and was succeeded by William
A. Vanderhoop, Dec. 11, 1884; Paulina A. Vanderhoop, Nov.
14, 1893, and Mary A. Cleggett Vanderhoop, Aug. 13, 1907,
the present incumbent.


A fully equipped station of this service was established at
Gay Head and placed in commission Dec. 20, 1895, with a
crew composed of native surfmen, and the crews have generally
been of Indian extraction. The record of the station is that
of great efficiency and notably brave work.



This headland has been the scene of many marine disasters
since its settlement by the English, a line of reefs making out
far into the Sound, hidden from view, and strong currents
setting unwary mariners onto the Devil's Bridge, to be dashed
and broken in pieces by the pounding of the waves.

In the night of Jan. 14, 1782, occurred a disaster laden
with sorrow for the people of the Vineyard, as the master and
more than half of the crew were residents here. The vessel had
started from Edgartown under favorable weather conditions,
but a severe storm of wind and snow arose towards night and
she was driven ashore on the reefs about two miles from the

^The Boston Marine Society recommended Capt. Silas Daggett of Homes Hole as
keeper "should he find It for his interest to surrender other objects of business to this
alone" (Records, Aug. 6, 1799).


History of Martha's Vineyard

cliffs. A contemporary poetic threnody of twenty stanzas
thus tells, in part, of what befell them.

The ship was split from stem to stern,

Which filled their hearts with supprise,

When these poor mortals came to see
Supprising death before their eyes.

Twelve men hung to the quarter deck,

If I do rightly understand,
And nine of them was drowned,

The other three got to land.

There were 15 poor souls in all

That the rageing ocean proved their grave

I hope they did for mercy call

Though but little warning seemed to have.

It is a little difficult to follow the mathematics, to say
nothing of the metre of this rhyme, but later verses seem to
say that twelve lost their lives. ^ Matthew Butler, Samuel
Wiswall, Bayes Norton, Samuel Fish, Jethro Norton, and
Isaac Bunker were of Edgartown. Four were buried at
Edgartown and the rest in Chilmark.

The wreck of the City oj Columbus, which occurred in
the early hours of the morning of Jan. 18, 1884, was the most
appalling in the annals of this headland. The vessel was
proceeding from Boston to Savannah, and the night was un-
usually clear with the moon shining, though a heavy wind was
blowing; the air was bitterly cold, and the seas were high.
As she was passing the Devil's Bridge, about 3:45 a.m., the
man at the wheel either misunderstood an order for a change
of course or a wrong order was passed, and in a moment she
was fast on the treacherous ledge of rocks and careened to port.
The sea was soon making a clean sweep of the larger part of
the deck. For some reason those on duty in the lighthouse
did not discover the stranded vessel until 5 a.m., when the
keeper of the light (Horatio N. Pease) called for assistance.
Meantime, as the unfortunate passengers, aroused from their
sleep, came upon deck they were washed off into the raging
surf and either drowned or killed by their injuries. Four men
succeeded in reaching the shore in a ship's boat about 7 o'clock,
and one of these died from exposure almost immediately after
landing. The volunteer crew of Gay Headers, consisting of

*This "poem" was evidently written by a survivor. The author of this book has
a copy made in 1842 by Betsey Burdsall for "Jane Randal, one of these fatherless
children." Parson Thaxter states that fourteen were lost.


Annals of Gay Head

Thomas C. Jeffers, in command, Henry H. Jeffers, Raymond
Madison, Thomas E. Manning, Charles Stevens, Simeon
Divine, and John O. Anthony, could make no headway in
launching their whaleboat, as it was stove up in their efforts
to clear the breakers, and they barely escaped drowning.
At about nine o'clock a life-boat was successfully launched
by a crew of Gay Head Indians, consisting of Joseph Peters
captain, Samuel Haskins, Samuel Anthony, James Cooper,
Moses Cooper, and John Vanderhoop. After battling an
hour they were able to bring seven men ashore rescued from
the rigging. A second crew manned it, all Indians, except
the captain, James T. Mosher. They were Leonard L.
Vanderhoop, Thomas C. Jeffers, Patrick Divine, Charles
Grimes, and Peter Johnson. They had rescued thirteen men
when the U. S. Revenue Cutter Dexter arrived to render
assistance, having been called to the scene by telegraphic
messages. There were passengers still in the rigging, but
many had become numbed and frozen, and had dropped off
exhausted, into certain death. Lieutenant John U. Rhodes
commanded a rescuing party in one of the ship's boats and
performed feats of heroism that made his name famous in
the story of this terrible wreck. It was impossible to effect a
landing on the vessel or get very near to it owing to the danger
of being battered to pieces in the heavy seas. The only way
men could be helped was to induce them to jump overboard
and be picked up. But two men remained in the rigging,
and both were fast losing strength. Rhodes, with a line about
him, jumped into the chilling, surging waters and swam for
the Mrreck. Some wreckage struck him and he sank, was
pulled out, taken to the Dexter, revived, and his wound
dressed. He insisted on making the second attempt and this
time he succeeded. The last two living souls on the unfor-
tunate ship were aided in their leap for life by him and brought
to safety. "For heroic exertions at the imminent peril of his
own life" the Massachusetts Humane Society presented a
gold medal to him, and their silver medal was given to each
member of the Gay Head crews. ^ The toll of the sea from this
unnecessary wreck was one hundred and twenty-one souls, and
is the greatest disaster in the history of the place.

'The Squibnocket lifeboat of the Massachusetts Humane Society was brought
over before the end of the efforts at rescue. She was manned by Eddy C. Flanders,
captain; Benjamin F. Mayhew, E. Elliott Mayhew, William Mayhew, Cyrus C. Look
and Setii Walker. They did excellent relief work, and were awarded a bronze medal
by the Humane Society.

History of Martha's Vineyard


There have been no "public houses" in this town worthy of
record, as the transient visitor is infrequent except in summer,
and private famiHes have always furnished temporary lodging
and otherwise cared for the traveler who remains at Gay

Head over night.


The native population of Gay Head preserved the tra-
ditions of their race in the matter of burials, although the town
has not proved to be rich in the funeral memorials of its
dead. Few graves, which have accidentally been opened,
have yielded up much archaeological treasure. Small articles,
such as stone fishing implements, arrow points, corn, and to-
bacco, have been found buried with the Algonquians of Gay
Head. Naturally they had no well-defined grounds set off
for their burials, as this was not an Indian custom, but there
is a considerable collection of graves on Abel's neck, and a
tradition is that Hiacoomes, the first Indian preacher of the
Vineyard, is here interred. This seems quite unreasonable,
as he w^as a resident of Chappaquiddick. On the old Con-
gregational meeting-house lot are many graves, and on Mele-
tiah's hill, in the rear of the site of the Baptist meeting-house,
may be seen still more. Most of them are marked with rough
stones, and the inscriptions are nearly obliterated. In fact,
scattering memorials of the dead are to be noticed all over the

The modern burying ground contains the remains of the
Indians of this day and generation, as well as some of the
white race, and has no special historic interest.


As showing the extent to which this great marine highway
guarded by Gay Head is used the following record, kept by
an official of the lighthouse in the year 1870, will testify:
number of craft seen passing, 36 ships, 160 barks, 1,541 brigs,
21,642 schooners, 1,989 sloops, and 1,102 steamers, making a
total of 26,470 vessels of all classes and rigs.


The principal occupation of the residents has always
been the fisheries, and it continues to be so, individually and


Annals of Gay Head

collectively, for the town derives some income from licensing
fish traps and pounds. In addition to this is the shipping of
clay from the cliffs, which has continued for nearly twenty
years in the hands of the Gay Head Clay Co. and the Gay
Head Fire Brick Co., as lessees of the town rights, as previously



Online LibraryCharles Edward BanksThe history of Martha's Vineyard, Dukes County, Massachusetts → online text (page 57 of 62)