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Vol. 2

Bulletin No. i,

yMantucket Lands and

Land Owners




Nantucket Historical association,



'Allertf.d Sii»

Vol. 2.

Bulletin No.

yxantuckel Lands and

Land Owners




Nantucket Histohical Association,


This work will comprise a series of chapters which
will treat in topical form the history of Nantucket as found
in the public records. Fortunately the recorded transac-
tions of the first settlers have been well preserved, the
only book that is missing being that which Peter Folger
was accused of concealing. In Books i, 2 and 3 in the
Registry of Deeds are contained records of deeds, court
proceedings, set-offs of land, elections, and settlements of
estates of deceased persons. As soon as the different de-
partments of public service became distinct from the Land
Office, these records were kept in separate books. The
records of the town were begun in 1699 ; the probate
records in 1706; the proprietors in 1716, and the court in
1720; and after these dates the records of these depart-
ments were kept in separate books. The historical matter
found in these three books is the basis of this work. Ma-
terial has also been obtained from the State House in Al-
bany and Boston and the Registry of Deeds in Edgartown.

The plan adopted at first was to insert copies of all docu-
ments, but as these would be of value to only a few and
as they are being printed, it was decided to give the sub-
stance only and file the copies in the rooms of the His-
torical Association at Nantucket,

From 1660 to 1692 Nantucket was a part of New York
colony, and all public documents were recorded in New
York city, and in 1795 transferred to the new capital at
Albany. These papers are being printed by the State
Historian, the last volume including the year 1675.

After 1692 all such papers were sent to Boston. The
State of Massachusetts has taken no steps toward the pub-
lication of the early documents.

There has never been any History of Nantucket based
on its records. Macy's History was written in 1835, and
it is clear that he was ignorant of the rich mass of histori-
cal data within his reach at Nantucket and Edgartown.
He stated that "greatly to his mortitication, there is very
litde on record and few documents relating to much of the
time embraced within the limits of this book," and that the
early setders "were so illiterate that the little of their
writings that have come down to us is hardly legible or
mtelligible." Thus he dismissed the records bec'ause he
could not read them, although they were as easy to read
as Gov. Winthrop's Diary or William Bradford's History
of Plymouth, when the system of penmanship is under-

It is proposed to print chapters of this work as fast as
expedient, in such form that they may be finally bound in
one volume with an index. Three chapters are printed in
this section. The next will be a history of the Nantucket
Indians, which will describe the relations of the White
and Red men, and the efforts of the latter to recover their
lands. A chapter will be devoted to the early courts and
an index of the cases that were decided. The first settlers
and their families will be described and an attempt will
be made to indicate in which part of the island they re-

Obed Mac}^ says "they did not require much formality
in their government." This is far from the fact, and the
early government will be shown.

The land tenure of Nantucket will be explained and the
famous Sheep Commons.

Thus the substance of the early records will be made

New Bedford, Aug. ig, igoi.


Securing the Title of the English King.

The historian states that Thomas Ma3'he\v became the
first Colonial purchaser of the islands south of Cape Cod
in October of 1641 ; his deed, as will hereafter appear,
was based upon a grant from the King of England.

At that time the occupants of these islands were tribes
of North American Indians. Some arrangement had to
be made with them by purchase before he could occupy
their territory ; thus at the outset he found two sources of

1. From the English government, that claimed these
islands by right of discovery.

2. From the Indians, whose right was in possession.
The right by discover}'-, which was the foundation of

the English claim, was based on the vo3^age of Cabot, who
in 1497 sailed along the Atlantic coast from Florida to
Labrador ; but mere discovery carries no right unless the
new territory is settled and occupied ; if the nation claim-
ing this right, after a reasonable time fails to take posses-
sion, the right lapses and any other nation has a right to
settle the newly discovered land.

For some reason there was no activity in England in
taking possession of the new world ; over a century after
Cabot's voyage England made no permanent settlement ;
other nations were taking advantage of the opportunity.
Spain occupied Florida in 1525 ; a few years later France
had established the colony of New France along the St.

Lawrence ; and in 1607 Holland had a colony along the
Hudson River. Something had to be done at once ; men
must be induced to procure homes across the Adantic. ly
1607, John Smith with a band of adventurers located at
Jamestown, Va., and the same year Mason and Georges
took possession of the country near the Kennebec River.
But there was still no disposition to go to America in
large numbers. It became necessary to make some ar-
rangement that suitable numbers might be induced to form
a colony in America. For this purpose the King
created a corporation called "The Council for New Eng^
land." It was established in Plymouth, in Devonshire,
and was usually called the Plymouth Company. Its char-
ter was dated November 23, 1621, and immediately the
King granted to this company all territory in x\merica not
already settled between the parallels of 40 and 50 of north
latitude. This grant included the islands south of Cane
Cod. ^

The officers and agents of this company could now pro-
ceed to sell sections of the new country and could lit out
vessels for transportation, and could more readily secure
the formation of Colonial settlements than when the title
was in the King. The charter for the Colony of Plymouth
came from this compan}-.

But instead of w^orking satisfactorily, the Plymouth
Company failed of success, and in 1635 Charles the First
terminated its existence by dissolution. The last act of
the corporation, taken at the King's request, was a grant
to William, Earl of Sterling, of that portion of Maine
lying east of the Kennebec River, and also Long Island
and the islands adjacent. It is not clear whether Uiis last
phrase was intended to include Block Island alone or all
the islands to the eastward ; maps of that day gave only
imperfect information, and no accurate idea of any locality
could be obtained ; but frequently the subsequent acts of

the parties explained the intention. Judged by this test,
there is no doubt that the islands south of Cape Cod were
included in this grant.

Lord Sterling appointed James Forrett as his agent for
the purpose of selling and disposing of the islands between
Cape Cod and the Hudson River. Forrett came to New York
in April, 1637. His efforts were tirst directed to procuring
purchasers for different sections of Long Island, and it was
four years after his arrival before he found a customer for
Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket.

It October, 1641, he conveyed all the islands south of
Cape Cod to Thomas Mayhew of Watertown in Massa-
chusetts Bay.

The deed of Nantucket and adjacent islands is dated
October 13th, while that of Marthas Vineyard and Eliza-
beth Islands is dated ten days later.

This conveyance, however, granted only the right to
use the surface of the land. This was because in those
days no grants were made of rights under the surface,
the King reserved to himself all mines.

Shortly after Mayhew had taken the Forrett deed he
learned that Sir Ferdinand Georges, the Governor of
Maine, claimed jurisdiction over these islands. This
authority was contained in a commission from Charles the
First, dated July 23, 1637, in which Georges was
appointed Governor of Maine. The provision seems to
have been intended merely as giving Georges the au-
thority to settle controversies between colonists who might
set up conflicting claims to land. It never could have
meant that Georges had the right to sell, but when the
formidable document was shown to Mayhew he became
convinced that the authority claimed by Georges was well
founded and concluded to recognize the same so far as to
obtain a deed.

This deed does not mention Nantucket. Whether this


was an omission or intentional cannot be understood.
There was never any deed of Nantucket from Georges.

Under the Forrett deed Mayhew was to pay an annual
tax, to be determined by Governor Winthrop of Massa-
chusetts Bay. In the second deed he agreed to pay an
annual tax to Georges. This was the foundation of seri-
ous annoyance to Mayhew, which was not settled until
the issuing of the Lovelace patents in 167 1. The follow-
ing is the authority of Georges :

"It is our will and pleasure that none be
permitted to go into any of those parts to plant or inhabit
but that they acquaint our said Governor thereunto or
such other as shall be deputed for that purpose durino- his
abode here in England, and who are to receive from'him
or them allowance to pass with his or their further direc-
tion where to sit down most for their particular commodi-
ties and public gaol of our service.

"Hereby strictly charging and commanding all our offi-
cers and others to whom it shall or may appertain to take
notice of this our pleasure and to be careful the same be
firmly observed as they or any of them shall answer the
same at their uttermost peril."

But in this situation Mayhew had a title not clear even to
himself. He had agreed to pay taxes, therein called an
acknowledgment, both to Stirling and Georges. The
question was whether these islands belonged to New York
or Maine. When Lovelace became Governor of New
York, Mayhew exhibited his title deeds and the Governor
"stumbled much."

Mayhew's deed to the first twenty purchasers was dated
July 2, 1659, and after that the Nantucket owners seem to
have repudiated the claim of Georges and paid their ac-
knowledgment to the New York Governor.

In 1664 the English took New Netherlands and changed
the name to New York. The English King made a grant
of considerable territory in the New World to his brother,
the Duke of York, in which were included "The several
small islands called or known by the name of Nantukes or

The Duke of York then appointed Francis Lovelace
Governor of New York and its dependencies. Lovelace
reached New York in May, 1670, and at once set about

Online LibraryHenry Barnard WorthNantucket lands and landowners (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 30)