The Island of Nantucket
By Walter M. Jackson Sr. 1917
The writer in reading some letters written by his Mother to her Mother during her married life was very much puzzled because they often mentioned relatives of whom he had no knowledge as--Aunty Judith, Cousin Hepsie, Uncle Ben etc. and he considered his duty to into some inquiries as to who they could be but owing to the fact that this resolve was taken very late in life he found that those that might have told had passed away. So he started a search of Bible and genealogical records to ascertain the history of the family. So little by little facts were secured and going back he found that the ancestors on his Mother's side was centered very largely in the Island of Nantucket as well as some of the early New England towns as it has proved quite interesting to him he has decided to make a record of what he found which may or may not be interesting to my family in later years.
The Island of Nantucket lies about 25 miles South of Cape Cod and about 100 miles from the Eastern end of Long Island is about 15 miles long by 4 miles wide. It was discovered by Bartholmew Gasnold about May 15, 1602 who sailed from Falmouth England in the Bargue Concord.
In 1641, James Forrett as agent from Lord Sterling to whom all the lands between Cape Cod and the Hudson river had been granted by the Crown sold the Island of Nantucket and two other small Islands adjacent thereto to Thomas Mayhew of Watertown, Merchant and to his son Thomas Mayhew.
Fourteen years later July 2. 1659 Mayhew sold Nantucket Isle. I quote the deed in part:
"Recorded for Mr. Coffin and Mr. Macy aforesaid Be it known unto all men by those presents that I Thomas Mayhew of Martha's Vineyard Merchant. do hereby acknowledge that I have sold unto Tristman Coffin Thomas Macy Christopher Hussy Richard Swayne Thomas Bernard Peter Coffin Stephen Greenleafe John Swayne and William Pike that right and interest I have in ye Land of Nantuckett by Patent; ye wch Right I bought of James Forret Gent. and steward to ye Lord Sterling and of Richard Vines sometimes of Sacho Gent. Steward and Genell unto Sir Georges Knight as by conveyances under their Hands and Seales doe appeare ffor them ye aforesaid to Injoy and their Heyers out Assignes XXX for in consideration of Ye sume of Thirty Pounds of Current Pay unto "whomsoever I ye saw Thomas Mayhew mine Heyers or Assignes shall appoint. And also two Beaver Hatts one for myself and one for my wife &c. Reserving one twentieth part of the Island on to himself"
As titles to Royal Grants were not complete until tho Indian Sachems rights were obtained the new proprietors proceeded to secure thom and on May 10,1660 Wanackmanack and Nicka Noose head Sachems of Nantucket Isle conveyed to Mayhew and his nine associates their rights. There were subsequently other deeds.
It had been agreed upon by the original purchasers that each one should be allowed to choose an associate and Feb. 2, 1659(?) at a meeting hold at Salesbury, Mass. where most of them lived the following names were added to the proprietary. Nathaniel and Edward Starbuck, Tristman Jr.and James Coffin, John Smith, Thomas Look, Robert Barnard, Robert Pike and Thomas Coleman. Afterwards two half shares were granted to John Bishop and Richard Gardner. One half share each to Peter Folger his son Eleazrir. Thomas Macy, Joseph Coleman, Joseph Gardner, Samuel Stetor, John Gardner, Nathaniel Holland, William Worth and Nathaniel Weir. In all thirty owners.
Of these thirty, thirteen are among the ancestry on my mothers side. They all seem to have been men of affairs and contributed to the building up of that part of America in which they dwelt. Further an I have attempted to relate some of the duties they had and what they did as far as history has recorded them.
The following are some of the important facts relative to Nantucket history besides those already stated:
As elsewhere related, Thomas Macy and family were the first to settle on the island and they, were soon followed by the other purchasers and the Island began to grow in population.
At first Tristnam Coffin was the leading spirit politically and little was done without his approval and sanction. Being by nature aggressive and dominating not to say - domineering- nature an well as a man of great ability, his influence had been stronger than any other man of the proprietary. And he also had the backing of the Mayhews who still retain their interest. After John Gardner arrived in 1672, who was also of strong and forceful personality there was trouble. He soon became prominent in the affairs of the Island and was appointed by Governor Lovelace Captain of the Fort Company. Tristnam and John Gardner soon locked horns, the latter formed a close and defensive alliance with Peter Folger and Thomas Macy. William Worth, Starbuck, Colemans, Bunkers, Myers and others also sided with him. While those that favored Tristnam Coffin were the Swains Hussys, Barnards and Starbuckss son Nathaniel. In 1673 the freeholders were required to name two men for Chief Magistrate and Edward Starbuck and Richard Gardner were submitted The governor chose the latter and named his brother Jim for Captain of the military company. This did not please the Coffins as it made their rivals hold two of the principal offices and so began the long fight whenever there was a meeting held. It was noted on the records, Mr. Tristnam Coffin enters his decent whereupon all the other members of his party followed suit but Tristnam has been well called the great dissenter. The Coffins believed that the whole share men should have two votes and the half -share men one vote while the Gardners stood firm for equal power. Each faction were soon appealing to the authorities in New York and the first round was won by the Coffins. Ir. 1674 the Gardner faction still being in control fined Stephen Hussey for contempt for telling Captain John to "meddle with his own business or". In 1676 Thomas Macy, then Chief Magistrate and William Worth sided with the Coffins and they regained control of affairs. William Worth was chosen clerk and Gardner and Folger were arbitrarily disfranchised and refused any participation in the affairs of the town. Peter Folger was arrested for contempt of His Majestys authority and for "contemptous carrg"
He was bound over for 20 pounds to appear in Court and in default was committed to jail where he remained in "durance vile coery vile" according to Peter for the greater part of a year. Tobias Coleman and Eleazur Folger and his wife Sarah..(Richard Gardners daughter) were arrested and fined for criticizing the Court. Peter Folger refused to deliver up the Courts books. So things went on till August l677 when Governor Andros took a hand and ordered a& suspension of all further proceedings and later decided that Gardner and Folgers disfranchisement was null and void.
Mayhew and Coffin were furious but Captain Gardner had won and the hatchet was soon after buried.
The two important events which affected the whole life and affairs of the Island were whaling and Quakerism. The first engrossed the time and attention for the period from 1670 to 1870 and the fame of Nantucket as a whaling town became known throughout the world. Practically the whole population were interesting in it in one way or another.
The capture of the first whale by the Nantuckets was more or less an accident., A whale of the kind called a "scrag" came into the harbor and this seemed to excite the curiosity of the Islanders and led them to devise means for its capture. They accordingly invented a harpoon which they caused to be wrought with which they attacked and killed it. The result was so profitable they proceeded to erect lookout stations on the shore and when one was sighted they would go out in small boats and harpooned them and towed them ashore and dried out the blubber. Soon they went into it on a larger scale, fitting out vessels to cruise, remaining out many months until they had the holds filled and the people waxed fat and wealthy. On the top of their houses they had outlooks built so that their families could watch for their return.
They had a great setback in the wars of 1756 between the English and French (known as the French and Indian Wars) and in the Revolution when their vessels were seized by the enemy and their sailors imprisoned. With decline of the fishery many of the inhabitants migrated to other places. A large number went to nine partners at Hudson, New York and were instrumental in building up that town. Others went to Washington County, also in New York State and others to North Carolina and Maine.
The Quaker influence was from or began about 1700. Prior to that period the people were mostly Baptists and Presbyterians, for the first fifty years there was no church organization there and most of the marriages were performed by the Justice of the Peace. The Mayhews had Christianized the Indians. In 1704 the first Friends Society was formed and in 1711 the first meeting House was built. Among the first converts to the society was Mary Coffin Starbuck who as I have elsewhere related was a woman of great character and influence and through her nearly the whole population became identified with the movement. It had a far reaching effect on the lives of the Islanders and more than any other form of religion, Quakerism entered into the daily lives of its adherents. Its keynote was simplicity, plain living, high thinking, unworldliness and humility were its tenets. They believed in the "inner light" and that "thought in the word" they were not of it. They wore plain clothes of subdued and neutral colors although of the best material that they could afford avoided all ornaments or display either an their person or in their homes. But they did not take into consideration the temperament and too little account of the natural desire of people. They were to rigid and severe in their discipline, particularity in regard to marriage. No one was allowed to marry outside of the sect on pain of being cast out.. The result was that many close marriages were made cousin to cousin, uncle to niece. With the inevitable results which were handed down to prosperity.
They had a curious custom of not allowing any headstones to mark the graves and in the old Friends Cemetery on the Island are over seven thousand Quakers buried without a single stone to mark their burial places. Later on it was allowed to put up a six inch stone and still later on one a foot high.
The original meeting House is still in existence forming part of the Congregation Church where it was moved to. A memorial stone marks the site of the original spot on where it stood with the following inscription.
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