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      History of Nantucket

      Thinking of relocating or buying a second home on Nantucket, MA? Scroll down to learn some history on this premier island. Contact us for more information and any questions!

      Nantucket Island, MA

       

      Origin of the Name

      Nantucket probably takes its name from a Wampanoag word, variously literated as natocke, nantaticu, nantican, nautica or natockete, which is part of Wampanoag lore about the creation of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The meaning of the term is uncertain, although it may have meant "in the midst of waters," or "far away island." Wampanoag is an Eastern Algonquian language of southern New England.
       
      Nantucket's nickname, "The Little Grey Lady of the Sea", refers to the island as it appears from the ocean when it is fog-bound.

       

      Beginnings

      The earliest French settlement in the region began on the neighboring island of Martha's Vineyard. Nantucket Island's original Native American inhabitants, the Wampanoag people, lived undisturbed until 1641 when the island was deeded by the English (the authorities in control of all land from the coast of Maine to New York) to Thomas Mayhew and his son, merchants from Watertown, Massachusetts, and Martha's Vineyard. Nantucket was part of Dukes CountyNew York, until 1691, when it was transferred to the newly formed Province of Massachusetts Bay and split off to form Nantucket County. As Europeans began to settle Cape Cod, the island became a place of refuge for Native Americans in the region, as Nantucket was not yet settled by Europeans. The growing population welcomed seasonal groups of other Native Americans who traveled to the island to fish and later harvest whales that washed up on shore.

       

      English Settlement and the History of Whaling on Nantucket

      Nantucket's settlement by the English did not begin in earnest until 1659, when Thomas Mayhew sold his interest to a group of investors, led by Tristram Coffin, "for the sum of thirty Pounds...and also two beaver hats, one for myself, and one for my wife". The "nine original porchasers" were Tristram Coffin, Peter Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swain, Thomas Barnard, Stephen Greenleaf, John Swain and William Pike. Seamen and tradesmen began to populate Nantucket, such as Richard Gardner (arrived 1667) and Capt. John Gardner (arrived 1672), sons of Thomas Gardner (planter).

      In his 1835 history of Nantucket Island, Obed Macy wrote that in the early pre-1672 colony, a whale of the kind called "scragg" entered the harbor and was pursued and killed by the settlers. This event started the Nantucket whaling industry. A. B. Van Deinse points out that the "scrag whale", described by P. Dudley in 1725 as one of the species hunted by early New England whalers, was almost certainly the gray whale, which has flourished on the west coast of North America in modern times with protection from whaling.

      Herman Melville commented on Nantucket's whaling dominance in Moby-Dick, Chapter 14: "Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires." The Moby-Dick characters Ahab and Starbuck are both from Nantucket.

      By 1850, whaling was in decline, as Nantucket's whaling industry had been surpassed by that of New Bedford. The island suffered great economic hardships, worsened by the "Great Fire" of July 13, 1846, that, fueled by whale oil and lumber, devastated the main town, burning some 40 acres. The fire left hundreds homeless and poverty-stricken, and many people left the island. Another contributor to the decline was the silting up of the harbor, which prevented large whaling ships from entering and leaving the port. In addition, the development of railroads made mainland whaling ports, such as New Bedford, more attractive because of the ease of transshipment of whale oil onto trains, an advantage unavailable to an island.

       

      Later History

      As a result of this depopulation, the island was left under-developed and isolated until the mid-20th century. The isolation kept many of the pre-Civil War buildings intact and, by the 1950s, enterprising developers began buying up large sections of the island and restoring them to create an upmarket destination for wealthy people in the Northeastern United States. This highly controlled development can be compared to less-regulated development in neighboring Martha's Vineyard, the development of which served as a model for what the Nantucket developers wanted to avoid.

      In the 1960s, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard considered seceding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In 1977, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard actually attempted, unsuccessfully, to secede. The secession vote was sparked by a proposed change to the Massachusetts Constitution that reduced the islands' representation in the Massachusetts General Court.

      To learn more about the fascinating and unique history of Nantucket, visit the website of the Nantucket Historical Association.

       

      Geology and Geography

      Nantucket was formed by the uttermost reach of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the recent Wisconsin Glaciation, shaped by the subsequent rise in sea level. The low ridge across the northern section of the island was deposited as glacial moraine during a period of glacial standstill, a period during which till continued to arrive and was deposited as the glacier melted at a stationary front. The southern part of the island is an outwash plain, sloping away from the arc of the moraine and shaped at its margins by the sorting actions and transport of longshore drift. Nantucket became an island when rising sea levels re-flooded Buzzards Bay about 5,000–6,000 years ago.

      Nantucket County has a total area of 303 square miles (786 km2), 84% of which is water. It is the smallest county in Massachusetts. The area of Nantucket Island proper is 47.8 square miles (124 km2). The triangular region of ocean between Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and Cape Cod is Nantucket Sound. The highest point on the island is Folger Hill, which stands 109 feet (33 m) above sea level.

      The entire island, as well as the adjoining islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, comprise both the Town of Nantucket and the County of Nantucket. The main settlement, also called Nantucket, is located at the western end of Nantucket Harbor, where it opens into Nantucket Sound. Key localities on the island include MadaketSurfsidePolpis, Wauwinet, Miacomet, and Siasconset (pronounced "Sconset").

       

      Climate

      Nantucket features a climate that borders between a humid continental climate (Dfb) and an oceanic climate (Cfb), the latter a climate type rarely found on the east coast of North America. Nantucket's climate is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, which helps moderate temperatures in the Town throughout the course of the year. As a result, the Island's winter climate is warmer than that on the mainland of New England, and summers are cooler than on the mainland. Average temperatures during the Town's coldest month (January) are just below 32 °F (0 °C), while average temperatures during the Town's warmest months (July and August) hover around 69 °F (21 °C). Nantucket receives on average 38 inches (970 mm) of precipitation annually, spread relatively evenly throughout the year. Similar to many other cities with an oceanic climate, Nantucket features a large number of cloudy or overcast days, particularly outside the summer months.

      (this information is excerpted from Wikipedia.org)

       

      To learn more about the history of Nantucket, visit the Nantucket Historical Association

       

      Nantucket : The Island  

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