Harper's new monthly magazine. Sept 1860. Volume 21, Issue 124, pp. 442-461
Summer in New England, Second Paper, by D. H. Strother
A SUMMER IN NEW ENGLAND.
ILLUSTRATED BY PORTE CRAYON.
Onkatonka, and Wepecket,
Cuttyhunk, and Penikese.
SUCH are the uncouth and barbarian names that first salute the ears of the seaward-bound traveler, who having beheld the most Christian city of New Bedford fade out between sky and water, turns from his retrospections to consider that line of islands lying across the entrance to Buzzard’s Bay, seeming to bar the outward passage. Collectively, they are called the “Elizabeth Islands,” in honor of the Virgin Queen who reigned in England at the time of their discovery. Their individual titles were doubtless received from the aboriginal heathen, and woven into euphonious verse by some inspired Longfellow of the whale-ship’s forecastle.
A New Bedford historian says, “Buzzard’s Bay was discovered by the Northmen in the tenth century, and by them named Straumfiord; by Gosnold, in 1602, and named ‘Gosnold’s Hope;’ and by the early settlers of Dartmouth ‘Buzzard’s Bay;’ the latter name probably given from the fish-hawk (which in old works upon natural history is called the Buzzardet, or little Buzzard), as I suppose from the great number of this bird of prey being seen about the shores and islands of the bay.”
We are also informed from the same source that “while the Northmen were living upon the shores of this bay a son was born in the year 1007, to one of the commanders of the expedition, Thorfinn, and named Snorri Thorfinnson. From this child the celebrated sculptor Thorwaldsen is said to be descended.”
The train of reasoning which leads us to this conclusion, as exhibited in the foregoing paragraph, has at least the merit of brevity, and may be reinforced by a suggestion of my friend Dick, who thinks it probable that the talent for “sculping,” so nobly developed in the Dane, might be fairly attributable to this early association of his ancestors with the American Indians.
Of the Elizabeth Islands we saw nothing more than the blue swelling outlines of the most distant rising above the sea line, the fresh budding forests of Naushon nearer at hand, and the sparkling pebble beaches of Onkatonka and Nonamesset, as we wound through the narrow and tortuous channel of Wood’s Hole. Than this, there is no spot in nature where earth, air, and water seem more favorably combined to stimulate the body to vigorous and hardy health, or excite the fancy to bold and dashing adventure. Leaving this pretty chain of islands behind us, in the fast moving steamer, Eagle’s Wing, we next churned the blue waters of the Vineyard Sound, the great thoroughfare of our coasting, trade—a Broadway of commerce, where craft of all grades and denominations are seen going and coming in continuous streams, whitening the whole horizon with their bleached canvas.
Over the breezy Sound, at length we enter the quiet and cozy little harbor of Holmes’s Hole, and land at the white weather-boarded village at its head. A civil porter takes charge of our baggage and conducts us to the House of Entertainment kept by Mrs. Captain West, an old-fashioned country inn, and as full of comfort, tidiness, and snugness as all these old-fashioned places are supposed to be.
Holmes’s Hole has six or eight hundred inhabitants, chiefly sea-faring men and their families, and as the men are generally absent, women and children bear rule. Quiet, good order, and cheerfulness seem to be the predominant characteristics .of the community within doors and without. To account for this enviable state of things, Captain West suggests an explanation. He expressed himself frankly and unreservedly as if he had fully made up his mind to it—all the while pacing up and down a bit of paved walk in front of the house; which pavement he facetiously calls his quarter-deck.
“I’m Captain aboard ship,” quoth he; and pointing over his shoulder with his thumb toward the interior, “She’s Captain on shore.”
I expressed my approbation of this arrangement; but Dick, who is always doing or saying something rash, observed: “But suppose the women went to sea, who’d be Captains then?”
The burly sailor winked his right eye and smiled knowingly. “Women,” said he, “don’t take to a sea-faring life much. They can’t dress up and go to church, and in rough weather they have mostly got to keep to their bunks; but on shore, d’ye see, they know the ropes and give orders.”
In the afternoon of the day of our arrival we strolled upon the hills overlooking the town and harbor, and had for our pains a most charming view of the Sound and the opposite shores. Turning landward, we pursued our walk along grassy lanes and through the stunted forests that partially clothed the hills, coming frequently upon pretty fresh painted cottages seated amidst shrubbery and flowers, and tenanted by a quiet-mannered wife and a flock of rosy, bright-eyed children. Doubtless the nests of those eagle-hearted fishers of the deep, who, sailing in antipodal seas, may be at this moment dreaming of their Vineyard homes.
Intending to devote the next day to sport, we that evening engaged the services of an experienced fisherman to take us out against the black bass, which were reported to be plentiful in the Sound. Our boat-master called for us next morning, by daylight, and before sunrise we were sailing with a fresh breeze far on our way toward the Yellow Banks, our proposed fishing-ground, near the Barnstable shore.
Perceiving several other fishing-boats already at work when we arrived, we lost no time in casting anchor and throwing out our lines. Scarcely a minute elapsed before I felt a nibble, and pulling up found there was a heavy weight to my line, but so dull and lifeless that I supposed I had hooked the anchor. However, as my game neared the surface, there was a struggle and a dart that nearly jerked me overboard; so to hold my own I braced myself against the gunwale until Dashaway lent a hand, and by our united efforts we drew in a thumping fish between four and five feet long. The new arrival was slender-bodied, with flaring fins, silver gray back, white belly, a queer-shaped semi-circular mouth, and a most evil-looking eye, leaping and floundering about the boat, slapping with his tail, and biting at every thing within his reach with such fierce activity that I called the boatman to assist in unhooking him.
He looked up from the line he was baiting, and instantly seizing an oar, shouted,
“A shark! a shark!"
At the mention of this name, so awful to landsmen’s ears, Dick and myself simultaneously performed the back somersault at a single spring, and recovering ourselves when out of distance, seized a stick and some ballast stones, and began belaboring the common enemy. It was like pounding a roll of gutta percha; but we at length succeeded in stunning him sufficiently to prevent his annoying us, and then throwing the ugly pirate into the fore part of the boat, we resumed our fishing. Dick made the next haul, and exhibited an absurd-looking creature on a smaller scale, which our skipper told us was called a “pig-fish.” To prove the propriety of the nomenclature he pressed its head with his finger, when it cried like a sucking pig. My kind-hearted companion observed that the fish was too ugly to eat, and that its grunting softened his heart by reminding him of a pet pig he had at home; so the pig-fish was returned to his briny dwelling-place.
As if Fortune willed a speedy reward for this act of mercy, my friend presently drew up a fine six-pound bass, which, as a legitimate prize, was consigned to the boat’s cistern, and from that the fishing went on prosperously. In rapid succession we drew up more bass, scuppaug, skates, flounders, and other varieties which I can not pretend even to name, much less describe.
This amusement lasted several hours, and was very well as long as our curiosity was piqued by the novelty and variety of our game; but it must be considered tame work in comparison with the active and exciting sport of bluefishing. So, with the sun considerably past meridian and a favoring breeze, we turned our prow homeward, well satisfied with our day’s experiences, and with stomachs decidedly qualmish.
A night of unbroken rest and a hearty breakfast on black bass were the agreeable consequences of our trip to the Yellow Banks. Not caring to go out to sea again, we passed the next morning with our obliging host the Captain, hearing his sea-stories and sketching his portrait. In the plenitude of his friendliness he bestowed upon Dick and myself the following articles, to be kept as remembrancers. Imprimis: the jawbones of a large fish thrown up by a sperm whale in his death flurry. 2. The skin of an albatross’s foot, to be used as a tobacco pouch. 3. An ivory fid, wherewith he (the Captain) had taken the knots out of many a tough yarn. Thus having exchanged presents and compliments, we took leave of our kind hosts and the village of Holmes’s Hole, and the same afternoon mounted the carriage of a friend who had called for us, and took the road to West Tisbury, a village situated seven miles inland, and near the centre of the island.
As we cleared the town we overtook a footman, rather stout and advanced in years, who, perceiving that our vehicle was not crowded. asked to be taken on board. He was accordingly accommodated with a seat, and we soon got into a lively and entertaining conversation, which turned naturally on whalemen and sea-captains. Formerly, he said, Cape Cod and Nantucket furnished nearly all the commanders for the merchant marine of the United States. Such was the reputation of these men for skill, courage, and reliability that they were sought for by shipowners from all quarters to take charge of their vessels. As our commercial relations have extended these limited sources failed to supply the demand, and of late years Maine has been drafted, and still continues to furnish large supplies of sea-captains. Indeed when we look at these rocky and sterile coasts, consider the amount of population they contain, and the improvements that have grown up upon them, as it were, almost in the teeth of nature, we are struck with the aptness of the boy’s answer, who when asked what they did in this country for a living? replied, “We build school-houses and raise men.”
At a point where the roads diverged, our talkative passenger took leave, and on doing so offered to pay for the ride. The proffered remuneration was declined of course. The stranger seemed somewhat surprised, hut thanked us civilly and pursued his journey homeward. When he was gone, our entertainer turned to us smiling and said, “Rugged necessity has engendered among these people habits of exactness in their everyday business—an exactness which is often mistaken by strangers for parsimony; but which, on better acquaintance with them, you will find is not incompatible with a liberal public spirit and a generous private hospitality.”
This habit, however, of attention to minutiæ is sometimes carried into extremes that are intensely ludicrous. Some years ago a party engaged in the United States Coast Survey were encamped on the Barnstable shore, when one of the young men wanting a signal-pole took a rail from a fence hard by. A few days after the party moved its quarters to a point about ten miles distant, and on the day following the removal the officer was surprised by a visit from a countryman, evidently dressed in his go-to-meeting clothes, but all dusted, sweated, red, travel-blown, and perturbed. “Capting,” quoth he, taking no notice of the proffered camp-stool, “some of your men have committed a depredation and an outrage on my property.” The speaker paused to take breath and the Captain looked grave. “Yes,” he continued, with an indignant and injured air, “they have took down my fences to make signal-poles, and I thought the matter would have been settled before you moved; but you packed off without giving me any notice whatsomever; and the first I heard of it was this morning, and that’s what I thought hard of.”
“My friend,” replied the chief, “you had better take a seat and some refreshment. You appear to be heated.”
Farmer Sandy declined both repose and refreshment. He agreed that he was considerably “het up” by the walk of ten miles; but expressed his determination’ to have the affair in hand settled before he left the spot, for he did not know when they might leave the country altogether; and that people’s property ought to be respected; and, moreover, that he was not to be frightened or cajoled.
The chief replied, in a soothing tone, that he had never countenanced any misconduct of that sort among his subordinates; and that whenever he had found it necessary to make use of private property, or had injured it unintentionally, he had been always willing to settle the matter on the most liberal basis, and pay all reasonable damages.
This concession of principle so mollified Farmer Sandy that he took a seat and prepared to go into an amicable adjustment of the case. The Captain, pleased at the prospect of saving the United States Government a knotty lawsuit and some thousands in damages, desired his visitor to state precisely the amount and character of the mischief that had been done—the damage resulting from the destruction of his fences—the number of rails taken—and what sum he would be willing to take in reparation of the wrongs he had suffered.
Sandy answered—” Wa’al, Capting, I can’t exactly say that any body’s cattle got into the field, and didn’t do it any damages in pertickler that I know on; but paster is middlin’ scarce on the Cape—a bunch of sorrel here and there—the ground being rather stunny; and I see a critter covorting ‘round my field looking wishful over the fence at the low place where the rails was missing; and you see he might have got in and mussed up things tremenjous, but perhaps he wasn’t able to jump. So, as there was nawthin’ hurt, I rather guess there beant any damages due on that account—which, if there beant, is no merit of them that committed the trespass. And as for the rails they took—wa’al, I don’t know on but one rail they took, and stuck it up on the pint. Now a new rail is worth perhaps no great sum, and that rail was not quite new, and so I guess I’d have no call to claim of you more than the value of a secondhand rail, which I guess may be about ten cents.”
The engineer rose hastily, and retiring to the farther part of the tent, fumbled among his instruments and drawings until he could compose his agonized countenance. Then returning to Mr. Sandy, drew the dime from his vest pocket, and paid it over.
Mr. Sandy thanked him and offered a receipt, which was declined. The invitation to refresh was repeated, and this time accepted.
“Capting,” said the farmer, rising to go, “I’m a man that don't like to be put upon by any body, nor to lay under any injustice or mistreatment; but I’m none of these pesky fellows that want to claim more than my dues, and that can’t settle a difficulty when I meet with a liberal and civil spoken gentleman. If you or any of your people should ever be passing by my house I’d be glad if you would stop and take a bite with me. Good-day.”
West Tisbury is a quiet rural village near the centre of the Vineyard, located on a high plain, in the midst of what appears to he the best agricultural portion of the island. Our sojourn here, although rendered memorable by the most charming and polished hospitality, was not marked by any of those notable adventures or exciting novelties so indispensable to the tourist’s note-hook. Yet to the lover of nature the views from the breezy hill-tops which rise to the westward of Tisbury offer varied and uncommon attractions. Around and beneath him he may see, looking eastward, the extensive plain that lies toward Edgartown, like a sea of green sward, with islands of stunted forest and white farm-houses dotted over its surface, like sails on the ocean. To the west is a tumult of hills, grass covered, specked with flocks of sheep, and broken with numerous detached and massive granite rocks, which seem to have no kindred with the earth where they are found, but are said by geologists to have been brought there by icebergs in former times. Perhaps they were; but who knows? Among the trees that flourish in the valleys one may see the occasional glitter of a lake, half hidden, like a coy maiden peeping from an embowered window. To the south, a long, straight line of yellow sand beach is visible, where the surf flashes and thunders eternally. Then above and around all the unbroken circle of blue, upon whose edge the dome of heaven fits as accurately as the cover of a soup-tureen, the magnificent panorama of ocean, sights and sounds sublimely impressive to the landsman, and which, like the snow-capped mountains to the Switzer, the wild prairie bloom to the Western Indian, the heather to the Scot—like all natural beauties and sublimities—become essential to the life of those born and nurtured within their influence.
Martha’s Vineyard is the largest of the group of islands lying off the southern coast of Massachusetts, and, with the Elizabeth Islands, forms Duke’s County of that Commonwealth. Its length from east to west is about twenty miles. It is ten miles wide at one point, although its mean breadth does not exceed five. On the north and west its surface is undulating, rising in ridges and hills to the height of two hundred feet or more. Toward the south and east it is a plain, chiefly covered with a growth of stunted shrubbery, and reminding one, in its general features, of the high levels of the Alleghanies. There is a fair proportion of woodland, the growth chiefly of post oaks, which seldom attain a greater height than twenty-five or thirty feet; and the only tree or shrub which seems to attain its full size under the influence of the salt winds is the lilac, which grows here in great beauty and profusion. The land produces good grass; and under a proper system of cultivation the crop of cereals is found profitable. Notwithstanding the efforts of several public-spirited gentlemen, who have established an agricultural society and cultivate model farms, the tillage of the soil is not a favorite occupation with the Vineyarders. The hand which has wielded the harpoon can not condescend to the ox-goad or harpoon can not condescend to the ox-goad or hay-fork. He who has been wont to plow the illimitable fields of ocean will not turn up sand and gravel on this limited patch of terra firma.
From Tisbury we visited the Indian reservation at Gay Head, so called from a remarkable headland that forms the western extremity of the island. Here, on a dreary point, nearly cut off from the main body of the island by a couple of fresh-water ponds, dwells the scanty remnant of the aboriginal inhabitants of the land. The moment we enter the reservation the appearance of every thing indicates a thriftless and inferior people. The hills are treeless and shrubless; a number of ordinary cattle may be seen browsing upon the luxuriant grass; but no signs of cultivation or improvement are visible except a few lonely, unpainted, and unornamented wooden houses, and several sorry patches of corn or kitchen vegetables, weed-grown, neglected, and forlorn.
In pleasing contrast with this desolation is the appearance of the government light-house and surroundings, that stand upon the breezy headland overlooking the sea. This well-kept and cheerful exterior led us to seek shelter and hospitality within the Federal inclosure rather than from the natives, and the welcome we received from Squire Flanders, the light-keeper, was worthy of his personal fame and the glorious flag under which he serves.
Having rested and eaten, and partaken of a cup of coffee, equivalent to both, we went to visit the Head, which is an object of interest to artists, geologists, naturalists, and all sorts of practical and speculative philosophers, as well as to the unlearned curious.
It is an earthy cliff, about 130 feet in height, its base washed by the Atlantic waves, its top covered with green-sward to the very brink.
The rains have furrowed the face with deep gullies, leaving sharp and fantastically-shaped ridges between, and exposing various and bright colored earths—red, white, yellow, black, brown, and purple—which, in the sunshine, rejoice the eyes of the passing mariner, and have gained for it its name of Gay Head. These washings also abound in all sorts of fossils, from petrified quohaugs as big as your thumb nail to the skeletons of monsters that might have swallowed the whale that swallowed Jonah.
As the shades of evening deepened we returned to the light-house, and there were invited by the faithful guardian of the tower to go up and witness the lighting of the wonderful lamp. And a magnificent illuminator it is, the finest on our coasts, and perhaps unsurpassed in the world. The revolving lantern is composed of a thousand and three prisms, so arranged as to concentrate the rays of light at a vast distance; and if the atmosphere is clear the light shows brighter at twenty miles than nearer at hand. The lamp is of polished brass, with a circular wick, and consumes about three gallons of oil per night. The oil is pumped up and the lantern turned by clockwork, which requires winding up every half-hour. The whole is of French manufacture, exhibited at the World’s Fair in London, and purchased by our Government at a cost of sixteen thousand dollars. If our pride of nationality was touched at learning that we owed this chef d’oeuvre to the genius of a Frenchman, we were consoled by the reflection that the worthy keeper himself was a native production.
Squire Flanders is not only a man of consequence on Gay Head, but his renown has extended over the whole island; and to those who delight in observing the diverse phases of human character he is well worthy of attention. As a public officer, he has weathered the storms and changes of political affairs, immovable as the wave-beaten cliff upon which he dwells; yet his integrity has never been questioned, and his lamp has never gone out. The exemplary father of ten or a dozen girls and boys, all named after the Presidents, his household furnishes an epitome of our Federal history. A natural and moral philosopher, according to the teachings of Professor Agassiz and St. Paul, he lectures with equal clearness on antediluvian ichthyology and the ethics of Scripture. In short, notwithstanding some eccentricities of appearance and manner, no one can long sojourn with Squire Flanders without being touched with his obliging and amiable character, and impressed with his substantial worth and honesty. It is a matter of conscience with him to keep his lamp always trimmed and his light set upon a hill. Long may it shine, a luminous example to Federal office-holders, a beacon of safety to the homeward-bound mariner!
Next morning, as soon as I could get off from my geological and pharological lessons, I led my companion down to the seashore, that we might see the tide roll in upon a long stretch of sand and pebble beach. We climbed upon a huge boulder and sat for a long time in silence, enjoying what I have always considered one of the grandest scenes in nature.
It is variety that charms in our lighter moods, when seeking enjoyment in the lesser beauties of creation—the hue of flowers, the leafage of trees, the plumage of birds, the tones and pauses of music; but to steep the soul in awe, to awaken in the mind the highest sense of sublimity, what is there like the oneness of ocean? The simple horizontal line that belts the globe; the deep monotone of blue; the measured surge, like the mighty pulsation of a living world; the sullen, cadenced roar; the solemn anthem of eternity.
“Great God !“ exclaimed my companion, drawing a long breath, “does the sea roll in this way always?”
“So it has rolled unceasingly, my boy, from the beginning, since first ‘the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters;’ and so will it continue until the end, when the heavings of this restless bosom shall be stilled, this voice of thunder hushed—on that day when the great closing anthem shall be sung:
“‘Dies iræ, dies illa,
Sæclum solvet in favilla.’”
From the top of our boulder and this lofty discourse we descended to examine a strange creature which the waves threw up near us. It proved to be a king crab, or a horse-foot, as it is sometimes called, from its resemblance to the bottom of a horse’s hoof. From this we were led into a long and interesting stroll upon the beach, gathering shells, and examining with curious eyes the various specimens of animal and vegetable exuviæ thrown up by the tides. There were sponges, and mosses, and many varieties of marine algæ with whose names and qualities we were entirely unacquainted. Then among the masses of sea-weed were the dead bodies of various fish, young sharks, lobsters, crabs, star-fish, and strange, uncouth things, to which we found it difficult to assign a place, seeming the connecting links between animals and weeds. But long before curiosity was satisfied in this desultory search our own blood had caught the tumultuous a spirit of the waters. We made a race-course of the smooth beach, chasing the billows as they retired, and escaping from them as they rolled in, all foam-crested and careering like the steeds of Neptune. Breathless with shouting and running, wet and salted, Dick threw himself on the sand and rolled over and over in his joy.
“Whoop! whoop! hurra! Cousin Bob, this is glorious!
I felt as if I would like to join him, but, in consideration of my years, thought proper to moderate my extravagance. So, in a little while, under the inspiriting influences of the sea-air, soul and mind had entirely succumbed before the overruling vigor of animal life.
“Cousin Bob,” cried Dick, “I’m as hungry as a shark; and the whole world smells of oysters!
Upon this hint we turned our faces toward the light-house.
At night we mounted the tower, and visited the look-out gallery that belts it some distance below the lantern. Here we were surprised by a unique and splendid spectacle. The whole dome of heaven, from the centre to the horizon, was flecked with bars of misty light, revolving majestically on the axis of the tower. These luminous bars, although clearly defined, were transparent, and we could distinctly see the clouds and stars behind them. 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 any thing that, in mystic splendor, equaled this trick of the magic lantern of Gay Head. Then, when the delusion was explained, and we could turn our attention to other things, it was pleasant to sit upon the gallery to watch the lights that shone like mundane stars, twinkling in the cordage of passing vessels, or beaming with planetary steadiness from the distant lighthouses of Cuttyhunk, Tarpaulin Cove, Dumpling Rocks, Clark’s Point, Newport Island, and the double-lighted boat at the Sow-and-Pigs. To accompany these sights there was appropriate music in the sighing of the wind around the tower and the grand bourdonné of the sea.
Having thus far given our attention exclusively to the light-house and its surroundings, we resolved to see something of the Indians; and on the third day of our sojourn started out on a tour of observation. The only roads in the reservation (except the main road to the lighthouse) are narrow foot-paths through the grass, leading from house to house; and taking one of these, by the keeper’s direction, we went to visit Hetty Ames, the recognized great-grandmother of the community. We easily found her hut, situated in a thicket of bushes or scrubby trees; but there was no one at home. We took the liberty of looking into her queer little cuddy of a dwelling, and saw it crammed with odds and ends of furniture, kitchen utensils, bundles of rushes for basket-making (in which art she is an adept); and in the cozy chimney-corner lay a cat with four kittens. The old woman is of pure Indian blood, near a hundred years old; and we wished, if possible, to gather from her some traditions of her people. But in this we were disappointed.
From hence, following a foot-path at a venture, we were presently led to another house, where we inquired for Hetty Ames and a glass of water— hoping thus to find opportunity for making acquaintance with the inmates. Here we were again balked by cold civility.
Continuing our walk, we at length met a man in the pathway, whose address indicated some acquaintance with the world; and in answer to our inquiry for dinner, he very politely turned and led us to his house.
It was a small but regularly finished wooden house, and altogether of a better sort than any we had yet seen. The parlor was respectably furnished, carpeted, and curtained; the mantlepiece and tables decorated with sea-shells, Daguerreotypes, and hooks. Among the latter were some illustrated annuals, but all of them of a moral and religious character.
Our host, Roos, we found to be a very intelligent and well-mannered person, a professional sailor, who had made his last voyage as first mate of a whale-ship. This is the occupation of most of the men of the reservation, and is the only pursuit followed by civilized men that the Indians or their descendants have shown any aptitude for. It is, in fact, nothing more than their original and natural occupation of fishing, extended and improved by the genius and enterprise of the white man. The few poor garden patches that we observed were doubtless cultivated by the women and children, after the Indian fashion.
Roos gave us a comfortable dinner, at which he and his wife joined us. After the meal we retired to the parlor, where he spun us some sea-yarns, and traded us some pretty shells which he had gathered in the Indian seas. The books on his table, he informed us, belonged to the schoolmistress, who was at that time quartered at his house. Upon this suggestion we took leave, and wended our way to the Academy, where we found the school in session. Seated at the desks were some five-and-twenty younglings, of both sexes and of mixed blood, where negro, Indian, and white ancestry were jointly represented. Some few were pure African, and two or three only untainted aboriginals.
The schoolmistress, a good-looking mulatto girl of twenty years old or thereabout, received us with quiet civility, and at my request went on with the school exercises. As the races predominant in the assembly have never shown much aptitude for book-learning, we did not expect a brilliant exhibition, and were not disappointed. In fact, the creatures had that browbeaten and jaded appearance that we observe in educated quadrupeds.
We next visited Deacon Simon, who, I believe, is regarded as the leading man in the community, holding authority by a mixed tenure—uniting the character of the Indian chief with that of the New England Deacon.
Simon is a man of middle age, tall, and of most chieftain-like appearance. His face is Indian in form and color, as is its crowning glory of shining black hair, that falls in heavy masses upon his shoulders. In his walk and all his movements the peculiarities of his race are unmistakably exhibited. In his manner there is a native dignity, which even his ill-made Christian garments can not hide; a bland and lofty courtesy, which he could not have learned from his Anglo-Saxon conquerors, but which is, doubtless, an inheritance from a noble ancestry.
But while we are struck, at every motion, with the high-bred physique of the savage, in the expression of the face there is scarcely a trace of the Indian visible. The stolid, inscrutable countenance of the wild man, the snaky subtlety that peers from his restless and glittering eye, have given place in Deacon Simon’s face to the mild and peaceful light of Christian civilization. The Deacon’s mental capacities are good, and he converses on all subjects within his range with much good sense and native shrewdness. His opportunities, however, have been limited, as he has read little else than the Bible, and has left the island but three times in his life—twice to visit Boston, and once to see Salem. His discourse, therefore, turns chiefly to religious subjects and his experiences in the narrow world around him. As an elder and a thinker, the Deacon does not condescend to much manual labor, having no doubt pondered wisely on the text in Ecclesiasticus, which says, “Wisdom cometh to the learned by opportunity of leisure, and he that hath little business shall become wise.”
Simon has no family, but lives in the house of a married sister—a poor shell of beams and boards, unplastered and unpartitioned, with a large crooked chimney built up through the centre. He’ is fond of talking with strangers, and, when the ice of ceremony is melted, there is a sincere and confiding simplicity about him that speedily wins both respect and good-will. He laments the decadence of his race, and speaks of it, not as the result of vices caught from the whites, nor of oppression and abuse, but simply as “the will of God.” Philosophers who seek for a cause less comprehensive can see nothing more in it than the fulfillment of an inevitable law, whose existence is based upon all reliable observation, past and present—that the inferior race must perish before the civilization of the superior.
The population of the Gay Head reservation numbers about three hundred, great and small. Very few of them are of pure Indian blood, as they have intermarried with negroes and mulattoes of every grade, who, in pursuit of that life of equality and lazy independence which they have sought in vain among the whites, readily associate themselves with these remnants of the aboriginal tribes. Notwithstanding these casual additions to the community its numbers diminish from year to year, and in a few more decades nothing will remain of them but the name.
As we shouldered our knapsacks to start on our way to Tisbury Deacon Simon volunteered to accompany us, promising to show us some objects of curiosity which he thought worthy of attention. The first was a tombstone, near the church, marking the grave of a deceased clergyman. The inscription, now nearly effaced, appears to be a mixture of the Indian and English languages, and although I can not perceive that there is any especial interest attached to it, to please our worthy conductor I copied it as nearly as possible.
OF SUCH ISOHHOK SIRSIH
SIL PAUL AOHTOBYOUTOK
AGED 42 Yrs
NUPPOOP TAH AUGUST 24th 1787.
As all trace of the native language of the Gay Headers has been lost, the Deacon could throw no light upon the obscure passages in this inscription. We must therefore leave it to the Boston archæologists; and should these fail, perhaps some Spiritualist medium may be able to reveal its hidden meaning.
From the church-yard the Deacon led us to the cottage of Hetty Ames; but a second time we were disappointed in obtaining an interview. She was again absent, and this time her door was locked. Continuing our walk we next paid a visit to Jane Wormsley, an aged woman of the tribe, who, in her younger days, had been a Baptist preacher. Introduced by Deacon Simon, we found no difficulty in making acquaintance; but were disappointed in our hope of getting some information in regard to the history and traditions of her race. All recollection of their former life seems to have been entirely obliterated. The old woman had a grandchild with her; and during our visit a couple of her neighbors came in, a pair of handsome, well-made young women, whose husbands were at sea, and who treated us to the first ringing peal of merry laughter that we had heard on Gay Head.
Pursuing our walk, we next turned aside to see what our cicerone considered the greatest curiosity on the island. This was a great boulder, called Toad Rock from its resemblance to an enormous toad sitting on its haunches. Perceiving that Simon regarded this toad with a good deal of pride I made a sketch of it. A short distance beyond this, on the shore of the lake that bounded the reservation, our host took leave of us. On shaking hands with him I felt assured that I parted with a truly pious and estimable man. Making our way to the main road and crossing the water by a bridge and causeway, we strolled leisurely over the hills toward Tisbury.
This part of the island is entirely destitute of trees and shrubs (except where they have been cultivated about the farm-houses), and to eyes accustomed to the verdure of forests it looks desolate and dreary; yet the grass is fine, and from the amount of tillage visible, one may infer that it is fairly profitable.
As we passed the school-house of Chilmark the children were in the inclosure enjoying their mid-day vacation. On one side a crowd of ruddy boys were playing at horses, rolling and prancing over the green with merry shouts of laughter; opposite was a line of girls, with voices like bluebirds in the spring, singing
“Lady Queen Anne, she sits in the sun.”
Several quieter ones conned their books; while here and there a more thoughtful youth and demure little maiden paired off whispering together —cherishing, perhaps, in innocent and blissful ignorance, their first fresh-budding love. The little ones were all smartly and even tastefully dressed; and with their bright faces full of health and intelligence, I thought I had rarely seen a more pleasing sight, and could not but contrast it mentally with the seat of learning I had last visited.
After accomplishing a mile or two more of our journey, Dick began to complain of hunger. Boys of his age are always hungry, except when asleep, or when some excitement diverts their minds temporarily from the subject of eating. Seeing a cottage a short distance from the road, I proposed that we should test the rural hospitality of the land by asking for our dinner. Dick made no demurrer, and we directly presented ourselves at the cottage door and made our wants known.
A middle-aged woman received us politely, and with cheerful alacrity set about preparing our meal, although the family dinner was over and the table had been cleared away. Good bread and butter, fried eggs and mutton bones, were quickly served, followed by a cup of coffee worthy of Delmonico’s. As all remuneration for the meal was declined, social etiquette required that we should sit a while with our
entertainer, who seemed well pleased with our society. Our hostess was the wife of a skipper then cruising for whales in distant seas. She doubtless thought of him as she prepared the meal for the strangers, and our grace after meat was a mental prayer that her Captain might speedily return with full oil casks; and that wherever he landed, should it he among heathen, pagans, or Christians, he might always find as kind a welcome as we met that day at his cottage on the Vineyard.
While we lingered I got out my sketch-book and commenced inking some drawings I had made on Gay Head. This attracted the attention of two children who were sitting in the room. The girl, who was about thirteen years old, was very pretty, but seemed to be rather a froward piece, and, after observing my work for a while, exclaimed, impatiently,
“I wish I had a thousand dollars I”
“And pray,” said I, “what would you do with a thousand dollars ?“
“Well,” she replied, “I know what I’d do. I’d go to New Bedford and have my likeness taken, and—and—” She twisted and hesitated, so I supplied the rest. “You’d buy a diamond breast-pin, and half a dozen silk dresses, a carriage and horses, and what else ?“
She replied, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t spend it all at one time, but I’d keep some to buy whatever I wanted.”
I observed that if she once got into the city stores the money wouldn’t last her long.
“Ah,” said the boy, “if I had a thousand dollars, I’d put it away, and only spend a few cents at a time.”
“You selfish vermin!” exclaimed Dick Dashaway, “you have both disposed of your money and haven’t done a generous thing, nor have bestowed a thought on your mother, nor on any one else besides yourselves!"
The children looked confused and hung their heads. At last the girl spoke up, sullenly, “I guess father can give her every thing she wants. This thousand dollars I wanted for myself.”
Just then the door opened and a little maiden flashed into the room like a sudden gleam of sunlight. She was about nine years old and extremely pretty. Bonnetless and shoeless, she held in her hand an empty basket, apparently just returned from some errand to a neighbor’s. The glow of rustic health mantling her cheeks, her eyes dancing with archness and intelligence, her bare feet models for a statuary. I thought I had rarely seen a lovelier picture. The mother was not slow to perceive my admiration, and interrupting the half-told message, desired Phoebe to pay her respects to the strangers. This she did with such a modest grace that I took her on my knee and kissed her.
Said I, “Phoebe, would you like to have a thousand dollars ?
The little one stared at me with amazement. “Indeed, Sir, I would not know what to do with so much money; and besides, as I have every thing that I want already, perhaps it would do me no good.”
At this I looked solemn. “Now listen to me, child (you that are so beautiful and wise), and I will tell your fortune.”
The brother and sister drew near with attentive ears, and even the housewife suspended her dishwashing to hear the prophecy.
“You go to the school in Chilmark, don’t you?” ‘‘No,” said she, with a blush, “not this year; but I’m going next year.”
“Very well; you will begin next year, and you will learn all that is taught in books quickly and cleverly, at the same time that you will learn at home to knit and sew, and to be an industrious little housekeeper; and now as I passed this morning, not far from the school-house, I saw a handsome curly-headed boy harpooning frogs in a pond. His name I do not know; but when that boy sees your blue eyes, and how quick and industrious you are at your tasks, he will fall in love with you, and during your school days you will go together to pick berries and gather shells upon the beach: you will read out of the same book during play time.”
“That’s Billy Fid,” said the sister; “he walks in the lane with her, and gave her a string of fish the other day.”
“It’s no such thing,” retorted Phoebe with spirit; “I don’t care for him; and besides, his hair is not curly!"
‘‘Well, it will come to pass in time that your little beau will go to sea; perhaps he will ship as a cabin-boy at first; but by industry and courage he will rise to be a harpooner, then a mate, and very soon, with good fortune, he will be a captain. Then he will make lucky voyages, and return with his vessel filled with oil; and when he becomes rich you will be married, and he will build you the most beautiful cottage, surrounded with shrubbery and flowers, with a white paling fence. The gate-way shall be made of a whale’s jawbone, and on either side of the stoop there shall be huge East Indian shells for vases. The cottage shall be carpeted and furnished with Boston furniture. The mantles shall be adorned with corals, whale’s teeth, and lovely shells. The walls hung with pictures of ships and whaling scenes; the tables covered with pretty books; and the rugs and door-mats shall be of the skins of white bears and spotted seals.”
“That,” exclaimed the breathless child, “is what I would like; but will we be rich enough to buy father a new ship in place of the one that he lost?”
“That was well thought of, child; but perhaps by that time he will be too old to want a new ship. But you will fit up his cottage for him as prettily as possible, and buy him a one-horse wagon that he may drive about to see his cronies, and tell great fish stories with the famous captains of Holmes’s Hole, Tisbury, and Edgartown. The Luces, the Nortons, the Mayhews, the Smiths, the Peases, the Fishers, the Weeks, etc., etc.”
“And when my Captain goes to sea,” quoth Phoebe, “I can come again and live with father and mother.”
“Bless the child !“ cried the dame. “She don’t want to leave us, even for the pretty house.”
“And where am I to live ?“ asked the elder girl, in the indignant and petulant tone of a child robbed of its birth-right. “I’m not going to live in her house, I can tell you—the proud, stuck up piece!”
I whispered to Dick that it was time to go; so we shouldered our knapsacks, and making proper acknowledgments for the entertainment we had received, took the road for Tisbury. As long as the cottage was in sight, we could see the inmates grouped in the door looking after us. It was near sunset when we came within view of the hospitable roof at Tisbury which we had left four days before. As we passed by a high boarded fence, my companion’s attention was attracted by a calf that stood bleating at a gate. He thought it had been accidentally shut out from its mother, and proposed opening the gate. I opposed the suggestion, advising him not to meddle with other people’s cattle. My companion thought otherwise, however; and in the goodness of his heart opened the gate. The calf rushed in, and the cow, who was submitting uneasily to the process of milking by a gawky youth, suddenly threw up her heels, overthrowing both pail and milkman on the grass, and rejoined her offspring with many demonstrations of joy and affection.
“There’s a beautiful row I’ve kicked up!” cried my cousin. “I have often heard that Yankee men milked the cows, hut never believed it before.”
I observed that he had acquired his information on the subject at somebody’s expense, and that there was another more grave reflection suggested by the incident: that people who are only cognizant of matters on one side of the fence should be careful how they meddled with those on the other side.
On the following day we drove twelve miles to Edgartown, the chief town of the island and the seat of justice of Duke’s County. It is neatly built of wood, contains about fifteen hundred inhabitants, is situated on a narrow channel that separates the island of Chappaquidick from the Vineyard, and, like all the other towns, cities, and villages in this region, derives most of its wealth and importance from the whale. The Marcy House, where we sojourned, is comfortable and worthy of patronage, being, like all the public houses we have seen in this county, neat, quiet, well ordered, and moderate in charges.
Although our hopes of a fishing frolic were blasted here by the prevalence of a northeast storm, yet with our indoor occupations and some talking with the Vikings, we managed to get through the triste spell without losing our patience. Among other civilities a citizen of the place gave us the opportunity of looking over some historic records of the island, which probably would not afford much amusement to the general reader; nevertheless, after the tour I had made, and my agreeable acquaintance with the people of the land, I read them with unfeigned interest.
Although the pursuits of these islanders are such as develop courage and hardihood in the highest degree, they have generally been noncombatants in times of war—owing, in some degree, to the influence of Quaker principles among them, but more, we imagine, to their exposed and utterly helpless position in the presence of such an enemy as our two great wars have brought upon our shores. During the Revolutionary struggle the maritime supremacy of Great Britain gave her absolute control over such feeble and detached portions of our territory; and to escape certain destruction they were forced to make such terms with the enemy as condemned them to neutrality: in return for which they were promised immunity for life and property. These treaties were kept as such compacts between the strong and the weak usually are. The English plundered and pillaged without remorse whenever it suited their convenience. The islanders submitted in silence, or remonstrated without receiving redress. Reduced to ruin and starvation by these outrages, their sufferings entitle them to a full share of that honor and respect won by their brethren, who, more fortunately situated, were enabled to render their country more active and brilliant service.
Nor are the annals of the Vineyard altogether barren of names whose active patriotism has sustained our national flag in war and glory. The late General Worth—although born in the State of New York while his parents were there on a visit—was a Vineyarder by blood and education, and both his father and mother lie buried in the cemetery at Edgartown. They also record with pride the name of one Captain Dimmock, who, during the darkest days of the Revolution, wrought the enemy much annoyance by his coast privateering.
Their traditions, too, may serve to swell the list of “Famous Women of the Revolution,” as the following narrative will show. At one time a British transport fleet of eighty sail, under General Grey, made a descent upon the island and carried off ten thousand sheep, with all the swine and oxen they could find. To oppose this wholesale spoliation the islanders had no power, and they submitted in sullen and despairing silence, even assisting in some instances to drive away the captured flocks, hoping thereby to prevent still greater waste and outrage. A squad of foragers lighted upon the cottage of an aged dame dwelling alone with her little grandson; and, in spite of prayers and entreaties to spare the widow’s living, they took possession of all her live stock—sheep, pigs, and cow. As they were about to move off a sergeant, who had an eye for delicacies, spied a sleek and well-fed grunter concealed behind the old woman’s petticoats.
“Why, boys,” he shouted, “you’ve left the fattest of the litter behind.”
Immediately half a dozen grenadiers advanced to capture the coveted quadruped; but the good dame’s prayerful tone was quickly changed for one of rebellious defiance. Seizing a heavy broomstick she flourished it in the face of the enemy in a manner terrible to behold.
“Away with ye, cursed seed of the oppressor, despoilers of the widow and the fatherless! Take what ye have of mine, and begone; but this is Josey’s pig, and not a hair of him shall ye touch.”
Impervious to fear or pity, the iron-hearted men of war advanced upon the prize; but the old woman’s broomstick rattled among their shakos and. bayonets at such a rate that they were fain to call a halt. The pig still stuck to his cover, and the sergeant, handing his musket to a comrade, rushed in and attempted to seize the rebellious grandam by the waist. In this rash assault he received such a whack across his noggin that he saw rockets, and possibly mistaking them for signals from the fleet, he beat a hasty retreat toward the boats with his squad, followed by volleys of red-hot texts. At length Lord Grey, with his mighty fleet and armed myrmidons, sailed away, leaving the wasted island to want and sorrow; but he didn’t get Josey’s pig.
Among the county records is a petition sent to Sir Henry Clinton complaining of this raid, and asking redress; which was returned to the inhabitants with the following indorsement:
“The Commander-in-Chief knows of no arrangement between General Grey and the people of Martha’s Vineyard in relation to the cattle as herein stated, and does not see fit to institute any inquiry into the matter at present.
“JOHN ANDRE, Adjt.
“For SIR HENRY CLINTON.”
Another paper of much older date throws some light upon the early discipline of the island:
“At his Majesty’s court houlden: December 29, 1674, Thomas Dogget complaineth against James Skiff, in an action of slander and defamation, to the value of one hundred pound sterling, for saying the said Doggett is a thief, a lyor, and knave, and other opprobrious words tending to defamation.
“Thomas Doggett, plaintiffe, James Skiff, defendant, the Jurie finde for the plaintiffs fifty pounds, or an acknowledgment, to the content and satisfaction both of bench and jury, to be made by said Skiff in the open court, touching his rash, wicked, and unworthy speeches relating to the name of Thomas Doggett; it being the choice of James Skiff whether he will pay or acknowledge, the said Skiff paying the charges of the court."
“James Skiff”s acknowledgement:
“I, James Skiff, doe acknowledge that I have sinned both against God and Thomas Doggett in sundry slanderous and opprobrious words, as calling him thief, liar, and cheating knave, and divers other words tending greatly to the dishonor of the good name and credit of a man in his place.”
In looking back at these old-fashioned days, it may strike us us somewhat singular that a public man like Thomas Doggett should take offense at such mild and innocuous epithets, or that a jury should find against a man for using words, which, in our present golden age of civilization and refinement, form the chief staple of political argument—the most common ornament of popular oratory.
For our incidents in modern history we made acquaintance with the sea-captains and listened to their narratives of wild and hardy adventure, graphic as truth, terse and simple as the notes in a ship’s log-hook.
“I have been stove very often,” quoth Captain Norton. “Once I had just raised my iron to strike a sperm-whale, and the next moment I was flying fifty feet in the air. When I plumped into the water I sunk some distance, and on rising again found myself in the midst of half a dozen hundred-barrel whales, so I swum for my hat.”
“Good Heavens, Captain!” exclaimed Dick, “you thought of your hat at a time like that ?“
“Well, the hat was a good one,” replied the imperturbable skipper; “I didn’t like to lose it, so I put it on and swam to meet the next boat that was coming up. They took me aboard and picked up the other men, and we went on and fastened another fish.”
Then there was old Captain Spouter. When he was boat-steerer they had struck a large spermaceti, and were paying out at such a rate that the loggerhead smoked, when the line got a foul turn around his leg and he was carried down, down, down. But he was not a bit scared, not he, but was as cool down there as a Greenland seal. He didn’t want to lose the fish, so he held on until his ear-drums burst, then he out with his boat-knife and cut the yarn. But as the cussed thing kept on sounding, and he kept on going down, he discovered he had cut the line on the wrong side and was still hung to the whale. Another cut loosed him, and he rose to the surface and was taken on board his boat, having been deep enough down to have seen the great squid.
There, too, was Captain Fid, who, having cruised unsuccessfully for a long time in the North Pacific, at length saw whales near the ship one evening about sunset. Contrary to rule he went out against them at this late hour, and as he rowed toward the nearest spout, a monstrous fish rose under the how of his boat and bit a hole in the bottom. The water rushed in; but as the oarsmen sit with their hacks to the bow, none saw the danger but himself. He quietly stopped the leak with a boat-swab and drove on. It was dark when he dimly discerned the black hump of a whale emerge from the water before him. Without pausing to consider whether he was head or tail on, the stout harpooner struck home. The fish darted and towed them all night, but by dawn the boatmen had their turn in towing the dead whale back to the ship which had followed in their wake.
Upon such stories as these the young Vineyarder is nurtured. He is weaned upon ship-biscuit, and cuts his teeth upon a sea-shell. As soon as he can fairly walk he may be seen fishing from the wharf or throwing hand-lines into the surf. About the time that the young Virginian mounts his first pony for a ride around the paternal estate the Island Boy holds the tiller of his sail-boat, galloping over the salt-sea waves—the estate of his fathers. In youth, the fizgig and harpoon supply the place of the rifle and fowling-piece; and the great ambition of his life to be a Captain supersedes and swallows up all other ambitions—Congress and the Presidency included. In short, at Edgartown every thing smells of the sea; the weather-vanes are all whales and sword-fish. Every bevy of pretty girls you may chance to meet, walking or driving (and they are not few), are some Captain’s daughters; every meek-eyed matron, fair and demure, is a Captain’s wife. In the cemetery the tombstones are all to the memory of Captains and their families. The address of courtesy to strangers is “Captain.” When these people take to the tillage of the soil, you may expect to see the sea-eagle scratching in the sand for roots and worms.
But it is high time we were in Nantucket. The northeaster has blown itself out, the clouds have rolled away, and, having hired a sail-boat to take us over the Sound, we embarked with our baggage and bade farewell to the Vineyard. Until we cleared the harbor and the sandy shore of Cape Poge, our progress was but slow: as our Skipper aptly observed, “We went like a toad through a tar-barrel ;“ but once upon the open sea our sail began to fill, and the water to hiss at our bows. As we had some thirty miles to travel, Dick and myself threw out our bluefish lines, and were presently engaged in the lively pastime of hauling in six and eight pounders. The breeze continued to freshen, and our light bark began to leap and career like a mettlesome steed, throwing the spray over her bows half as high as the mainsail. Even the impassive boatman’s eye began to kindle. “Let this hold on,” he said, “and I’ll raise Nantucket out of the water before you hook another bluefish.” Before many minutes had passed the bluefish was hooked, and Dick was hauling him in with all speed. “There,” said the boatman, pointing to some faint blue points rising over the horizon’s edge—” there’s Muskeget, and there’s Tuckernuck, and there’s old Nantucket herself!”
Harper's new monthly magazine. Sept 1860. Volume 21, Issue 124, pp. 442-461
Summer in New England, Second Paper, by D. H. Strother