Martha’s Vineyard History: What You Need to Know

Martha's Vineyard HistoryThere are many things that make Martha’s Vineyard so special to those who live on or visit the island. The island is home to lovely towns, picturesque beaches, wonderful restaurants and more. Martha’s Vineyard history is another thing that intrigues and interests visitors and residents alike. The rich history of the Vineyard is well known and many historic buildings still exist today. So, we’re here to teach you just a little bit about Martha’s Vineyard history so you’ll know some background information the next time you visit!

Early Exploration

The original inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard were the Wampanoag, who called the island “Noepe” in their language. This means “land amid the streams.” At one point, there were almost three thousand Wampanoag on the island but their numbers dwindled down to about three hundred in the 1700s. The island’s name came from the English explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold, who actually christened a smaller island to the south Martha’s Vineyard in 1602. It is thought that he named the island this in honor of his mother-in-law or his daughter, who were both named Martha. The name eventually transferred to the larger island.

English Settlement

In 1642, Thomas Mayhew began the first English settlement on Martha’s Vineyard at Great Harbor. As he settled the island, Mayhew converted many of the Native American neighbors, the Hiacoomes, to Christianity. This included the spiritual and political leaders of the tribe. Eventually, the settlement was put under the jurisdiction of the Province of New York and incorporated into Dukes County, which was subsequently transferred to the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Still today Martha’s Vineyard is located in Dukes County, Massachusetts.

The 19th Century

Like the neighboring island of Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard came to prominence in the 19th century because o the whaling industry. Ships traveled to hunt whales for oil and blubber. However, the industry almost collapsed in 1870 because of the discovery of less expensive petroleum in the state of Pennsylvania. This meant the costly oil derived from the whales was no longer needed to light lamps. Summer residences began to develop on the island starting in 1872 when the Old Colony railroad came to the mainland of Massachusetts at Woods Hole. It was then that Martha’s Vineyard history and the island’s reputation became that of a resort community for tourists and the wealthy.


Today Martha’s Vineyard is well known for being the perfect getaway destination. With quaint towns and beautiful beaches, it’s easy to see why so many people flock to the island to enjoy some time away from their everyday lives. And enjoying Martha’s Vineyard history can be a great part of that experience. For instance, a visit to the Old Whaling Church is a good way to take in some history. And the Martha’s Vineyard Museum is always worth a visit.

When you want to have a wonderful Martha’s Vineyard experience, then you should consider one of the many Sandpiper Rentals properties on the island. We have vacation homes all over the Vineyard, so you can be near all of the attractions you want to be near. Or, you can find a property that is a bit more isolated for some serious rest and relaxation. The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to finding the ideal place to call your home-away-from-home while you’re on Martha’s Vineyard. We can’t wait to see you soon!

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