The Original Acquisition of Nantucket & Martha's Vineyard by your Ninth Great Grand-father

It is unlikely that anyone in our family realizes the fact that both Nantucket and the Vineyard were initially settled by your direct ancestors. The story is a fascinating one and features, principally, three of your grandfathers.

Governor Thomas Mayhew (1593-1682) was your tenth great-grandfather and Folger (1617-1690) and Coffin (1609-1681) were both your ninth great-grandfather, a generation later.

Let's start with the story of Mayhew and the original acquisition.

Of course, Governor Thomas Mayhew started out as just plain Thomas Mayhew. There isn't alot known about his youth. He grew up in a town called Tisbury in Wiltshire, a tiny place between London and Bristol to the west. His father died when he was 21 and he became a merchant where he likely apprenticed in Southampton, due south and one of the great seaport towns of England. One of the great merchants in London, who was very active in the colonization of New England was Matthew Cradock. Somehow, Thomas became acquainted with Cradock and indeed, after having been in business for himself for about 10 years, Mayhew accepted an offer in 1631 to become Cradock's agent in the colonies. This was only ten years after the Pilgrim's had landed, first at Provincetown and then at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Mayhew was to make his headquarters in Medford, where he built a "greate stone house".

About this time, in 1634, Mayhew married again for his first wife had died. His 2nd wife was a widow, Jane Gallion Paine. When Mr. Thomas Paine died, she took Thomas Mayhew as her second husband and moved to New England to join him with her 2 children by Paine, Thomas Paine Jr. and Jane. Thomas Mayhew already had a son, Thomas Mayhew, Jr. who was then about 15. Later step-brother married step-sister and Jane Paine became the wife of Thomas Mayhew Jr. Great-grandparents all! But back to Thomas Mayhew the father. In the years 1631 to about 1646, Mayhew lived in Watertown and worked for Cradock. Unfortunately, some of the business affairs Mayhew established for himself and for Cradock were not successful and his English boss grew unhappy. Nonetheless, Mayhew was elected Selectman for Watertown, Representative to the General Court and Magistrate and served his community in these many functions with distinction. He was also a miller and a merchant and bridgebuilder building the first bridge across the Charles River in Boston in 1641. Despite all of these activities, Mayhew suffered financial reverses and was looking for new opportunities.


At this time the Vineyard and Nantucket were part of the province of Maine which belonged to Sir Ferdinando Gorges who had received it from the King, Charles I. But title was a little unclear because the King had also given to Lord Stirling the title to Long Island, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Neither Gorges nor Lord Stirling had much interest in Nantucket and the Vineyard nor were they concerned about the conflict in their titles. And so Mayhew, eager to leave his troubles behind, set out to acquire the title from both of them so that there could be no doubt about his own ownership of the two islands.


These presents doth witness that I, James Forrett, Gentleman, who

was sent over into these Parts of America By the honourable the Lord

Sterling with a commission for the ordering and Disposing of allthe Island

that Lyeth Between Cape Cod hudsons river and hath better unto confirmed

his agency without any consideration, Do hereby Grant unto Thomas

Mayhew of Watertown, merchant, and to Thomas Mayhew his son, free

Liberty and full power to them and their associates to Plant and inhabit

upon Nantuckett and two other small Islands adjacent, and to enjoy the

said Islands to them their heirs & assigns forever, provided that the said

Thomas Mayhew and Thomas Mayhew his son or either of them or their

associates Do Render and Pay yearly unto the honourable the Lord Sterling,

his heirs or assigns such an acknowledgement as shall be thought tt by

John Winthrop, Esq, the elder or any two magistrates in Massachusetts

Bay Being chosen for that end and purpose by the honourable the Lord

Sterling or his Deputy and By the said Thomas Mayhew his son or associ-

ates: it is agreed that the government that the said Thomas Mayhew and

Thomas hlayhew his son and their associates shall set up shall Be such as

is now established in the Massachusetts aforesaid, and that the said Thomas

Mayhew & Thomas Mayhew his son and their associates shall have as

much privilege touching their planting Inhabiting and enjoying of all and

evry part of the Premises as By the patent is granted to the Patent of the

Massachusetts aforesaid and their associates.

In witness hereof I the said James Forrett have hereunto sett my hand

and seal this I3th Day of October, 1641.


Signed Sealed and Delivered in the presence of

Robert . . . . . . . . . .

Nicholas Davison 2

Richard Stileman 3


Forrett added "Martin's" Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, in a second instrument which he drew up, and authorized the grantees to plant upon and inhabit those parts, as follows:


Whereas By virtue of a commission from the Lord Sterling, James

Forrett, Gentleman, hath granted Liberty and full Power unto Thomas

Mayhew of Watertown, merchant, and Thomas Mayhew his son, and their

associates to Plant the Island of Nantucket according to the article In a

deed to that purpose expressed: Now for as much as the said Island hath

not Been yett whole surrendered whereby it may appear that Comfortable

accomodations for themselves and their associates will be found there, this

therefore shall serve to testifye that I, the said James Forrett, by virtue of

my said commission, Do hereby grant unto the said Thomas Mayhew and

Thomas Mayhew his son and their associates, as much. to plant upon

hiartins Vinyard and Elizabeth Isles as they have by virtue heretofore of

the Deed granted unto them for Nantuckett as therein plainly In all con-

siderations Both on the Right honourable the Lord Sterling's part and on

the said Thomas Mayhew & Thomas Mayhew his son and their associates

Doth appear In Witness whereof I, the said James Forrett have hereunto

sett my hand the a3rd Day of October, Annoque Domini 1641.


Signed and delivered In Presence of us



John X Vahane.'


Garret Church.


But this was not entirely satisfactory, ignoring as it did Gorges' claim and so he concluded to "make assurance doubly sure" by securing the rights as well from the Gorges interests; and two days later the following instrument, executed by Vines, authorized the elder Mayhew to "plant and inhabit upon the Island Capawok alias Martins Vineyard," as set forth in the following copy:


I, Richard Vines of Saco, Gentleman, Steward General for Sir Ferdi-

nando Gorges, Knight and Lord Proprietor of the Province of Maine and

the Islands of Cappawok and Nautican, Do by these presents give full

power and authority unto Thomas Mayhew, Gentleman, his agents and

associates to plant and Inhabit upon the Islands Capawok alias Martins

Vinyard with all privileges and Rights thereunto belonging to enjoy the

premises to himself heirs and associates forever, yielding and Paying unto

the said Ferdinando Gorges, his heirs and assigns annually, or two Gentle-

men Independently By each of them chosen ShallJudge to Be meet by way

of acknowledgement.

Given under my hand this 25th Day of October, 1641.



Witness :

Thomas Payne

Robert Long."


So now Thomas had it all sown up. But, especially prudent, he wrote, "I endeavored to obtain the Indian right of them". And so off he went and secured their permission as well for he and his group to settle the islands.

Mayhew interested some of his Watertown neighbors to join him and among them, you will recognize the names of Daggett and Pierce, which are big names in present-day Edgartown. They made their first settlement there in what they called the East End where the Chief Sachem was Towanquatack. Initially, apparently, there was little contact between the local indians and the settlers due to earlier more violent contacts which had occurred in previous decades.

And so, by 1642, the Vineyard was no longer solely the land of the original Alquonquin Wampanoags, but had become home to Thomas Mayhew of Watertown, Massachusetts and Tisbury, Wiltshire before.

And so Thomas Mayhew became "Governor" Mayhew, the master of the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. He did appoint a group of assistants to help judge disputes between islanders. In 1653, this group included your great-grandfather Peter Folger who had moved from Watertown with Mayhew. But in 1658, perhaps frustrated with the opinions of these others in his governing of things, Mayhew abolished his assistant positions and declared himself Magistrate. This dismissal, along with his increasing rejection of Puritanism in favor of Baptism (or Anabaptism as it was then called) led Grandfather Peter Folger to leave the Vineyard in 1662 and settle in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, (where lived Great Grandfathers Hall, Brownell, Pearce and earlier Sands) Mind you, Peter lasted only a short time in Portsmouth, quickly accepting the offer of Grandfather Tristram Coffin to come to Nantucket where he would teach and interpret Wampanoag for the new settlement there in exchange for land. From 1658 onwards, Mayhew's undiluted authority became a source of island tension which he sought to quell. The source for Mayhew's authority, originally Gorges, then Stirling had now become the Duke of York, courtesy of Charles II. This royal authority which had heretofor been unasserted over Mayhew now became something of a thorn in Mayhew's side as the Duke, through his agent in New York, Colonel Francis Lovelace. Mayhew frequently ignored instructions received from the Colonel, or let them lay dormant on his desk before replying many months later. Finally, Mayhew was summoned to New York to a conference at Fort James, July 6, 1671. He had brought with him to New York his 23 year-old grandson, Matthew, (your great-grandfather as well) to assist him. Mayhew apparently handled the Duke to his advantage for he left New York with the extraordinary title of Governor for Life.

Despite the new grandeur of his title, the residents of the islands still resisted Mayhew's assertion of unconditional authority and when the Dutch took control of New York in 1673, they attempted to force Mayhew to abdicate on the theory that the "source" for his authority no longer existed. But in 1674 the Dutch returned Nieuw Amsterdam to the English in the Treaty of Westminster and the new English governor in New York restored Mayhew's unconditional authority. Vengeance was Mayhew's and many were fined, punished or forced to leave the islands. Governor Mayhew's "reign" was to end on March 25th, 1862 when he died.

His grandson, Matthew, however who had helped his grandfather solidify his authority way back when they had been summoned to New York, had learned the lessons of his grandfather well and had himself appointed Chirf Magistrate where he exercised nearly as total an authority as had the Governor.

Peter Folger on the Vineyard & Nantucket

Tristram Coffin on Nantucket

Governor Thomas Mayhew (1593-1682)

The Original settlers: The Wampanoags

The Chart