06 September 2006


"What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea
for a livelihood!... Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's.
For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires. "

Herman Melville, Moby Dick
The history of Nantucket as discovered by the first off islander begins when Captain
Bartholomew Gosnold an English Mariner chartered the “elbow of sand-“ and discovered it
in 1602. Approximately 1,500 Native Americans populated the Island and
began the interest in pursuing whales at first just from the shore.
The white man’s approach to Nantucket came around 1641 when Lord Sterling
sold the island to Thomas Mayhew in 1641, subsequently Mayhew broke the the
Nantucket enterprise into 27 shares, the holders of which became the first white residents
of Nantucket. Wars, disease and plain bad luck lead to the demise of the Native American
ending with the death of the last man with Indian blood, a half breed, in 1854.

Quakers. Whaling Industry. By this time the two most important events
in the history of Nantucket, the coming of Quakerism and the pursuit of
the sperm whale to the western oceans had gone into decline.
The whaling industry had prospered through the 18th century with the interruption of the good times
during the Revolutionary War and its resulting loss of ships causing huge monetary losses to the island economy.
Recovery of the whaling industry after the war of 1812 began the platinum age of whaling. This second
prosperous period for Nantucket ended with a combination of events, the great fire
of 1846, the discovery of gold in California in 1849, an easy trip for men used to
spending two years before the mast and the discovery outside of Boston of a method
to refine the oil coming out of the earth in Pennsylvania.

Whale oil lamps and sperm candles were now a thing of
the past. But the great gift of the whaling days, Nantucket’s neighborhood’s and the
assets represented in the fine homes built during the 1830’s were intact, and the money
to improve or change them into something modern was non-existent as the population
disappeared there was no demand for new houses when old ones could be had for the asking
or a small price. By 1870 the only activity at the docks was the beginnings of the

arrivals of the tourists that would continue today, the people that came to seek the ocean breezes
and clear waters of Nantucket.

By the 1880’s the tradition of the summer vacation developed and what better way to enjoy this time than a journey
capped by a cooling ferry ride to the far away land. In his classical novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville says
"Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore . . ."

Today, 36% of the land is conservation. Moors, cranberry bogs, heaths, aromatic flowers, miles and miles of splendid beaches,
three lighthouses, a working wind mill, and church steeples make up the tiny island. True Nantucket still remains priceless.
Nicknamed Gray Lady, because of the fog, it is 3 1/2 width by 14 miles length tucked away 30 miles out in the ocean,
this corner of heaven has worldwide visitors. It appeals to the wealthy visitors, nevertheless it is a terrific spot for
romantic and family vacations. The town of Nantucket hugs the yacht filled harbor and features sophisticated
gray shingled homes with white picket fences, shopping stores, cobblestone streets, world-renown restaurants,
art-filled galleries, quaint historic captain whalers' homes. It is also the birth location of the first woman astronomer Maria Mitchell, who was the first woman to discover a comet.
Sconset or Siasconset is on the east side of the island, a village community of picturesque rose covered cottages.
The island also has one of the best sunsets on the West side at Madaket Beach, a favorite spot.

The best way to learn the history of Nantucket is not to read but to take a walk
and open your eyes look around at the wonders and beauty of Nantucket.
Historian, Edouard A. Stackpole