Who Named Martha’s Vineyard?
The island’s namesake is not definitively known, but it is thought that the island was named after Gosnold’s mother-in-law or his daughter, both named Martha. The discoverer, Bartholomew Gosnold, also commemorated the abundant growth of wild vines on the land.
The island was also known as Martin’s Vineyard (perhaps after the captain of Gosnold’s ship, John Martin); many islanders up to the 18th century called it by this name. The United States Board on Geographic Names worked to standardize placename spellings in the late 19th century, including the dropping of apostrophes.
Thus for a time Martha’s Vineyard was officially named Marthas Vineyard, but the Board reversed its decision in the early 20th century, making Martha’s Vineyard one of the five placenames in the United States that takes a possessive apostrophe.
The twin islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket lie South of Cape Cod off the south-eastern coast of Massachusetts, United States. Both are triangular in shape, but Martha’s Vineyard is larger and more rugged. It is nearly 20 miles long and ranges from 2—10 miles in width. There are wide, hard beaches on the southern side with safe sheltered shores within the deep bays. The north is hilly, but in the south and eastern parts there are wide stretches of moorland covered with heather and wild flowers.
Martha’s Vineyard is primarily known as a summer colony, and it is only accessible by boat and air. Both islands were discovered early in the 17th Century and granted to Thomas Mayhew in 1642. The Indians were quiet and friendly, and the first settlers fished for a living, making large fortunes from whaling.
With the decline of whaling and sailing ships, the islands were almost forgotten until about 70 years ago when their value as summer resorts was realized. Families bought the old mansions of the whaling captains and the shanties of the fishermen, renovated them and now return to the beautiful and secluded islands year after year for their summer vacations.
In 1985, the two islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick Island were included in a new American Viticultural Area designation for wine appellation of origin specification: Martha’s Vineyard AVA. Wines produced from grapes grown on the two islands can be sold with labels that carry the Martha’s Vineyard AVA designation. Martha’s Vineyard was the home to the winemaker Chicama Vineyards in West Tisbury, though it closed after 37 years on August 10, 2008.
Other popular attractions include the annual Grand Illumination in Oak Bluffs; the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, an arthouse cinema which the non-profit Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, and which screens independent and world cinema all year long; the historic Capawock and Strand theatres, also run by the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, which runs a winter film festival in March, a Summer Film Series and Cinema Circus every Wednesday in July and August, the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival, which showcases the works of independent and established African-American filmmakers in August, and Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival in September; the Farm Institute at Katama Farm in Edgartown; and the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, the oldest operating platform carousel in the United States.