Every Man A King
The Story Of English Settlement on Nantucket
Nantucket Island first appears in traditional history at the very beginning
of English exploration of the region; it was discovered in 1602 by Bartholomew Gosnold, to the great surprise of the Indians
who were already living there. Truth be told they probably did not have any idea that they had been "discovered", although
they certainly had experience with Europeans previously: the main reason that the island had such a large population (relative
to its natural resources) was that many Indians had recently fled there to escape the ravages of the plagues accidentally
introduced by early European visitors.
The island pretty much falls back into relative obscurity -- at least
as the Anglo narrative goes -- until 1635, when the Plymouth Company was induced by King Charles I to convey land grants
of present-day New York, including the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, to the Earl of Stirling. They did so, and
on April 20, 1637, the earl gave power of attorney to James Fawcett, or Farret, to dispose of said lands. Charles also granted
a charter to Sir Fernando Gorges on April 3, 1639, providing him undoubted sovereign rights over Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket,
although Lord Stirling continued to assert that he held a proprietary interest in the islands.
Given the remoteness
of the islands in question, the issue lay dormant until 1641, when a gentleman by the name of Thomas Mayhew bought Nantucket
and its adjacent islands from James Fawcett for £40. A short while later he also purchased the Elizabeth Islands and Martha's
Vineyard from the Earl of Stirling's agent. Given the ambiguity of the competing claims, Sterling's and Gorges', naturally
Thomas Mayhew's first act was to obtain clear title for his new properties. Consequently Thomas Mayhew also sought, and obtained,
confirmation from Gorges of his right to settle the islands.
However, just as Mayhew was securing the title to his
new land, the huge influx of English settlers was slowing to a trickle. Known as the Great Migration, by 1640 it was pretty
much over. The domestic tensions and religious persecution that had induced many to leave England appeared to be easing; that
same year Charles I summoned Parliament for the first time in 11 years, paving the way for major political and religious change
at home. Perhaps Charles' attempts at reconciliation came too late, for fairly soon after England was plunged into a decade
of civil war and emigration was discouraged; consequently, the vast majority of the population growth in New England over
the next century and a half originated with the 20,000-26,000 or so immigrants who had arrived prior to 1640.
Mayhew began building his island empire; in 1641 he sent his son Thomas with a few families to settle on Martha's Vineyard,
which presumably looked somewhat more promising -- and accessible -- than Nantucket. The following year the senior
Thomas Mayhew arrived with other settlers, as well as the domestic animals, tools, and other items needed to start a new colony.
For the next several years Mayhew and company worked diligently to establish the colony on a firm footing. Young Thomas, who
was a minister, learned the language of the local Indian tribe and converted many of them to the Christian faith. As an extension
of this work he established a school for the Indian children and hired a childhood friend named Peter Folger to be the schoolteacher.
More on him shortly.
Meanwhile, in 1642, the same year that Thomas Mayhew Sr. moved to the Vineyard from his home
in Watertown, Tristram Coffin left England and came to Massachusetts with his wife and five small children, his mother and
two sisters (Coffin may have left in anticipation of the civil war mentioned above heading his way; in that same year of 1642
his home parish of Brixton was the site of numerous skirmishes, one of which claimed the life of Tristram's brother John).
Coffin decided to settle in a village named Pentucket (now known as Haverhill), which was no more than a hamlet, really, consisting
of only six houses at that time.
It is important to remember that this was only twenty years after the first regional
English settlement at Plymouth. Most early outposts sprang up along the seacoast or rivers because overland travel was arduous,
and easy access to boats meant the possibility of escape if necessary. Small settlements like Pentucket were the rule rather
than the exception: clusters of houses, huddling together on the edges of a vast and primeval forest inhabited by fearsome
Indians and wild animals. Apparently Coffin and the other homesteaders were vexed with both of these scourges: a large wolf
population preyed on their flocks of sheep, and an Indian raid on the tiny encampment was only narrowly averted soon after.
It does not tax the imagination to think that Coffin might have been keeping an ear to the ground for new lands that were
free of at least one of these adversaries.
In 1644 Tristram was authorized to keep an ordinary, essentially a tavern,
where a complete meal was provided at a fixed price; as no tavern would be complete without a spirited drink to accompany
said meal he also sold beer and wine. Industrious dickens that he was, Coffin also ran a ferry from the Newbury side of the
Merrimack River; this concern was rendered obsolete, however, by the construction of a bridge in the 1650s. Perhaps seeking
more elbow room as the settlements grew in size and the control of the Puritans over daily life increased, perhaps driven
by a desire for new business opportunities, Coffin sold his holdings and moved across the river to Salisbury and effectively
back to the frontier.
Apparently at some point around this time Coffin first heard of Nantucket. One of his associates
was a fellow named Thomas Macy, who had immigrated from Chilmark in England some years back. Macy either knew through his
family, or was related to, another emigré named Thomas Mayhew, who had established himself on Martha's Vineyard and was looking
to unload Nantucket, which up until now had just been used by the English as a convenient place to graze their horses. One
might speculate that the thought of a predator-free range for his flock, far from the deadening hand of Puritanism sounded
like a paradise. Accordingly, Tristram Coffin, Edward Starbuck and Isaac Coleman (who was twelve at the time) headed off to
see Thomas Mayhew on Martha's Vineyard.
And investors they were, too -- this was no royal colony, or private
venture by a wealthy court favorite. The men looking to purchase Nantucket Island were following a tried and true business
model that had fueled the English settlement of the New World for the first half-century of its existence: the joint-stock
company. A joint stock company was the forerunner of our modern corporation. The common capital -- the stock --
was provided by the partners, who received shares for their contributions. Shares expressed ownership interest and decision
making power in company decisions, and shareholders were free to transfer their shares without the consent of the other shareholders.
Since (unlike modern corporations) the partners were responsible for the debts of a joint-stock company, the business model
was appealing because it minimized risk by distributing it amongst the shareholders.
The company that Coffin, Macy
and their associates formed in 1659 would eventually differ in two very important ways from a traditional joint-stock company:
the partners were not allowed to sell their shares or any portion thereof, nor purchase additional land, without the consent
of the others. What's more, the Nantucket "plantation" was to be a proprietary colony; under the proprietary system, individuals
or companies were granted commercial charters by the Crown to establish colonies. A plantation type of colony, based
upon agriculture or animal husbandry, operated under an exclusive local government which combined political jurisdiction with
the powers of economic proprietorship. The company held both political and economic control over the colony and exercised
both without separation, though its chief interest lay with the latter. The proprietors alone -- in this case limited
to the initial shareholders and their assigns -- selected the officials in the colony. The problem was that oftentimes
the proprietors were absentee landlords (also known as "adventurers", as in "venture capitalists", as opposed to the
"planters" who actually settled on the land) and indeed at Nantucket some of the proprietors/shareholder never even visited
the island they owned. These restrictions, which allowed the majority shareholders (i.e., the Coffins and their allies) to
exercise close control over the affairs of the island, would be the source of trouble down the road.
The success of
Coffin's proposed colony would ultimately be the result of a tragedy at Mayhew's established one. Two years before Coffin
sailed into Edgartown Harbor, Thomas Mayhew, Jr., beloved missionary to the Indians, had set sail for England on a supply
run and never returned (on the airport road on the Vineyard is a stone memorial commemorating the exact spot where Mayhew
took his leave of his flock -- for generations, they piled small stones there to honor his memory). Thomas Mayhew, Sr.,
devastated by the untimely loss of his son, vowed to take up his son's missionary work and looked to simplify his real estate
portfolio by selling Nantucket. Peter Folger, who had lost his best friend with the death of Mayhew, decided that the time
had come to make a fresh start, and threw his lot in with Coffin's group.
As the story goes, the company paid £30
and two beaver hats for Nantucket on July 2, 1659 (Mayhew retained a portion for himself as well to have voice in the affairs
of the island). The partners also later sought and received additional deeds for their new lands from the local sachems, and
permission to graze their animals at will across the island. Coffin returned home to Salisbury where his eight partners ratified
the agreement with Mayhew; in September they also voted to admit new partners (adventurers). The original purchasers chose
their new partners as follows: Thomas Mayhew took John Smith (possibly the John Smith of Salisbury who was friends with Thomas
Macy); Tristram Coffin took Nathaniel Starbuck; Thomas Macy (cousin of Thomas Mayhew) took his good friend Edward Starbuck;
Christopher Hussey took his chum Robert Pike; Thomas Barnard took his brother Robert Barnard; Peter Coffin took his brother
James Coffin; Stephen Greenleaf took his brother-in-law Tristram Coffin, Jr.; Richard Swain took Thomas Look; John Swain took
Thomas Coleman; and William Pile...well, he kept his whole tenth, and eventually sold it to Richard Swain in 1663.
the same meeting the original purchasers agreed to have ten other partners, "who should each have half as much land as themselves,
called for that reason 'half share men'". These were to be "planters", and were required to actually move to the colony within
a specified time and practice a needed trade, or else forfeit their half share (the full share partners were under no such
a restriction, and several apparently never even visited the island). The latent problem with this setup -- or advantage,
depending upon your perspective -- is immediately apparent: the Coffins and their relations alone, with one share each,
easily matched the entire voting bloc of half-share men. Essentially people who had never even set foot on the island could
dictate how the plantation would be run. While this proved to be satisfactory while the colony was merely a business concern,
when Nantucket became an actual community it would be the source of much controversy.
In October of 1659 the partners
sent an advance party to Nantucket. Who should go was soon sorted, as Thomas Macy was only too eager to leave. In his youth
he had moved from England to Amesbury in the Massachusetts Bay colony where he lived for twenty years, acquiring considerable
property (over 1,000 acres). As the years passed and the country became more thickly settled, the long shadow of the Boston
church fathers reached northward toward Amesbury -- amongst other new restrictions, in 1656 the Massachusetts colony
passed laws banishing Quakers, fining anyone sheltering them and prohibiting any but ordained ministers preaching. Quakers
at the time were seen as the "hippies" of colonial America; believing themselves bound by no other authority other than the
dictates of their own Inner Light, they were naturally at odds with the rigid authoritarianism of Puritan rule.
Puritans of Boston were quite different from the Separatist settlers of the Plymouth colony, who differed again from the Baptists,
Quakers and other non-conformist Protestant sects. The Puritans sought to "purify" the established Church of England (hence
the name): they objected to many of the ceremonies -- the ring in marriage, colorful vestments, and the like --
which they considered "popish". They sought reform within the church and believed separation from the church to be a deadly
sin. The Separatists did not recognize the established church at all; they believed that believers might form a church and
administer it as they saw fit. These were the forerunners of our current Congregationalists. The Baptists were one of a number
of so-called Anabaptist sects (so-called because they reject infant baptism), which includes Mennonites, Dunkers and the Amish.
Back in England the Anglicans (Episcopalians in this country) persecuted the Roman Catholics and the Puritans; the Puritans
in turn, when they were in power under Cromwell, persecuted the Separatists. Neither group as a whole cared much for the Anabaptists --
and nobody liked the Quakers.
In 1658, the year before Macy's removal to Nantucket (which lay beyond the reach of
either the Puritans or the Separatists), the Massachusetts colony mandated the death penalty for Quakers. Though Macy himself
was probably a Baptist there is circumstantial evidence that would indicate at least a measure of sympathy for the Quakers'
freethinking ways. Macy was known for preaching on the Sabbath in Amesbury (he was one the reasons for the new law banning
unlicensed preaching) and both he and a man named Joseph Peasley were leaders in a movement of the people of Amesbury to hold
their own meetings, rather than to attend the one in Salisbury (a descendant of Joseph Peasley, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier,
relates the story of Macy's travails in his famous poem The Exiles). Robert Pike, another of the Nantucket First
Purchasers, was fined for having "espoused the cause of Macy and Peasley." Christopher Hussey (reputedly a Quaker and yet
another of Macy's partners) incurred the displeasure of the General Court of the colony by joining a petition to mitigate
the sentence of Robert Pike "for seeming to uphold speaking in public without a license." In October 1659 -- the same
month that Macy and friends left for Nantucket -- he, along with Richard Swain (another First Purchaser) were charged
by the General Court for lodging some Quakers during a thunderstorm. Macy and Swain were fined for their trouble; on the 27th
of that month two of the Quakers they sheltered, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, were hanged in Boston.
his brush with the law may have been the trigger, other considerations -- new business opportunities, freedom from control,
possibly a sense of adventure -- probably were involved in the move to Nantucket; certainly the Quaker incident occurred
after plans had already been made, but they may have precipitated the late fall removal (not the best time to found a new
colony in New England). Accordingly Thomas Macy, his wife Sarah Hopcott (and presumably all six of their six children), his
good friend and partner Edward Starbuck, James Coffin (representing the Coffin bloc) and a young boy named Isaac Coleman (possibly
related to partner Thomas Coleman) loaded all of their gear into a boat and set out from Salisbury on the Merrimack River.
Their vessel of choice, probably a shallop, was basically an open boat with a rounded hull, double-ended, that could be either
rowed or sailed, and was probably not much more than thirty feet from stem to stern. Their route would take them along the
coastline to Cape Cod, through a naturally-occurring opening that allowed them to avoid the dangerous passage around the point
at Provincetown, then across the Sound to Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard, where they met with Thomas Mayhew.
their departure from the Vineyard Macy secured the services of a man named Daggett to help navigate the treacherous waters
between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. They set sail again, rounded Cape Poge and probably followed the Chappaquiddick shoreline
before heading east for Nantucket. The distance is not that great -- on a clear day you can pick out individual structures
from Tuckernuck, Nantucket's smaller island neighbor -- but such a journey would have been tricky under ideal conditions,
which was not the case for Macy's trip. The hazards of shifting shoals and fast-running tides were compounded by deteriorating
October weather and a strong easterly wind which would have made for miserably wet conditions in the open shallop. The story
of the crossing, related most recently in Nathaniel Philbrick's Away Off Shore, includes an exchange between an increasingly
anxious Sarah Macy and an increasingly annoyed Thomas: when she tentatively suggested that they turn back and wait for better
weather, Macy reputedly thundered, "Woman, go below and seek thy God. I fear not witches on earth nor the devils in hell!"
Given that the type of vessel most likely used, the shallop, had no "below", the story as told is probably apocryphal (although
the situation itself -- long boat trip, seasick kids, spouse second-guessing you -- is a situation that many latter-day
travelers to Nantucket might be familiar with, with similar results).
There is no record of the exact location of
the first English settlement on Nantucket; traditionally it is located near Warren's Landing in Madaket. The first "house"
was undoubtedly little more than a dugout section of a hillside, lined with rough-hewn timbers called puncheons, perhaps brought
from the Vineyard. The accommodations, while surprisingly warm and watertight from latter-day accounts of similar structures,
had to have been cramped quarters for four adults and seven children. Perhaps the greatest unsung hero of this first island
adventure is Sarah Macy, who probably was responsible for all of the cooking and childcare while the men were out "rantum
scooting" or having a "squantum" with the local sachems (the woman deserves a plaque, at least). As soon as the winter weather
eased Thomas Macy and Edward Starbuck set out to find sites for their new homesteads; perhaps in testimony to the closeness
of their previous housing arrangement they chose locales that were fairly farther apart than was traditional for an English
village (Macy's house was on the north shore next to Reed Pond at Tuppency links; Starbuck's just off the Madaket Road near
the Sanford Farm preserve).
Later on in that spring of 1660 Edward Starbuck returned to Salisbury to update the rest
of the purchasers on their progress on Nantucket. Since the reports were favorable -- no scalpings, starvation, what
have you -- some of the others made preparations to relocate to the island. The following year, Tristram Coffin moved
to Nantucket with his wife, mother and four of his children. Coffin's choice of lots speaks volumes about how he viewed his
role on the island: situated on a bluff dominating the little harbor at Capaum -- though not the center of town as such,
all roads led eventually to Mr. Coffin's house (you can still get a sense of how it must have looked -- the location
of Coffin's homestead near Capaum Pond is marked and still accessible).
Meanwhile, events were transpiring on the
mainland in the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies that would have a direct effect on Nantucket politics. In Boston trouble
was brewing between another newly installed king and the New World settlers. In 1660 -- the same year that Thomas Macy
returned to Salisbury -- the Commonwealth of England led by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan-dominated Parliamentarians
was dissolved and King Charles II restored to the throne. Naturally the Puritans of New England had had a natural sympathy
for the Puritan regime in England, and when its members fled the Royalist backlash they found a safe haven in New England,
much to the irritation of the new king. To make matters worse the colony's council passed the Massachusetts Declaration of
Rights of 1661, which, while professing allegiance to the king, declared any imposition contrary to their own just laws, not
repugnant to the laws of England, "to be an infringement" of their rights. Massachusetts would probably have lost her royal
charter for this perceived outrage but war between England and Holland had broken out -- a Dutch fleet had entered the
Thames and was threatening London, and the king was rather distracted. New England's liberties continued for some years longer,
but the insults to royal authority were not entirely forgotten.
That same year Massasoit, the principal leader among
the Wampanoags and renowned friend of the Plymouth colonists, died of old age. He was succeeded in 1660 by his son Wamsutta,
called Alexander by the colonists. Forty years of co-existence with the English had brought disease, death and dislocation
to the Wampanoag, and Wamsutta found himself in a much weaker position than that enjoyed by his father. In 1662, in an attempt
to exert more English control over what they saw as recalcitrant Indians, the Plymouth Court summoned Wamsutta to appear before
them. When he refused, the colony sent the militia to collect him at gunpoint. Perhaps in part as a result of his confinement,
Wamsutta sickened and died. Wamsutta was succeeded by his brother Metacom, called King Philip by the colonists. Had they had
an inking of what was to come in a few years, perhaps they would have treated Wamsutta with greater care.
led an expedition to Nantucket in 1665, to punish an Indian named Assasamoogh who had profaned the name of Massasoit, his
father. Philip landed on Low Beach with an armed force intent upon seizing and executing the offender. While he was beating
the bushes around Assasamoogh's home near Gibbs' Pond (he was known by the English as John Gibbs, and was a Harvard-educated
preacher), one of Gibb's friends ran to the English settlers and raised the alarm. According to the story they hastened to
Altar Rock where they met Philip, who by then was preparing Gibbs to meet his fate. Negotiations for Gibbs release revealed
that Philip would be willing to accept a fairly large sum of money as compensation -- however, only £11 was forthcoming (not
an inconsiderable sum at a time and place where hard currency was scarce). Holding only a pair, the English chose to bluff:
take this money and leave, or we're calling out the militia (in actuality most of the able-bodied men of the village probably
already were out). As the story goes, Philip failed to call the English bluff -- he grabbed the money and ran back to
his boat, following a little creek on the east end of the island known to this day as "Philip's Run". Whether or not the story
is apocryphal remains a matter of debate; if it is true, within a few years Philip seems to have found rather more moxie than
he showed at Altar Rock; more on that shortly.
Back in England, King Charles II, apparently forgetting that his father
had had his head separated from his neck for overusing the royal prerogative, was seeking to expand his power at the expense
of the New World colonists. In the Charter of 1664 Charles claimed all of the land between the Delaware and Connecticut rivers
for the Crown, including the New Netherlands colony, which had the unfortunate trait of being owned by the Dutch. In a fit
of fraternal generosity Charles granted it all to his brother James, the Duke of York and Albany, later King James II. Under
the terms of the charter the duke had the power to establish laws, appoint officials, and make judicial rulings that could
only be appealed to the Privy Council in England -- in other words, to rule by fiat. Not being a "hands on" sort of duke
James eventually delegated many of his powers to an appointed governor and established a council of leading citizens who were
to advise the governor. Now that everyone knew what their job was the only thing left was to actually possess the territory
in question -- this was to prove surprisingly easy. In August of 1664 the duke sent a fleet under the command of a gentleman
named Richard Nicolls to treat with the governor of New Netherlands, a man by the name of Peter Stuyvesant. Nicolls simply
demanded the colony's surrender and Stuyvesant, abandoned by his council and other supporters, surrendered the town to the
English, who renamed the colony New York and its capital Albany, after their royal patron. Naturally the Dutch took the whole
thing rather badly, and began another round of hostilities against its neighbor Britain which dragged on for three years before
being (temporarily) resolved by the peace treaty signed at Breda in 1667, when New Netherlands was ceded to Britain in exchange
for Surinam in South America.
The transition from Dutch to British rule, though no doubt bitterly resented, was not
a difficult one for the two nations. Though they were almost incessantly at war during this period they had much in common,
from trading interests to similar structures of government; indeed, Britain was to get a Dutch king only twenty years later,
when James II was overthrown in favor of William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution. What's more there were many English
living in the New Netherlands colony and on Long Island as well, which was now transferred to New York from Connecticut. Little
change was made at first under the English occupation in the municipal government until June 1665, when the Dutch form of
government was replaced by the English. In February of 1665 Governor Nicolls asked each town to send two delegates to a meeting
where those who took out patents under the Dutch acknowledged the English proprietors' right to the land by taking out new
patents. Given that Nantucket and the other adjacent islands were now part of the Duke of York's patent, that meant that the
Nantucket company had to send someone to New York to renew their claim.
The little colony had been growing steadily
over the previous few years; the prospect of land and steady work had attracted a number of tradesmen who signed on as "half
share men". In 1662 Peter Folger, Thomas Mayhew's friend from the Vineyard, received a half share to act as an interpreter
and surveyor -- his son Eleazer Folger, a shoemaker, received one as well. The next three years saw the addition of William
Worth (sailor);Thomas Macy received a half share to be a weaver; and Joseph Coleman, possibly as a surveyor, in 1665. A horse
mill (later replaced by a water mill at Lily Pond) was built, and Peter Folger, jack-of-all-trades that he was, took on the
role of miller as well. The first public works project on the island was undertaken, when the English and the Indians teamed
up to dig Madaket Ditch (which still exists at Second Bridge), intending to create more meadow and catch the fish running
through it using a fish weir. Events appear to have progressed much as the original purchasers had planned, and the half share
men seemed content with their lot. Perhaps all they lacked was a leader to focus their discontent.
In 1666, Richard
Gardner arrived on Nantucket, offering his services as a fisherman; his brother Joseph moved here a year later to take up
the shoemaker trade. Their father was a man named Thomas Gardner, who was the former governor of the Cape Ann Colony which
had recently relocated to Salem. Though they worked a trade they were accounted "gentlemen" (when mentioned in the early records
they are referred to as "Mr", an honorific reserved for the better sort of people -- such as Mr. Tristram Coffin), and
no doubt their second-class status on the island grated against their high-toned sensibilities, though they had assumed the
arrangement well aware of their lowly position.
The Gardner brothers chose lands that were far removed from the watchful
eye of Tristram Coffin -- far for Nantucket, anyway. They owned much of the land adjacent to and surrounding the Lily
pond, extending beyond Gardner's Burial Ground, across through "Egypt" (the land by Gardner and Lily Streets) to much of today's
Main Street, an area embracing some of the best meadows and grass lots on the island. A part of this territory was called
the Crooked Record, due to the fact that the survey lines did not neatly come together; the homestead of Peter Folger --
presumably the sloppy surveyor involved -- was right nearby, and is marked by a stone monument on Madaket Road. The edge
of the Crooked Record is remembered in the street named Crooked Lane, where the MSPCA is located. The Gardner brothers, with
an eye for expanding trade and fishing interests, had planned their purchases around the Great Harbor at Wesko -- where
today's downtown is -- and along West Chester Street, the oldest street on the island which ran from the old settlement
to the Gardners' new wharves. The two differing visions of Nantucket, feudal and agrarian versus bourgeois and mercantile
were about to collide, helped along again by events outside of their tiny island world.
In July of 1667 Governor Nicholls
of New York decreed that all titles to land derived from the Dutch government must be renewed by April 1 of the following
year, on pain of forfeiture, if not so renewed. Nicolls was in great need of money and fees for the new titles would amount
to a goodly sum the old records of Long island towns show that even its free-spoken citizens were compelled to comply with
the obnoxious decree. A year later, to nobody's regret, Nicolls was recalled and replaced by Colonel Francis Lovelace. Lovelace
expanded and developed the extortionate and arbitrary system of government that he found in practice there, as laid out by
Nicholls. Apparently Lovelace would confirm anything, even if it contradicted another confirmation, if the price was right.
Lovelace's avarice was going to draw him into a controversy that involved both Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
claims and counter-claims over jurisdiction and ownership of the islands arose in 1670; apparently these issues, long thought
resolved by Mayhew and Coffin, were still unclear, or perhaps Governor Lovelace saw a money-making opportunity in the confusion.
At any rate, Lovelace put out a call to anyone claiming an interest in Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the adjacent islands,
and decreed that they should appear before him with their documentation so that he could settle the matter permanently. Accordingly
Thomas Mayhew, Tristram Coffin and Thomas Macy (the latter two chosen by the partners to represent Nantucket) travelled to
New York to meet with the governor. The arrangement that they secured was designed to bring a greater degree of control over
the increasingly restive residents of their respective colonies; an unintended consequence was that they forced the underlying
discontent into the open.
Thomas Mayhew must have been quite satisfied with the results of his trip to see Governor
Lovelace: in addition to settling the ownership issue Mayhew was granted manorial rights over his territories (there were
a number of such manors granted in upstate New York, where the barons were known as "patroons"). A relic of the feudal period,
manorial rights in a stroke changed freeholders who owned property to serfs whose claim on the land was entirely at the mercy
of the local baron -- in this case, Mayhew. The baron was granted the right of advowson (to present a nominee for a vacant
ecclesiastical benefice, which could be quite lucrative), and the old township-assembly became the Court Baron and Court Leet:
the Court Baron met every two or three weeks and dealt with such matters as the transfer of land, organization of the common
fields and meadows and the abatement of nuisances (blocking of paths, straying animals, etc.). The modern parallel of the
Court Leet would be a District Court. It had jurisdiction over petty offences and civil affairs and met once per year.
fell within the jurisdiction of these courts. Coffin and Macy proposed that a man, or men, be appointed or elected to represent
the court on Nantucket (given that even an election, with the overwhelming voting power of the Coffin voting bloc, meant that
Tristram Coffin's election was a foregone conclusion, perhaps they felt that they could be magnanimous). The new position,
that of Chief Magistrate, would have power to rule on cases involving custody, fines, minor disputes and cases involving money
up to £20 (remember that the partners had paid £30 for the entire island); cases up to £40 would be heard by the Court Leet,
which would sit alternately on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Case involving larger sums of money, or matters of "Life,
Limbe, or Banishm't" would be tried in New York. The petitioners also requested that the colony be able to make its own laws,
provided that they did not conflict with those of New York or England, and that it be accorded a small amount of "Military
Power" to see to its own defense -- under the direction of the Chief Magistrate, of course. With some minor adjustments in
the jurisdiction and powers of the respective courts, Governor Lovelace approved the petition -- and named Tristram Coffin
as the Chief Magistrate. Thomas Mayhew, as the lord of the manor, was granted ultimate authority, and two votes in the court.
The First Purchasers were clearly seeking to consolidate their hold over the community, which begs the question as
to why this was necessary. Firmly in control of the judiciary and executive branches, with a great degree of sway in the running
of the joint stock company, the only weak spot lay in the newly constituted civil authority created at the first meeting of
the General Court on Martha's Vineyard. When the first election was held in January of 1673, the newly created offices of
Selectmen were filled by First Purchasers Tristram Coffin, Edward Starbuck and John Swain -- and half share men John Gardner
and William Worth. It didn't take long for the half share men to flex their new-found political muscle; in April of that year
Governor Lovelace (who apparently never met a petition he didn't like if the price was right) responded to a request by John
and Richard Gardner that the new civil authority created by the Court (distinct from the joint stock company of proprietors
who actually owned the island) be known by the name of Sherbourne, which happened to be the name of their ancestral hometown
in England. To make matters worse appointed Richard Gardner to be the new Chief Magistrate and made John Gardner the Chief
Military Officer. Tristram Coffin immediately fired off a letter of protest to the governor, but it was too late -- the outside
world had come crashing in again.
In 1673 the Third Anglo-Dutch War broke out, which pitted Britain and France against
the combined forces of Spain and the Netherlands. The Dutch took advantage of the absence of Governor Lovelace from New York,
sending a fleet that easily recaptured New York City (now New Amsterdam again) in August, three months after the Gardners
received notice of their appointments. The New York/Netherlands colony was placed under martial law, ruled by a Dutch "directkor"
named Anthony Colve. Less than a year later the English retook New Amsterdam, the Dutch and English signing yet another peace
treaty, the Treaty of Westminster. Lovelace was not reinstalled, however -- the Duke of York named Sir Edmund Andros
as governor of New York instead. Andros had previously served under the Duke of York's aunt Elizabeth, the queen of Bohemia,
and had recently fought against the Dutch. His appointment as governor of a recently-conquered Dutch colony might seem ill-advised,
until you realize that the duke couldn't care less what his subjects thought.
The Gardner faction on Nantucket, sensing
an opportunity to overturn the established order, had taken advantage of the chaos and paralysis reigning in distant New York
and boldly seized the reigns of power; the bloc of First Purchasers, led by the Coffins, were not about to simply accept the
new regime. When order had been re-established in New York the Mayhews and Coffins petitioned Governor Andros for a redress
of their grievances, laying out their prior claims on the island and outlining the source of controversy between the two opposing
sides. In a nutshell, the Coffins and the other First Purchasers understood their charter, as received from Governor Lovelace,
to merely reconfirm the original arrangements with regard to full and half shares in the joint stock company. The Gardner
faction interpreted the document quite differently: they read it to mean that the previous arrangement was dissolved and each
freeholder was to received one full share in the enterprise. What's more, the Gardners asserted that each shareholder must
actually live on Nantucket to exercise his rights, rather than doing so by proxy, as some of the First Purchasers had done
from the outset.
Governor Andros's response was to reconfirm everything as it stood just prior to the invasion of
the Dutch. Apparently this was not sufficiently clear, and caused further divisions within the Nantucket community. The Coffins
and Mayhews understood this to mean that not only was the full share/half share arrangement reconfirmed, but also that Tristram
Coffin was re-instated as Chief Magistrate. Naturally the Coffins objected, based upon Lovelace's last pronouncement before
the war; this time, however, they were joined in their opposition by Edward Starbuck and Thomas Macy, who previously had sided
with Coffin and the other First Purchasers. The reason for the change has been lost, but it may have been a reaction to the
heavy-handed manner in which Tristram Coffin sought to punish the offending half share men, using his power as Chief Magistrate
(it should be noted that John Gardner was also accused of having sold alcohol to the Indians and attempting to purchase land
privately, both of which were prohibited under the town's bylaws). This new status quo was not to last, however, as events
on the mainland were transpiring that would soon upset the balance of power.
In June 1675 the worsening relations
between King Philip and the English broke out into open fighting in the town of Swansea, and soon erupted into a general war
that spread as far north as New Hampshire and as far south and west as Connecticut. Throughout the winter of 1675-1676 the
fighting cut a swath through the frontier settlements spread out like a string of pearls across the vast, untamed wilderness;
attacks came at Andover, Bridgewater, Chelmsford, Deerfield, Groton, Lancaster, Marlborough, Medfield, Medford, Portland,
Providence, Rehoboth, Scituate, Seekonk, Sudbury, Warwick, Weymouth and Wrentham. The English colonies reeled and were pushed
to the brink of extinction; many settlers fled to safer areas on the coast, including Nantucket. The local Indians, fast friends
of Peter Folger, fairly well treated and perhaps smarting from their previous run-in with Philip a decade before, did not
participate in the war.
Two of the refugees who fled to Nantucket were Tristram Coffin's sons James and Peter, the
latter a man of some prominence back in his former home in the Massachusetts Bay colony. Late in 1675 Thomas Macy was appointed
Chief Magistrate, with Peter Coffin as Assistant Magistrate. Their previous truce with Macy apparently forgotten, the Gardner
faction was outraged, primarily because Peter Coffin continued to hold offices back on the North Shore and was not seen as
a permanent resident. When Macy's term expired the following year the Gardners made their move. Macy assumed that he was to
retain his office until a replacement was appointed; this interpretation was based in part upon the terms of Richard Gardner's
previous appointment to the same post. The Gardners cried foul, and were joined in their opposition by Peter Folger, long-time
friend of the Mayhews and other First Purchasers. Folger, the Clerk of the Court, refused to record the proceedings or turn
over the court records; when a constable appeared with a warrant for their seizure, Folger fled (perhaps down Crooked Lane
to West Chester) carrying the records, and sought sanctuary at John Gardner's house, where he was eventually arrested.
all accounts the gaol was in rather a poor state, and was apparently being used as a pigsty at that time. It was swept out
and Peter Folger was thrown in. Eventually his gaoler relented somewhat and he was allowed to return home at night, on the
condition that he return each morning. Folger, in a petition endorsed by Richard Gardner, Edward Starbuck and Thomas Coleman,
pled with Governor Andros for his release, laying out the facts of the case as he saw them, and asking him to take pity on
an old man (he was about 60 years old at the time). He also requested that the Governor rule directly on the matter rather
than allowing it to be referred to the General Court; as this was the domain of the Mayhews and the Coffins perhaps he felt
that he would be entering the lion's den. As a final inducement he intimated that the local Indians were getting quite agitated
at his confinement, a circumstance certain to be of concern at a time when King Philip's War was still raging.
the end of that same year, however, the Indian uprising on the mainland began to wind down after Philip was killed by a Wampanoag
fighting with the English, though sporadic fighting occurred for awhile afterward (Thomas Barnard, one of the First Purchasers
who remained behind in Amesbury, was killed in an Indian raid in 1677). In all, approximately six hundred colonists had died --
including about one-fifth of all men fit for military service --over 3,000 Indians had been killed and several hundred more
who had surrendered or been captured were sold as slaves in the Caribbean. Of course no one at the time could be certain of
this outcome, and tensions still ran high. It would appear that Folger's claim of disturbances amongst the Indians had some
basis in fact; and that the situation may have been helped along by John Garder's willingness to flout the law and sell them
alcohol (at a time when the total number of able-bodied English males was about thirty, the Indians numbered 500-800). He
was accordingly physically hauled before the Court, where his complete disregard for their authority was readily apparent.
Gardner was fined and disenfranchised -- that is, stripped of his half share. He appealed to Governor Andros (who by that
time must of been heartily sick of the whole affair), who decreed as follows: Thomas Macy was confirmed as Chief Magistrate;
the Court was found to have overstepped its authority when it disenfranchised John Gardner; and the complaint against Peter
Folger was suspended. In a "don't make me come down there" final note, he ordered everybody to "forbear Intermeddling Speeches
or Actions or any Aggravations whatsoever, at their Perills."
The General Court completely ignored Governor Andros' order. They
refused to reinstate Gardner as a shareholder, or reverse their decision on Peter Folger. The assembly of freeholders at the
subsequent town meetings, however, reaffirmed the rights of the two men to participate in town affairs, even if they could
not vote as shareholders in the joint stock company. An uneasy truce prevailed over the next two years, until an incident
in 1678 laid the ground for a final resolution of the ongoing conflict. In September of that year a French privateer was wrecked
on Nantucket Shoal. Tristram Coffin, as Chief Magistrate, was responsible for seeing it properly salvaged, and got himself
into trouble when some of the items went missing. He was ordered to appear before Governor Andros, but begged off, claiming
foul weather and ill health. While this may have been true, it's also a fact that the question of jurisdiction over the colonies
was once again being raised, and perhaps Coffin thought it better to remain close to home until it was resolved.
as King Philip's War was winding down the conflict between the Crown and its colonies was heating up again. In 1676 Edward
Randolph, a representative of King Charles, arrived in Boston. The resentment of Charles against the Puritan colony earlier
affront to his authority had only slumbered; it was not dead. Now that the colony';s existence was secured, and there was
no (current) war against the Dutch, the king was free to avenge the old quarrel. Taking advantage of the waning of rigid Puritan
rule, Randolph sought to create a moderate party that preferred conciliatory relations with the mother country rather than
open defiance of the king. The attitude of this party, and the wedge that was thus created, made it easier for the king to
achieve his ultimate goal: to revoke the earlier colonial charter and unite all of the colonies under one governor to better
control its restive populace and more effectively ward off the depredations of the Indians and French alike. Although it would
be several years before this was finally realized, there was a great degree of uncertainty in 1679-80 as to where the ultimate
Tristram Coffin's decision to beg off seeing Andros, in hindsight, was not a wise one. The governor
called a Court of Admiralty to adjudicate over Coffin's financial responsibility for the lost salvage; one of the four members
of the board established to hear the case was the newly appointed Chief Magistrate for Nantucket: John Gardner. Coffin's actions
were found to be contrary to law by the Court of Admiralty, and he was ordered to pay over £300 in damages, an enormous sum
(ten times the price for the island paid twenty years before). The decision appears to have shattered the man -- who by now
was rather elderly for the time, and whose health poor -- and the once proud Proprietor and would be king of all he surveyed
wrote a groveling letter to Governor Andros begging for a reprieve. He was supported in his claim, remarkably, by John Gardner,
who also penned a request for leniency for Coffin. The governor relented, the fine was lessened, and Coffin was thereby acquitted.
More importantly for the fate of the colony, however, the two ancient enemies, Coffin and Gardner, appear to have found some
measure of peace at last.
The whole affair appears to have broken Tristram Coffin, who died scarcely a year later
in October of 1681; with his death, the old feudal, agrarian dream vanished once and for all. But it was not simply a matter
of one faction, or dream, defeating another; rather, it was a blending of the two in the age-old manner of healing all such
divisions: marriage. The parents may have quarrelled, but the children made cow eyes at one another from across the room.
In 1686 Jethro Coffin, son of Peter Coffin and Abigail Starbuck, grandson of Tristram Coffin and Edward Starbuck, married
John Gardner's daughter Mary. They were given a parcel of land on Sunset Hill on which to build their house, and it is this
house, known as the Oldest House, which still stands there today.
That same year the new King of England, James II,
who had succeeded to the crown when his brother died, achieved his ambition of uniting all of the colonies under the control
of Edmund Andros. As a royal officer Andros was faithful, but he had little respect for the people. He abolished the legislature
and even attacked the previous titles to the land, pronounced many of them void, and exacted quitrents from the owners. Apparently
he had learned a thing or two from Governor Lovelace.
While Andros was at the height of his power the colonists learned
of the overthrow of King James II by William of Orange and his wife Mary. The people rebelled against their hated oppressor;
Andros was seized and sent as a prisoner to England. Things did not assume their earlier state, however: Massachusetts failed
to recover her old charter, and though the laws were again to be made and the taxes levied by a legislature elected by the
people, every act had to be sent to England for royal approval. Even worse in some ways, the governor, his deputy and secretary
were to be appointed by the King. The new charter also eliminated the religious test for voting rights, forever breaking the
domination of the Puritan hierarchy. Plymouth Colony was absorbed into Massachusetts, as were Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard
and the other islands, where they remain to this day.
From its earliest settlement Nantucket was seen as a haven from
the outside world; but those who would chose to ignore events transpiring beyond her sandy shores do so at their peril. As
this is being written decisions about wind farms in Nantucket Sound and drilling for oil on George's Bank are being decided
by people far removed from our tiny island abode. The actions taken there will have a profound impact on our way of life here
on Nantucket, but then this has always been the case. Just ask Tristram Coffin.
James Everett Grieder, a native Nantucketer, is the author of a number
of articles about Nantucket's history, many of which are true, and is a regular contributor to Yesterday's Island
magazine. He lives in the family homestead with his wife Katharine and his heir apparent, William Lewis Grieder. Oh, and cats,