Martha’s Vineyard | Location, History, Map, & Facts (2024)

island, Massachusetts, United States


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Martha’s Vineyard | Location, History, Map, & Facts (1)

Martha’s Vineyard, island of glacial origin off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts, U.S., 4 miles (6 km) across Vineyard Sound from the mainland (Cape Cod). It accounts for most of the territory and population of Dukes county, Massachusetts.

The island is some 20 miles (32 km) long and 2–10 miles (3–16 km) wide and rises 311 feet (95 metres) above sea level at its highest point. Its coastline is characterized by numerous inlets and ponds sealed by sand spits from the sea. It was probably sighted by many early navigators but was first recorded in 1602 by Bartholomew Gosnold and Gabriel Archer; the two explorers named it for its many vines and for Martha, Gosnold’s daughter. Purchased by Thomas Mayhew in 1641 and settled the following year, it was considered part of New York but was ceded in 1692 to Massachusetts. In 1695 it was incorporated into Dukes county (along with the Elizabeth Islands [west], Chappaquiddick Island [east], and the island called Nomans Land [or No Man’s Land; southwest]). Early attempts at farming, brickmaking, and fish smoking gave way in the 18th and 19th centuries to the development of whaling and fishing enterprises based at Edgartown (incorporated 1671), which once boasted the world’s largest sperm-oil candle factory.

Martha’s Vineyard | Location, History, Map, & Facts (2)

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Islands and Archipelagos

Martha’s Vineyard | Location, History, Map, & Facts (3)

The economy now depends on summer yachting and tourism. Martha’s Vineyard is divided among the resort towns (townships) of Tisbury (with Vineyard Haven), Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah (formerly [until 1997] Gay Head, so named for the multicoloured cliffs found there). Descendants of Wampanoag Indians that inhabited the island in the 17th century now live in Aquinnah, which features a historic lighthouse (1799; rebuilt in the 1850s). Martha’s Vineyard State Forest is at the centre of the island. Area county, 104 square miles (269 square km). Pop. county (2000) 14,987; (2010) 16,460.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia BritannicaThis article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn.

Martha’s Vineyard | Location, History, Map, & Facts (2024)


What is so special about Martha's Vineyard history? ›

Native American camps that carbon-date to 2270 B.C.E. have been uncovered on the Island. The Wampanoag people have lived for thousands of years on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Despite the Island's declared neutrality, the people rallied to the Patriot cause and formed companies to defend their homeland.

What is the oldest town on Martha's Vineyard? ›

The oldest settlement on the island, Edgartown dates from 1642 and was incorporated in 1671 and named for Edgar, son of James II of England; the town had previously been called Nunnepog (Algonquian for “Fresh Pond”). In the 18th century Edgartown was the prosperous home port of many whaling vessels.

What was the original name of Martha's Vineyard? ›

Originally called Noepe, or “land between the streams” by the indigenous inhabitants of the Wampanoag Native American Tribe, the Island was renamed in 1602 by a British explorer named Bartholomew Gosnold, who named it after his daughter Martha and the viney undergrowth found along the coast.

Who were the first settlers in Martha's Vineyard? ›

The Island's First Settlers

The Martha's Vineyard Wampanoags called the island Noepe, meaning "Dry Land amid Waters," a prescient name given their traditional endeavors of farming and fishing.

What is an interesting fact about Martha's Vineyard? ›

Did you know that Martha's Vineyard was named after British explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold's daughter, Martha (and perhaps a lot of grapevines)? He crossed the Atlantic in 1602 and landed on Cape Cod, before discovering the tiny island 4 miles to its south. Thank goodness he did!

How many millionaires live in Martha's Vineyard? ›

Nearly 50 Millionaires on Martha's Vineyard: Data | Martha's Vineyard, MA Patch.

What is the most affluent town on Martha's Vineyard? ›

Nestled on the idyllic island of Martha's Vineyard, Vineyard Haven might look like a quaint coastal haven, but don't let its charming facade fool you—it's got a hefty price tag. In fact, it recently snagged the title of the most expensive place to live in the entire United States, according to a study by LendingTree.

What do locals call Martha's Vineyard? ›

The Native Americans called Martha's Vineyard Noepe, which means, "land amid the streams." The ancestors of the Wampanoag people have lived on Noepe for 10,000 years. The population of the Wampanoag people, at one time numbered about 3,000. Presently, there are about 300 Wampanoag people residing on the Island.

Why were there so many deaf people on Martha's Vineyard? ›

It was caused by a recessively inherited genetic mutation that was traced to Kent county, England. Emigrants from that region, some of whom came specifically from an area called The Weald, settled on Martha's Vineyard in the late 17th century.

What do you call people from Martha's Vineyard? ›


A person is considered a potential Islander if he/she/they was born, lives, works, visits, or is connected with the Island.

Who owns property on Martha's Vineyard? ›

Many high-profile people have purchased property on Martha's Vineyard, including former first lady Jackie Kennedy, journalist Mike Wallace, television host David Letterman, journalist Diane Sawyer, former chief executive of Colony Capital Richard Saltzman, and film director Spike Lee.

Why is Martha's Vineyard so popular for black families? ›

After the economy shifted towards more efficient forms of energy, Martha's Vineyard was reborn as a vacation destination. And since Massachusetts was one of the first states to abolish slavery, the state served as one of the safer places for free Black folks to find their fortunes in a rapidly changing society.

What Native American tribe was on Martha's Vineyard? ›

The Wampanoag were the first people of Noepe. The ancestors of Wampanoag people have lived for at least 10,000 years at Aquinnah (Gay Head) and throughout the island of Noepe (Martha's Vineyard), pursuing a traditional economy based on fishing and agriculture.

What is the fancy part of Martha's Vineyard? ›

Exclusive luxury homes on Martha's Vineyard can be found in and around the quaint harbor town of Tisbury. The center of the village is so picturesque that it is called Vineyard Haven.

What is the story behind Martha's Vineyard? ›

Bartholomew Gosnold charted Martha's Vineyard for the British Crown in 1602 and is credited with naming it, supposedly after his infant daughter or mother-in-law (or both) and the wild grapes he found growing in profusion.

What's the big deal about Martha's Vineyard? ›

Not only is Martha's Vineyard a great vacation spot because of its natural beauty, but it also has a unique culture and history that vacationers can experience. The island is rich in culture, boasting several festivals throughout the year as well as many art galleries and museums showcasing local talent.

Why is Martha's Vineyard important in deaf history? ›

Did you know that sign language was once treasured on Martha's Vineyard? The first Deaf person settled on the island in 1694. Due to isolated communities and intermarriage, the number of Deaf people grew. The last Deaf resident passed away in 1952.

Is Martha's Vineyard for the wealthy? ›

Martha's Vineyard is known to be a popular vacation destination for wealthy individuals and celebrities.

What is the first Martha's Vineyard mystery? ›

A Beautiful Place to Die: A Martha's Vineyard Mystery

After being forced into early retirement, former detective Jeff Jackson returns to a quiet life on Martha's Vineyard. Quiet, at least, until a body washes up and he's drawn back into crime solving. Stars Jesse Metcalfe, and Sarah Lind.

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