From the Vineyard Gazette editions of June, 1945:
The naming of Martha’s Vineyard remains one of the most fascinating of mysteries, although on the gentler side, and now comes George R. Stewart, in his excellent book, Names On the Land, with a new explanation. He recounts how Gabriel Archer, gentleman, accompanied Gosnold to these waters in 1602, and wrote a story of the voyage in which “the names were like raisins in pudding — man and tasty.” Haps Hill and Hill’s Hap, unfortunately vanished, were of Archer’s coining.
“From Archer’s fine fancy,” Mr. Steward writes, “probably sprang Martha’s Vineyard. The voyager, to be sure, found many grapevines on a little island, but that would mean usually Vine Island. Wild grapevines make a vineyard only in a poet’s world. As for Martha, Captain Gosnold had a baby daughter of that name.”
Let us examine this suggestion a little. In the first place there remains grave doubt that the Bartholomew Gosnold who had a daughter, Martha, was the explorer. J. Henry Lea, a capable American genealogist, made long and extensive researches into the family of Capt. Bartholomew Gosnold, presenting his results in two succeeding volumes of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, beginning in 1902. Lea failed to find any Martha. Captain Gosnold’s wife was Catherine and his mother Dorothy. In 1929, a writer named Fulmer Mood found a record of a Bartholomew Gosnold in another part of Suffolk County, who had a baby daughter, Martha, who was born in 1597 and died in 1598. Lea had known of this other branch of the Gosnold family, because he had mentioned it.
Obviously, there is something here which needs going into. It will take proof to establish that the Gosnold turned up by Fulmer Mood was really the explorer or close kin of the explorer. In any event, this baby Martha died four years before Gosnold’s voyage, and it seems doubtful if the Vineyard would have been named for her.
As for the poetry of Gabriel Archer, one responds to the spirit of Mr. Stewart’s suggestion. But Gosnold’s voyage had another historian, John Brereton, whose account survives as the first book about New England written in the English language. Archer’s account dates from 1625 when it was published in Purshas his Pilgrimes, Brereton’s from 1603.
Significantly, perhaps, the only two place names of this region which attained permanence were the two given by Brereton — Martha’s Vineyard and Elizabeth Islands(s). The pleasant fancies of Archer were, unfortunately, short-lived.
Now as to the way of the two chroniclers with words, since it is Archer’s manner of expression which largely persuades Mr. Stewart that he may be the sponsor of Martha’s Vineyard. Here are the two passages:
“We stood awhile like men ravished at the beautie and delicacie of this sweet soile; for besides divers cleere lakes of fresh water (whereof we saw no end) medowes very large and full of green grasse.”
“This maine is the goodliest continenet that we ever saw...for it is replenshied with faire fields, and in them fragrant Flowers, also Medowes, and hedged with stately Groves, being furnished also with pleasant Brookes.”
The first is Brereton’s, the second Archer’s. Coming down to the fancy of a Vineyard, however, it is Brereton, not Archer, who gives this description:
“ . . . an incredible store of vines, as well in the woodie part of the island, where they run upon every tree, as on the outward parts, that we could not go for treading on them.”
Vine Island would be inadequate for what Brereton found. Vineyard is the only word.
There is no corresponding passage about the wild grapes in Archer’s account. This is not to say that Brereton was the christener, but only that the whole matter remains as much a mystery as before.
The case is closed, however, beyond any possible doubt, on the issue between Martha’s and Martin’s Vineyard.
Various writers and observers of the 19th century noticed that the form of Martin’s Vineyard occurred over and over in documents, on maps, and in casual papers prior to 1700.
It remained for Emma Mayhew Whiting to go back to the original sources and disclose anew the fact that the Island’s own records were clearly agreed on Martha’s, with minor and occasional exceptions. As pointed out by Ms. Whiting, Martin’s was a mistake made by off-Islanders.
The narratives of John Brereton and Gabriel Archer, 1603, and 1625, far antedated the earliest appearance of Martin’s and also constituted the direct evidence of men who were present at the naming.
Compiled by Alison L. Mead