Nantucket, Massachusetts (Hayward)

John Hayward, Gazetteer of the United States of America… (Philadelphia: James L. Gihon, 1854), 465-466.

Nantucket, Ms., county and town. On an island of the same name in the Atlantic Ocean, about 30 miles S. of Cape Cod. This island is about 15 miles in length from E. to W., and about 4 miles in average breadth, containing about 50 square miles. It is mostly a plain, varying from 25 to 40 feet above the level of the sea, entirely destitute of trees and shrubbery, or any sign of them, although it was once covered with forest. The highest point of elevation on the island is 80 feet above the sea. The land is owned in common by proprietors, and not fenced, excepting a few house lots adjoining the town. As many as 500 cows and 7000 sheep used formerly to feed together in this large pasture. They are now excluded, however, by the proprietors from the common field.

In 1759, the title to this island was granted by Governor Mayhew, whose ancestor, Thomas May-hew, had obtained it of William, Earl of Stirling, at New York, in 1641, to 27 proprietors, many of whom settled at Nantucket. Among them was Peter Folger, — a man of great influence, whose daughter became the mother of Dr. Franklin,— and three men by the name of Coffin. Both of these names have numerous representatives on the island at the present day. The Coffin School at Nantucket originated in a donation by Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin, of the British navy, who visited this place in 1826; and finding that a large part of the inhabitants were more or less remotely related to him, expressed a desire to confer on 59 his kindred some mark of his attachment. By his liberality, after taking measures to ascertain the preference of the people in regard to the way in which it might be most acceptably applied, a building was provided for a school of a high order, and a fund of about $12,500 invested for its permanent support. For many years past, great attention has been paid to education in Nantucket, and the public schools, as well as others, will not suffer in comparison with any in the state.

The town is situated at the bottom of a bay, on the N. side-of the island, made by two points of the beach, nearly three fourths of a mile apart, on one of which, called Brant Point, is a lighthouse. The harbor of Nantucket is good, with seven and a half feet of water at low tide on the bar at its mouth. The town is built on a site where the ground ascends more rapidly from the water than at almost any other part of the shore. It embraces nearly all the houses on the island, and is very compactly built. Many of the streets are very narrow, and the houses are mostly constructed of wood. There are many handsome buildings, however, both of wood and of brick; and some of the churches, of which there are nine or ten in number of various denominations, are tasteful edifices. There are several fine buildings for the public schools. The Nantucket Athenaeum, incorporated in 1834, has a commodious building, with an Ionic portico in front; erected in 1847, after the burning of the former edifice, in which are contained a library of over 2500 volumes, and a large number of interesting curiosities, chiefly from the islands in the Pacific Ocean. In the upper story is a fine hall for public lectures.

The whale fishery commenced at Nantucket in 1690; and this place is more celebrated than any other for the enterprise and success of its inhabitants in that species of nautical adventure. Indeed, it has been the mother of this great branch of wealth in America, if not in the world. The first establishments in New Bedford were started by persons from Nantucket. Of late a considerable diversion from this business has been occasioned by the tide of adventure setting to California; so that the statistics of the whale fishery, if taken now, would not perhaps exhibit fairly the amount of energy and of capital ordinarily embarked in it. In the year ending April 1, 1844, Nantucket employed 78 vessels in the whale fishery, the tonnage of which was 26,684 tons; 1,086,488 gallons of sperm and whale oil were imported, the value of which was $846,000. The number of hands employed was about 2000. The capital invested was $2,730,000, including the ships and outfits only.

There are manufactures, on the island, of vessels, whale boats, bar iron, tin ware, boots, shoes, oil casks, and candle boxes. The whole amount of the manufactures of oil and candles, in 1844, was $1,375,745.

On the night of the 13th of July, 1846, a fire broke out in the most compact part of the town, and in a few hours it destroyed not less than 350 buildings; among which were two banking houses, a church, the Athenaeum, seven oil and candle factories, &c. The loss was estimated at $900,000.

The village of Siasconset is situated at the S. E. extremity of the island, about 7 miles from the town, and contains about 70 houses. The cod fishery was carried on there a few years since, but of late it has been nearly relinquished. The houses, with few exceptions, are occupied onlyin the warm season. A fine hotel is maintained here, affording the most genteel accommodations during the season of company. The village is compactly built on a level grass plat, near the edge of a steep cliff, the land rising in the rear so as to cut off a view of the town of Nantucket. This place presents uncommon attractions in the warm season for invalids and persons seeking recreation. It has a fine bracing air and excellent water. In front of the village " the eye rests on a broad expanse of the Atlantic, and below, the surf, rolling and breaking^ gives animation to the scene by day, and lulls to repose by night."

An excellent steamboat plies between Nantucket and New Bedford, touching at Holmes Hole, on Martha's Vineyard, and Wood's Hole, 5 miles from Falmouth. The distance from Boston to Nantucket is 110 miles, of which one half is travelled by railroad, and the other half by steamboats.

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