Cuttyhunk Island is the outermost of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. A small outpost for the harvesting of sassafras was occupied for a few weeks in 1602, arguably making it the first English settlement in New England. Cuttyhunk is located between Buzzards Bay to the north and Vineyard Sound to the south. Penikese Island and Nashawena Island are located to the north and east respectively.
The island has a land area of , and a population of 52 persons as of the 2000 census. It is the fourth largest in area of the Elizabeth Islands and home to the village of Cuttyhunk. It lies entirely within the town of Gosnold.
The island was originally named Poocuohhunkkunnah (probably from the Wampanoag for “Point of departure” or “Land’s end”) by the native Wampanoag tribe. In 1602 English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold renamed the island. On March 6, 1602, Gosnold set out aboard the barque The Concord from Falmouth, England to plant a colony in the new world of America. Gosnold and his men landed near Kennebunkport, Maine, then explored Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Cuttyhunk. They established a modest fort on Cuttyhunk where they planned to harvest sassafras, a valuable commodity in Europe at the time. After exploring the islands for less than a month, the men returned with The Concord to England.
In 1606 the King granted the Elizabeth Islands to the Council of New England, which dissolved in 1635. After this, they became the property of William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling. Sterling sold the islands to Thomas Mayhew in 1641, and in 1663 James Stuart, Duke of York assumed proprietorship over them.
In 1668, Mayhew sold Cuttyhunk to Philip Smith, Peleg Sanford, and Thomas Ward of Newport, Rhode Island. In 1688, Peleg Sanford acquired his partners’ rights in the island, and sold half of it to Ralph Earle of Dartmouth. He in turn immediately sold his property to his son, Ralph Jr., who became the island’s first permanent English settler. He and other colonists harvested the island of all of its timber, leaving it bare and wind-swept.
In 1693, Peleg Slocum purchased all of the holdings on Cuttyhunk, and became its sole owner. The Slocum family continued to live on Cuttyhunk for the next two hundred years. Several generations were slaveholders of Africans transported to the English colony for labor.
In 1858, William C.N. Swift, Thomas Nye, and Eben Perry bought Cuttyhunk from Otis Slocum for fifty dollars. In 1864, the town of Gosnold was finally incorporated.
19th and 20th century notable dates