Nantucket is an island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the United States. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the coterminous Nantucket County, which are consolidated. Part of the town is designated the Nantucket CDP, or census designated place. The region of Surfside on Nantucket is the southernmost settlement in Massachusetts.
The name, Nantucket, is adapted from among similar Algonquian names for the island.
Nantucket is a tourist destination and summer colony. The population of the island soars from about 10,000 to 50,000 during the summer months, due to tourists and summer residents. In 2008 Forbes Magazine cited Nantucket as having home values among the highest in the US.
The Nantucket Historic District, comprising all of Nantucket Island, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 1966. In doing so the National Park Service paid particular note to the settlements of Nantucket and Siasconset which is known as "Sconset". The island features one of the highest concentrations of pre-Civil War structures in the United States. It also has the oldest operating windmill in the United States (since 1746).
The earliest French settlement in the region began on neighboring island Martha's Vineyard, named after Bartholomew Gosnold's daughter Martha who died on board, en route. Nantucket Island's original Native American inhabitants, the Wampanoag people, lived undisturbed until 1641 when the island was deeded by the English (the authorities in control of all land from the coast of Maine to New York) to Thomas Mayhew and his son, merchants of Watertown and Martha's Vineyard. The entire area of New York county had been purchased by Thomas Mayhew Sr. of Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1641, buying out competing land claims. Nantucket was part of Dukes County, New York until 1691, when it was transferred to the newly formed Province of Massachusetts Bay and split off to form Nantucket County. As Europeans began to settle Cape Cod, the island became a place of refuge for regional Native Americans, as Nantucket was not yet settled by Europeans. The growing population welcomed seasonal groups of other Native Americans who traveled to the island to fish and later harvest whales that washed up on shore.
English settlement and the history of whaling in Nantucket
The history of Nantucket's settlement by the English did not begin in earnest until 1659, when Thomas Mayhew sold his interest to a group of investors, led by Tristram Coffin, "for the sum of thirty Pounds...and also two beaver hats, one for myself, and one for my wife". The "nine original porchasers" were Tristram Coffin, Peter Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swain, Thomas Barnard, Stephen Greenleafe, John Swain and William Pike. Seamen and tradesmen began to populate Nantucket, such as Richard Gardner (arrived 1667) and Capt John Gardner (arrived 1672), sons of Thomas Gardner (planter).
By 1850, whaling was in decline, as Nantucket had been supplanted by New Bedford. The island suffered great economic hardships, worsened by the July 13, 1846 "Great Fire" that, fueled by whale oil and lumber, devastated the main town, burning some 40 acres. It left hundreds homeless and poverty stricken, and many people left the island. Another contributor to the decline was the silting up of the harbor which prevented the large whaling ships from entering and leaving the port. In addition, the development of railroads made mainland whaling ports (such as New Bedford) more attractive because of the ease of transshipment of whale oil onto trains, an advantage unavailable to an island.
As a result of this depopulation, the island was left under-developed and isolated until the mid-20th century. The isolation kept many of the pre-Civil War buildings intact and, by the 1950s, enterprising developers began buying up large sections of the island and restoring them to create an upmarket destination for the wealthy in the Northeastern United States. This highly controlled development can be compared to neighboring Martha's Vineyard, the development of which served as a model for what the Nantucket developers wanted to avoid.
In the 1960s Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard considered seceding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In 1977, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard actually attempted (unsuccessfully) to secede from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The secession vote was sparked by a proposed change to the Massachusetts Constitution, which reduced the islands' representation in the Massachusetts General Court.