Martha’s Vineyard is certainly one of the most visited destinations for Kingman boaters, and we were wondering where the island got its name. It turns out we’re not alone. In fact there are several theories about the origin of the name “Martha’s Vineyard,” but none of them can be definitively confirmed.
There is agreement among historians that the island was originally called Noepe, or “land amid the streams” by the indigenous inhabitants of the Wampanoag Native American Tribe. From there, the facts become theories passed down through legend rather than documented evidence.
Perhaps the most widely accepted story is that the Island was renamed in 1602 by a British explorer named Bartholomew Gosnold, Gosnold is credited with being one of the first European explorers to land on the island. It is said that he named his discovery in honor of his daughter or perhaps his mother, both of whom were named Martha, and for the wild grapes (or “vines”) that grew abundantly on the island.
Others suggest that the name “Martha” is a reference to the biblical figure Martha, who was known for her hospitality and service. Legend has it that the name was given to the island by later settlers who considered it a hospitable place.
A less-documented story tells that the island was named after a woman named Martha Hunt. Martha is believed to have been the daughter of Thomas Mayhew who purchased Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Island chain from two New England settlers. He had friendly relations with the Wampanoags on the island, in part because he was careful to honor their land rights. His son, also named Thomas Mayhew, established the first settlement on the island in 1642 at Great Harbor (later Edgartown).
The real story is that the exact origin of the name is shrouded in historical ambiguity. In case you were wondering.