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Nantucket is an island 30 miles (48.3 km) south of Cape Codmarker, Massachusettsmarker, in the United Statesmarker. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuckmarker and Muskegetmarker, it constitutes the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and the coterminous Nantucket County, which are consolidated. Part of the town is designated the Nantucket CDPmarker, or census designated place. The region of Surfsidemarker on Nantucket is the southernmost settlement in Massachusetts.

Nantucket is a tourist destination and summer colony. The population of the island soars from approximately 10,000 to 50,000 during the summer months, due to tourists and summer residents. According to Forbes Magazine, in 2006, Nantucket had the highest median property value of any Massachusetts zip code.

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. The island features one of the highest concentrations of pre-Civil War structures in the United States.

Origin of the name

Also nicknamed "The Grey Lady" due to occasional intense fog, Nantucket takes its name from a word in an Eastern Algonquian language of southern New England, originally spelled variously as natocke, nantaticut, nantican, and nautican. The meaning of the term is uncertain, though it may have meant "in the midst of waters," or "far away island."

Other sources state the Native American word "Natockete," meaning "faraway land," to be Nantucket's namesake. The Wampanoag Native Americans referred to the island as "Canopache," or "place of peace."


1870s street scene on Nantucket.


The island's beginnings in western history can possibly be traced to its conjectured sighting by Norsemen in the 11th century. But it was not until 1602 that Captain Bartholomew Gosnold of Falmouth, Englandmarker sailed his bark Concord past the bluffs of Siasconset and really put Nantucket on the map. The island's original inhabitants, the Wampanoag Indians, 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. Nantucket was part of Dukes County, New Yorkmarker until 1691, when it was transferred to the newly formed Province of Massachusetts Bay and split off to form Nantucket County. The entire area of the New York county had been purchased by Thomas Mayhew Sr. of Watertownmarker, Massachusettsmarker, in 1641, buying out competing land claims. The earliest English settlement in the area began on neighboring island Martha's Vineyardmarker.

As Europeans began to settle Cape Cod, the island became a place of refuge for regional Indians, as Nantucket was not yet settled by Europeans. The growing population of Native Americans welcomed seasonal groups of Indians 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

Great Point Lighthouse
The history of Nantucket's settlement by the English did not began in earnest until 1659, when Thomas Mayhew sold his interest to the "nine original porchasers," Tristram Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swayne, Thomas Barnard, Peter Coffin, Stephen Greenleafe, John Swayne and William Pike, "for the sum of thirty Pounds...and also two beaver hats, one for myself, and one for my wife."

Nantucket was formerly the world's leading whaling port (and still serves as home port for a small fishing industry). Herman Melville comments on Nantucket's whaling dominance in Moby Dick, Chapter 14: "Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires." Melville's character Starbuck is from Nantucket.

In his 1835 history of Nantucket Islandmarker, Obed Macy wrote that in the early pre-1672 colony a whale of the kind called "scragg" entered the harbor and was pursued and killed by the settlers. This event started the Nantucket whaling industry. A. B. Van Deinse points out that the "scrag whale", described by P. Dudley in 1725 as one of the species hunted by the early New England whalers, was almost certainly the Gray Whale which has florished on the West Coast of North America with protection from whaling.

By 1850, whaling was in decline and the island suffered great economic hardships, worsened by the 1846 "Great Fire" that, fueled by whale oil and lumber, devastated the main town, burning some 36 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 more attractive because of the ease of transshipment of whale oil onto trains, an advantage unavailable to an island.

Later history

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 Vineyardmarker, 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 Vineyardmarker 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.

Geology and geography

NASA satellite Image of Nantucket Island
Nantucket was formed by the uttermost reach of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the recent Wisconsin Glaciation, shaped by the subsequent rise in sea level. The island's low ridge across the northern section was deposited as glacial moraine during a period of glacial standstill, a period during which till continued to arrive, but melted at a stationary front. The southern part of the island is an outwash plain, sloping away from the arc of moraine and shaped at its margins by the sorting actions and transport of longshore drift. Nantucket became an island when rising sea levels reflooded Buzzards Bay about 5,000–6,000 years ago.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Nantucket County has a total area of 303.5 sq mi (786 km2), 84.25% of which is water. The area of Nantucket Island proper is 47.8 sq mi(123.8 km2). The triangular region of ocean between Nantucket, Martha's Vineyardmarker and Cape Codmarker, is Nantucket Soundmarker. The highest point on the island is Folger Hill which stands above sea level. Altar Rock is a close second at a height of above sea level.

The entire island, as well as the adjoining islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, comprise both the Town of Nantucket and the County of Nantucket. The main settlement, also called Nantucket, is located at the western end of Nantucket Harbor, where it opens into Nantucket Sound. Key localities on the island include Madaketmarker, Surfsidemarker, Polpismarker, Wauwinet, Massachusetts, Miacomet and Siasconsetmarker (often abbreviated as 'Sconset).

National protected area


Coatue is a long barrier beach on Nantucket Island, separating Nantucket Soundmarker from Nantucket Harbor. It has sixpoints: First Point is situated due north of the village of Shimmo's Pimneys Point. Second Point, is north-northeast of the village of Shawkemo. Second Point is salt marsh. Third Point is due north of the Pocomo Peninsula, which contains the villages of Pocomo and West Wauwinet. The gap between Coatue and Pocomo is called the Wauwinet Straits. This deep and swift waterway has currents that reach . Bass Point is the first point totally within Wauwinet Harbor. Wyers Point, the last point of land on Coatue, Wyers is connected to Coskata. At the head of Coatue is Coskata Pond.

Hummock Pond

Hummock Pond is a large pond on the south shore of Nantucket Island. It was created in the last ice age by the ice melt and used to be much larger, but during the blizzard of 1978 large swells from the Atlanticmarker closed off the smaller western half, known as Clark's Cove. The pond is narrow and one of the deepest on Nantucket, and north head of the pond is connected by a small river. The north head is an extremely deep kettle hole with steep sides. The pond offers many kayaking opportunities, but is prone to strong south to southwesterly breezes.

Miacomet Pond

Miacomet Pond is a narrow, slender pond on the south shore of Nantucket Island.The pond was once a river, but the oceans rose to make Nantucket an island in the last ice age. On average the pond is approximately wide, thus giving the appearance of a river. The northern head of the pond is only ten feet wide and was once connected to Nantucket Harbor via Newtown Creek. The maximum depth of the pond is twenty eight feet.The southern end of the pond is a sandy beach. Occasionally the pond is opened up to the sea.

Popsquatchet Hills

The Popsquatchet Hills are a range of peaks on Nantucket Island. Seldom reaching 100 feet, they can be considered the divide of Nantucket. Prospect Hill, the westernmost, is the location of the town's municipal cemetery. Chicken Hill is the next hill to the northeast. On the eastern side of Chicken Hill, there is a very deep valley known as Dead Horse Valley. On the north face of the hill, is Colt Valley.

Mill Hill, the hill nearest Hospital Valley, has the Old Mill sitting on its summit. Roads are frequent in the hills. Prospect Street, the main thoroughfare on the west end of town, is the northern side of the hills. Vesper Lane, is the southern boundary. Milk Street, is the northern boundary of the range. There are several smaller roads leading into the hills, but some of them have grown over.

In the winter time, Dead Horse Valley is the island's best sledding area. Chicken Hill was named for an old chicken farm maintained by William G. Egan.

Squam Swamp

Squam Swamp, a large swamp in the northeastern portion of the island of Nantucket, is located between Wauwinet Road, Squam Road, and Quidnet Road, just northwest of Quidnet and northeast of Polpis Harbor.


There is also a census-designated place called Nantucketmarker, with a 2000 population of 3,830, which is located within the Town of Nantucket.

As of the census of 2000, there were 9,520 people, 3,699 households, and 2,104 families residing in Nantucket. The population density was 199.1 people per square mile (76.9/km2). There were 9,210 housing units at an average density of 192.6/sq mi (74.4/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 87.85% White, 8.29% Black, 0.64% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.01% Native American, 1.60% from other races, and 1.58% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.23% of the population. 19.9% were of Irish, 17.1% English, 7.2% Italian, 6.1% Portuguese, 6.0% German and 5.1% French ancestry according to Census 2000. 92.6% spoke English, 4.1% Spanish and 1.6% French as their first language.

There were 3,699 households out of which 26.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.7% were married couples living together, 8.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.1% were non-families. 29.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.90.

In the town the population was spread out with 19.2% under the age of 18, 7.4% from 18 to 24, 40.4% from 25 to 44, 22.5% from 45 to 64, and 10.5% at 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 105.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.0 males.

The median income for a household for year-round residents in the town is $55,522, and the median income for a family was $66,786. Males had a median income of $41,116 versus $31,608 for females. The per capita income for the town was $31,314. About 3.0% of families and 7.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.3% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over.


  • Town and county governments have been combined in Nantucket per List of counties in Massachusetts.
  • Members of the town Board of Selectmen, who are also County Commissioners, with the year their term expires, are:
    • Rick Atherton (2011)
    • Brian Chadwick (2011)
    • Michael Kopko (2012)
    • Allen Reinhard (2010)
    • Patricia Roggeveen (2010)
State: National:


Nantucket is served by Nantucket Public Schools. The Nantucket school system has approximately 1,200 students, about 400 of whom attend the high school.

Schools include:
  • Lighthouse School (Not Public)
  • Nantucket New School (Not Public)
  • Nantucket Elementary School (Public)
  • Cyrus Peirce Middle School (Public)
  • Nantucket High School
  • Nantucket Community School (Public, Extracurricular)

See more from Nantucket Public Schools from Plum TV on Nantucket.

A major museum association, the Maria Mitchell Association, offers educational programs to the Nantucket Public Schools.


Nantucket is served by Nantucket Memorial Airportmarker, a three-runway airport on the south side of the island. The airport is one of the busiest in the Commonwealth and often logs more take-offs and landings on a pleasant summer day than Boston's Logan airport. This is due in part to the large number of private/corporate planes used by wealthy summer inhabitants, and in part to the 10-seat Cessna 402s used by several commercial air carriers to serve the island community. The airport is currently undergoing an expansion.

Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (NRTA) operates seasonal island-wide shuttle buses to many destinations including Surfside Beach, Sconset, and the airport.

Nantucket can be reached by sea from the mainland by using one of three commercial ferry services or by private boat.

Historically, Nantucket was served by the narrow-gauge Nantucket Railroad. There is not a single traffic light on the Island of Nantucket, and cars were not permitted on the Island until 1918.


Major disasters on or near Nantucket, include:
  • On July 25, 1956, 51 people were killed in the collision of the Italian ocean liner SS Andrea Doria with the MS Stockholm in heavy fog south of Nantucket.
  • On December 15, 1976, the oil tanker Argo Merchant ran aground southeast of Nantucket. Six days later, on December 21, the shipwreck broke apart, causing one of the largest oil spills in history.
  • On October 31, 1999, EgyptAir Flight 990marker, traveling from New York Citymarker to Cairomarker, crashed off the coast of Nantucket, killing all 217 on board.

National Register of Historic Places

Brant Point Light in Nantucket Harbor
The following Nantucket places are listed on the National Register of Historic Places;and the List of Registered Historic Places in Nantucket County, Massachusettsmarker:

  • Nantucket Light (added 1982 - Structure #82005272) Also known as Great Point Light; Located at Sandy Point, Nantucket Island, Nantucket. Built in 1784, the original wooden tower was destroyed by fire in 1816. The following year, 1817, a stone tower was erected which stood until toppled in a storm in March, 1984. This second tower was what was listed on the National Register. In 1986, a new stone tower was built to replicate the old one. This third tower remains in operation today.

Notable residents

17th, 18th & 19th centuries

  • Abiah Folger, Benjamin Franklin's mother, was born on Nantucket. Her birthsite is marked by a plaque and is known to locals as "The Bench." In 2002 Nantucket High School seniors staged a celebration of her birth at the site—a tradition which has continued every year since.
  • Absalom Boston, the first African American to serve as captain of a whaling ship with an all-black crew.
  • John B. Macy, U.S. Representative from Wisconsinmarker, was among the victims who died aboard the palace steamer Niagara.
  • Lucretia Coffin Mott was born in 1793 on Nantucket. Mott was an American Quaker minister, abolitionist, social reformer, and proponent of women's rights. She is credited as the first American "feminist" in the early 1800s but was, more accurately, the initiator of women's political advocacy.
  • Maria Mitchell, native of Nantucket, first American female professional astronomer and a Vassar professor (of astronomy) is buried in Prospect Hill.
  • Cyrus Peirce, first principal of Nantucket High School and later first president of what is now Framingham State Collegemarker, married Nantucket native, Harriet Coffin. They are both buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery. Cyrus Peirce Middle School is named for him.
  • Joseph Gardner Swift, a Nantucket native, was the first graduate of the United States Military Academymarker; he attained the rank of Brigadier General.
  • Tristam Coffin, born in Plymouth, Englandmarker around 1610, married Dionis Stevens (for whom Dionis beach is named). He is among the group who purchased the island from the Wampanoag Indians in 1659, for the sum of thirty pounds and a pair of beaver-skin hats. In 1671, Coffin was appointed Chief Magistrate of Nantucket. His stately brick mansion still stands on Upper Main Street, and many of his descendants still live on the island.

20th & 21st centuries

Nantucket Range Lights at Brant Point
  • G. Robert Ayd, former SVP of QVC owns a home on the island
  • Russell Baker, former New York Times columnist, has a summer home on the island.
  • Bill Belichick, Head coach of the New England Patriots owns several homes in 'sconset.
  • A. J. Cronin, novelist, resided on the island.
  • Bill Frist, physician, author and former Republican Tennessee Senator has a home on the Island.
  • Charles Geschke, co-founder of Adobe Systems
  • Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford have a house on the island.
  • David Halberstam, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and historian had a summer home on the island.
  • Kerry Hallam, artist of international reputation who released Nantucket Notables, a collection of watercolor sketches of Nantucket's residents, lives in a cottage off Bartlett Road.
  • Victor Haley, noted Atlanta real estate lawyer, has a home on the island.
  • Dorothy Hamill has a home on the island.
  • Teresa Heinz and John Kerry own a summer residence on Brant Point.
  • Tommy Hilfiger, retail giant of the eponymous clothing label, also owns a summer home on the island. The country house was featured in the MTV reality show Rich Girls, which starred his daughter Ally.
  • Judith Ivey actress, has a home in the village of Siasconset
  • Seward Johnson, sculptor, has a summer residence on Brant Point.
  • Frank Lorenzo, aviation pioneer, has a home on the north shore of the island.
  • Chris Matthews, NBC correspondent, has a home on the island.
  • Jim Pallotta of Tudor Investments and co-owner of the Boston Celtics has a house on Eel Point.
  • Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood (PBS television) lived in Madaket.
  • Ned Rorem, Pulitzer Prize winning composer of classical music owns a home on the island.
  • Tim Russert, NBC correspondent, owned a home on the island.
  • Richard Mellon Scaife, billionaire publisher who underwrote investigations into President Bill Clinton has a home on Nantucket.
  • Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, and wife Wendy have a home on Cliff Road.
  • John Shea, actor has a home on the village of Siasconset
  • Frank Stallone, actor/musician, is currently building a multi-million dollar estate in Surfside.
  • Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara have a home at Children's Beach.
  • Louis Susman, financier of Kerry '04 and Obama '08 and U.S. Ambassador to Britain, has a home on the north shore of the island.
  • Jack Welch, retired General Electric CEO, has an estate on the east side of the island near 'Sconset.
  • Bob Wright, chairman of NBC Universal, and Suzanne Wright are founders of 'Autism Speaks' and have a home on Medouie Creek.
  • Vice President Joe Biden, celebrates his Thanksgiving Holiday on the island.

References in popular culture

Theodore Robinson painting Nantucket, 1882


  • The television series Wings was based in Nantucket.
  • This Old House devoted most of the 1996 season to a Nantucket house renovation at 3 Milk St.
  • In the Boston Legal episode "The Mighty Rogues", Nantucket engages the firm to get permission to build a nuclear bomb for self-defense.
  • In The Simpsons episode Diatribe of a Mad Housewife, Marge writes a boating novel that takes place in Nantucket.
  • The Weather Channel filmed an episode of Road Crew with Jeff Mielcarz titled Take a Seal Cruise


  • The 1971 film Summer of '42 was set in Nantucket.
  • The 1986 Warner Brothers film One Crazy Summer, was mostly filmed and took place on the island.
  • The 1996 Columbia Pictures movie To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday was filmed and took place on Nantucket.
  • The 2007 Weinstein Co movie The Nanny Diaries was partially set in Nantucket.
  • The 2007 20th Century fox film 27 Dresses had its ending filmed on Nantucket.
  • The 2009 Universal Pictures film "Inglourious Basterds" has its main antagonist state his desire to retire to Nantucket Island.


Essex (Nantucket Historical Association)
  • Nantucket is home to the mythopoeic "Man from Nantucket" made famous in the opening line of countless limericks (some of which are vulgar).
  • In Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the protagonist is from Nantucket.
  • One of Robert Lowell's most famous early poems, "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket," with rich allusions to whaling and death at sea, is set here.
  • One of the most famous lines from Dylan Thomas's play Under Milk Wood mentions Nantucket; "FIRST DROWNED: I lost my step in Nantucket".
  • Nathaniel Philbrick's book, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex describes the sinking of the Essexmarker, a ship based in Nantucket.
  • In Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick, Nantucket is the port of departure for Ahab's whaling ship, the Pequod.
  • In the Island in the Sea of Time trilogy by S. M. Stirling, Nantucket is cast backward in time some three thousand years and eventually becomes the capital of the world-spanning Republic of Nantucket.
  • Author David Halberstam's work is celebrated locally, owing to the fact that he spent many years writing on the island.
  • The island is the setting for Joan Aiken's Night Birds on Nantucket, which borrows themes from Moby Dick.
  • Yellow Dog Nantucket is a children's book about the Yellow Dog, also known as Nantucket's Original Fog Warning.
  • Author Jane Green's novel, The Beach House, is set on Nantucket.
  • Author Sena Jeter Naslund's novel, Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer, is set, in part, in Nantucket. Una, the main character, interacts with the astronomer, Maria Mitchell.
  • In the book, Gossip Girl, the Carlyles (Owen, Avery and Baby) were from Nantucket, but they later moved to New York.
  • Chapter 11 of the New York Times book Class Matters describes the spending habits, status struggles and lifestyles of the rich in Nantucket.
  • All of author Elin Hilderbrand's novels are set in Nantucket. She is a resident of Nantucket. Additionally, Nancy Thayer, another resident of Nantucket, has published three novels, The Hot Flash Club Chills Out, Moon Shell Beach and Summer House, all of which take place on Nantucket.


See also


Title page of the first U.S. edition of Moby-Dick, 1851.
  • Bond, C. Lawrence, Native Names of New England Towns and Villages, privately published by C. Lawrence Bond, Topsfield, Massachusetts, 1991.
  • Philbrick, Nathaniel, In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Penguin, NY, NY, 2000.


  3. Huden, John C. (1962). Indian Place Names of New England. New York: Museum of the American Indian. Cited in: Bright, William (2004). Native American Place Names in the United States. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, pg. 312
  5. TIME Magazine, April 18, 1977.
  6. The most recent survey of the geology of Cape Cod and the islands, accessible to the layman, is Robert N. Oldale, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard & Nantucket: The Geologic Story, 2001.
  7. Squam Swamp Interview on Nantucket Plum TV.
  8. Nantucket, MA
  9. Governor sets date for special Senate election, presses for interim appointment
  11. Getting to Nantucket Island
  12. National Register of Historical Places - MASSACHUSETTS (MA), Nantucket County

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