History of Nantucket

The island of Nantucket was originally inhabited by Native Americans of the Wampanoag tribe until the arrival of an English captain in 1602. The island was discovered by Bartholomew Gosnold, but officially settled in 1659 because of a business transaction done by Thomas Mayhew and nine other Englishmen.

In its early days, Nantucket was considered the Whaling capital of the world, claiming between 120-150 Whaling ships across the globe. This industry became the basis for Nantucket's economy and the local culture and architecture as well. Many homes were built with “roof-walks” so islanders could see each whaling ship as it was arriving and in 1746 the first lighthouse was built on Brant Point for whalers returning to the harbor. Not only were the whales of Nantucket hunted, but they were used for everything form lamp oil to the binding in corsets for stylish women of the day.

The exportation of oil became a double edge sword for the island in 1846 when the "Great Fire" struck Nantucket, caused by a combination of wooden docks and whale oil. This event left hundreds of villagers homeless and without hope. Nantucket was hit with another blow when gold was discovered in California and nearly 60 percent of the population left the island to seek their fortunes in the sunshine state.

More bad news came when petroleum was created and whale-oil was no longer in demand. The economy suffered greatly, but not long after in 1870 Nantucket's luck was restored with the invention of the steamship. By the mid 1900's this new form of transportation had transformed the island into a highly sought after destination for New England residents.

With the sudden influx of newcomers, many locals turned their homes into hotels for the summer and by 1880 families became seasonal regulars for years to come. The peak of Nantucket's season generally runs between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but in recent years many have come to enjoy and appreciate the quiet autumns and serene winters of the Nantucket off-season.

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