A Merry Month

From earlier May Gazette editions:

May is here again with bird song and budding leaves. The month in Vineyard history has its unique significance, for it was on the 24th of May in the year 1602 that Bartholomew Gosnold in his “small barke” named Concord doubled a cape which he and his men called Dover Cliff on account of its great white outcroppings, later identified as Gay Head.

Gosnold’s expedition explored a “faire Sound,” as we now look back, wondering. was springtime slow and faltering as we are taught by bitter experience that it is in our time? Accounts don’t agree. If John Brereton is to be believed, he and his comrades found “strawberries, rasberries, gooseberries, hurtleberries and such.” The narrative of Gabriel Archer, another of the gentleman adventurers, says it was only the plants, bushes and vines they found, and for the time being they sustained themselves with “alexander, ground nuts and tobacco, which gave nature a reasonable content.”

Gosnold himself, in a letter to his father, acknowledged the backwardness of the season. The Island on which they built a house, “albeit so much to the southward, yet it is more cold than those parts of Europe which are situated under the same parallel; but one thing is worth the noting, that notwithstanding the place is not so much subject to the cold as England is, yet did we find the spring to be later by almost a month . . .”

There it stands, in the words of the expedition’s chief, our historic late spring. When Brereton advises us that “in mid-May we did sowe in this island (as for a trial) in sundry places Wheat, Barley, Oats and Pease, which in fourteen dais were sprung up nine inches or more,” we may assume that in his enthusiasm he was having us on. Maybe not. Let’s give him and our Island springtime the benefit of a doubt.

One detail on which Brereton and Archer agreed was that the Indians had a distaste for mustard. “They sat with us and did eat of our bacaleure (sic) and mustard and drank of our beer,” wrote Archer, “but the mustard nipping them in their noses, they could not endure; it was a sport to behold their faces made being bitten therewith.” Brereton’s account said that the Indians “misliked nothing but our mustard, where at they made many a sowre face.”

Maytime that was, in 1602, and now another Maytime, and almost any day now the maples will be in full leaf.

‘Twas the oldest of the fishermen who always used to say:

“Spring will never make appearance

Till the shad-bush blooms in May.”

Rain and chilly weather may prolong the winter’s blight,

But it goes when blooms the shad-bush

In it’s banks and clusters white.

Bringing color to the hillside where brush is brown and gray,

Like a fallen cloud, distinguished

For a mile or two away.

There’s a time when Spring comes tripping,

When the cloudy heaven clears,

And men know that it is springtime

When the shad-bush bloom appears!

When William Cullen Bryant and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were writing and publishing their poetry, they had a close rival for popular acclaim in a young man born in 1791 in a humble Tisbury farmhouse, James Athearn Jones. In 1824, the editor of the U.S. Literary Gazette wrote to Jones, “No one but yourself and Bryant has been quoted so much in the papers.”

James Athearn Jones had not the advantages in either education or environment of men like Bryant and Longfellow. His early childhood, an isolated and solitary one, was passed without the school privileges now the lot of almost every child. He studied to some extent with Rev. Nymphus Hatch, the minister of Tisbury, and subsequently with Rev. Frederic Baylies and Rev. Joseph Thaxter.

He is said to have made voyages to the West Indies and to have followed for some months in the harbor of Holmes Hole the humble employment of bum-boating, boarding vessels as they anchored in the harbor and supplying the seamen with pies, cakes, fruit, tobacco, receiving in payment cash or goods drawn from the vessels’ cargoes.

He lived upon the farm in Tisbury left him by his grandfather, the old homestead where he was born. When he tired of farm life, he entered into commercial pursuits, and built him a store and house in West Tisbury where he lived for a number of years.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner