From the November 3, 1933 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Ask anyone in the town of Tisbury today what the Kingsland may be and it is doubtful if any answer might be obtained, other than an admission of ignorance. The word has been used to designate a game played by children of other generations, and this might be recalled, but few people in Tisbury know anything about its origin. But Tisbury once included West Tisbury and Chilmark, or the major portion of the same, and in West Tisbury there are those who know something about what was once the public square in the center of the principal village of the town.

For the center of this principal village was not far distant from the present center of West Tisbury village, and the Kingsland is still preserved in a three-cornered plot where the Edgartown-West Tisbury road and the dirt road to Vineyard Haven intersect. A small bungalow now stands on one corner, a flower garden on another, while across the street, slightly diagonally, stands the store of George G. Gifford. This small triangle is the Kingsland, grass-grown, with a tree in the center, and disregarded by all, though once it was in reality the courthouse green.

Probably few people know that a courthouse ever stood in West Tisbury, but slightly in the rear of the bungalow is the site of that building, while across the road, where now the flower garden blooms, stood the jail. Courthouse and jail, both in the peaceful, quiet village of West Tisbury! Even so.

The first mention made of the courthouse is the Tisbury town records is in March, 1770, as follows:

“Tisbury ss. At a Legal Town anavarsery meeting leagly Worned and hild at the Cort House, March ye 22ns, 1770, to Chuse and Elect all town Officers,,,” And the record further states that this meeting Stephen Lice was chosen moderator, Joseph Allen town clerk, and Luce Allen and Ezra Athearn, selectmen of the town.

There is every reason for believing that the courthouse was a comparatively new building at that time, for the reason that all previous town meetings had been held in the meeting house. There is no mention of the jail at this date, but records made in and about this period indicate that some of the inhabitants of the town may have been thinking seriously of such a place of confinement, inasmuch as they were beginning to experience difficulty in maintaining the proper degree of order and conformity to law and ordinance in the rapidly-growing town of Tisbury.

They had experienced such misdemeanors as “trespasse” and the unauthorized liberating of “sheepe rhambs” on the town common. There seem also to have been violations of the oder that all men should assemble their sheep at “shearing-time,” as a fine was ordered imposed upon any such violators who failed to appear to drive sheep, or to supply a man to take his place.

No doubt there were other offenses, for, in due course of time, the center of things Kingsland was dedicated to the whipping post and pillory which were erected there. Records of the period, as contained in the Tisbury archives, do not mention the punishment of any offenders by means of either post or pillory, but it may well have been the fear of either or both that prevented overt acts. It is recorded that one Edward Hammett was a thorn in the flesh and that “hee erected a fence across the hieway, leading to the Indian town (Christiantown)” which was regarded as a nuisance. So much so that a committee was appointed at a regular town meeting to remove the obstructions, and to send in their bill for expenses to the town for removing the same. The order voted adds as an afterthought, that if the committee sees fit to enter into an agreement with the said Edward Hammett to have the fence removed, they are authorized to do so. Further records show that an agreement was reached, and the fence removed permanently, but how the committee reached the agreement is not stated. Possibly by reference to the Kingsland.

Courthouse and jail have long since disappeared, other buildings taking their places. The green, doubtlessly much shrunken in size, remains, however, marking the historic spot where law and order were enforced in those good old days.

“Some time,” so say men of the present day, “when traffic requirements reach the necessary point, that grass plot will probably be added to the surfaced roadway.”

Probably so. Such a thing would naturally follow, as similar things have followed the modern trend of times, to the detriment of many things valued from an historical standpoint. That day is probably a long distance in the future, and it may be that when it arrives there will be no one left who has ever heard of the Kingsland or who will care enough about the matter to delve in dusty volumes to find explanation. If that be the case, it surely cannot matter a great deal, but in the meantime, while the facts are easily obtainable, there can be few more appropriate sites for an historical tablet explaining the whys and wherefores of the Kingsland of Tisbury.

Compiled by Hilary Wall