A spectacular 1855 lithographic family tree for the Mayhews, the founding family of Martha’s Vineyard, would-be feudal lords, and missionaries to the Wampanoag.
The American branch of the Mayhews was established by Thomas (1593-1682), native of Tisbury, Wiltshire, who left England during the Great Migration of 1631. He settled first in Medford, Massachusetts, where he engaged in trade and shipbuilding. Then, in 1641, he obtained from William Alexander, the Earl of Stirling title to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and the Elizabeth Islands (Stirling had received the area from James I a part of a vast territorial grant in northeastern North America.) In 1659 Mayhew sold Nantucket to a consortium of proprietors, though he retained a share for himself, and elected to focus his energies and fortunes on Martha’s Vineyard.
He appointed himself governor of Martha’s Vineyard, sent his son Thomas (1621-1657) there with a first wave of settlers, and followed in or around 1645. Together they established a settlement at Great Harbor, now known as Edgartown, and in subsequent decades sought to create a feudal manor and hereditary aristocracy on the island… the only such arrangement in New England. The Mayhews ambitions were finally broken in 1691, when the island was annexed by Massachusetts.
Thomas the Elder and Younger are also remembered today for maintaining a constructive relationship with the 3000-some Wampanoag living on Martha’s Vineyard. Indeed relations were so strong that during King Philip’s War, the generalized and extremely bloody native American uprising that wracked New England in 1675-6, there was no violence on the island. The younger Mayhew made it the mission of his short life to convert the Wampanoag to Christianity, and, no doubt abetted by the historically strong relationship between the settlers and native people, by the end of his life he had gained hundreds of converts.
The Mayhew Family Tree depicts the Mayhew line in America, beginning with the elder Thomas at the base of the trunk and extending skyward to 1855, when the family was in its ninth generation. To the left of the tree is the family crest, below which is a memorial to the elder Thomas, and on the right is a portrait and biographical note on Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766), Congregational minister of Boston’s Old West Church (Congregational), proponent of colonial rights, and prominent opponent of the Stamp Act. The whole is set against an idealized backdrop of a European vessel (of 19th-century design!), arriving at an unnamed coast, presumably Martha’s Vineyard, and being met by a flotilla of native canoes.
In all, a rare and eminently displayable tribute to one of the founding families of New England, and probably one of the most interesting.
Genealogies in the Library of Congress, #11656. OCLC 18591063 (Allen County (IN) Public Library, Massachusetts Historical Society, New England Historic Genealogical Society, Minnesota Historical Society).