From a Summer, 1992 Gazette:
“Edgartown, sometimes called Old Town, August 7, 1849. Half past five in the morning, and not another soul up in the house. A little rain last night, but a pretty fair and cool morning.” So wrote Daniel Webster at the Gibbs House in Edgartown on his second visit to the Vineyard. He had made one stay in Edgartown July 4, 1848, but no mention of the trip found its way into the Gazette.
The second trip was to be better documented, at the rate of a letter a day, and Mr. Webster may be looked upon as the first of a succession of interesting and distinguished summer visitors — presidents, actors, eccentrics, financiers, authors, poets, princes, generals and educators.
Mr. Webster was writing that early August morning to his friend, Mr. Blatchford, and he went on: The description of the journey is concise for a ten-hour trip. Travelers of today may reflect upon the changes of a century, amounting in this instance to a considerable economy of time.
“It is a singular and charming spot,” Mr. Webster observed, and the next day he was writing Mr. Blatchford again.
“My dear Sir, — yesterday morning I went forth for bluefish. The boatman steered direct for the Sound, five miles north, then doubled the eastern chop of the harbor, Cape Poge, called Pogue, where the light is, and ran along close to the shore on the eastern side of the Island. The wind was unsteady and baffling, and much thwarted and perplexed the boatman, who intended to make a great day of it. At half past nine we found fish, and practised our vocation at intervals, as the breeze would allow, till half past one. We took forty-three fish. I think my takings were twenty-five.”
Next Mr. Webster went plover shooting with Dr. (Daniel) Fisher. “I have made a poor hand today, among the plovers,” he wrote, “though I have had a good deal of pleasant driving over the plains . . . My companion, Dr. Fisher, a principal man here, is an excellent shot. He killed a dozen birds.”
On August 10, Mr. Webster wrote, “We went to Gay Head yesterday, a distance of twenty miles, and returned, tired and covered with dust, in the evening. The eastern end of the island is a sandy plain, the western a region of high, rocky hills. In both the roads are bad. But Gay Head is a place worth seeing. It is a remarkable promontory, at the western extremity of the Island, one hundred and fifty feet high, with a naked face or escarpment, toward the sea. The cliff is not perpendicular, though nearly so, nor is it smooth or unbroken. It presents alternate ridges and depresssions, or ravines, not always running in straight lines. The great peculiarity is the geological structure, which is exposed to view. The whole hill, generally speaking, seems to be clay, but this clay is of various colors, black, white, red, green, etc. Some of these colors are exceedingly bright, so that they present a very gay aspect; hence the name.”
The distinguished visitor left the next morning for Woods Hole, then sometimes called Woodville, where he paused to write Mr. Blatchford again.
“From the room in which I write this, I overlook Vineyard Sound, and see the land of the Vineyard, of course, quite plain, it being but fives miles off. The number of vessels which pass up and down the Sound is prodigious. A hundred of them sometimes put into Holmes Hole in a day, if a head wind arise. Nearly all the coasting trade between the East and South goes through this passage, as do often ships from South America, the West Indies and India.
“I was told that in the height of the late Mr. Gray’s business in navigation, five ships of his from China and Canton were in Holmes Hole at the same time.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner