Arthur Railton Publishes Work of Intelligencer


Arthur R. Railton had just taken over what he had been assured was a temporary post as editor of the Dukes County Intelligencer when he began to make the acquaintance of Jeremiah Pease.

Gale Huntington, the founding editor of the Intelligencer, the publication of the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society, had been running continuing excerpts from the diaries of Mr. Pease, written from the 1830s to 1857, when he died on the street in Edgartown.

As Mr. Railton, a newcomer to the society, began to rummage through its historical archives - "I was surprised by about everything because I didn't know about anything" - he began to realize the treasure to be found inside the boxes in the basement of the society building on School street in Edgartown. And in the diaries of Mr. Pease, already valued by historians for providing the most complete, continuous story of what was happening in the mid-19th century on the Island, Mr. Railton found something even more:

"I get involved spiritually with him," he said. "I get very close to him. He was instrumental in the great change of this Island."

Twenty-eight years later Mr. Railton, who turns 91 in September, has completed a 440-page volume titled, The History of Martha's Vineyard: How We Got to Where We Are. A reception honoring him and the book, which has been published by Commonwealth Editions of Beverly, is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. tomorrow at the society.

"It was mind-boggling," Mr. Railton said of what he found in the archives.

He was sitting in his office at the society, in the same basement where he found and started going through the boxes, initially in a bid to dig up enough material to fill the Intelligencer for the coming year, which was his commitment to the editor's post.

At that point, about all he knew of Vineyard history was what he had heard from his uncle and what he remembered from casual conversations on the Island.


As Mr. Railton pored through the material, he said, "I became quite addicted to the notion of Island history, and realized that there were many, many stories here in this building that were not being mined properly, or at all. There was a wealth of material here, and that's how I got addicted to this whole business and have been ever since - and never called on the society to replace me till now."

He also became interested in Mr. Pease, an Edgartown surveyor who in Mr. Railton's view played a central role in shaping the Vineyard culture and community.

Mr. Pease, it turns out, started out as a staunch Congregationalist. Mr. Railton said the Congregationalists, descendents of the Puritans, had the sole church on the Island. On the Vineyard, they were simply called "the church."

But a new group of worshippers changed all that.

"The Methodists started up in the 1820s or so, and he was very scornful," Mr. Railton said. "They had their services at night in people's homes, and they made a lot of racket, and did a lot of singing. They didn't behave like proper people, and he couldn't stand them."

One day, however, Mr. Pease had the occasion to attend a Methodist meeting conducted by a preacher known as Reformation John Adams. The meeting led Mr. Pease to convert to Methodism.

"When he got to be a Methodist, religion became his life," Mr. Railton said.

Mr. Pease began lay preaching in what then was known as Eastville. He also began going to Methodist camp meetings on the mainland. He soon helped organize the Vineyard's own camp meeting, in an oak grove in Eastville.

That meeting - which eventually developed into the Martha's Vineyard Camp Ground in Oak Bluffs - began drawing mainlanders to the Vineyard and introducing them to the pleasures of Island summer life.

The Methodists also proved the first step in introducing diversity to the Island's longtime Congregationalist culture. The Roman Catholics, in the form of Portuguese immigrants, and the Jews were not long behind.

But perhaps what's really unexpected in Vineyard history is that a man born among the vast wheat fields of Saskatchewan to immigrants from Yorkshire, England, should become the Island's preeminent historian.

Mr. Railton's parents, whose families had worked in Yorkshire's textile industry, ended up relocating in Lawrence, Mass., another textile center. Mr. Railton, who had published a mimeographed class newspaper in high school, got the idea he wanted to be a newspaperman. He obtained a journalism degree, but could not land a newspaper job.

He was working in a textile mill when World War II, in the form of a 1941 peacetime draft, drew him into the U.S. Army. He served with General Patton's Third Army as it fought across Europe, and was discharged a major.

With the war over, but still in the Army, he placed ads in Editor and Publisher, seeking journalism work. Stints followed at a Wisconsin daily and an Illinois weekly. After obtaining a graduate degree in journalism, he landed a job with Popular Mechanics.

While there, he became automotive editor, and began writing about imported cars.

"I became a very strong admirer of the Volkswagen, which was kind of laughed at at the time," Mr. Railton said. "Nobody thought that funny little thing would amount to anything."

Volkswagen eventually offered him a senior communications post. He took it. In retrospect, he said, it was one of the best decisions he ever made, providing him more money than he could have earned as a journalist, and funding summer-long family vacations at Quitsa Pond in Chilmark, as well as his current retirement.

In 1978, in his second year of retirement, he agreed to hold down the post of Intelligencer editor, a volunteer spot, for a year.

At a recent society luncheon honoring him, Mr. Railton told the members, "Twenty-eight years ago, I was told the society was looking for a permanent editor, and I hope you're still looking."

To Mr. Railton, much of the Vineyard's historical appeal can be found in the broad themes found in a relatively small place.

"I always thought that the Vineyard was a microcosm of America; this little Island went through all the same phases the country did. . . . Everything happened here that happened on the mainland, but it's so confined that it's easier to see it, to measure its impact.

"That's what makes it so fascinating," Mr. Railton said. "It isn't some grand scheme. It's just a bunch of people, a few guys."