Born in 1847, Eunice C. Rocker had anything but an easy life. It has never been easy to be a woman but to have been black, a Wampanoag descendant and a widow living in Oak Bluffs with nine children at age 36 in 1883 is the definition of challenging. That notwithstanding, due to being declared chronic paupers, she and her family were forcibly removed from the new Cottage City by its constable and several selectmen and sent to the Tewksbury Alms House. The removal included an initial violent attempt to remove the family from their grandmother’s home on Lake avenue outside the Camp Ground — with family and female friends winning the initial assault but losing when reinforcements were called in. A hue and cry ensued, publicly covered by the late Cottage City Star, which nastily accused the Vineyard Gazette of “weeping on the family’s behalf.” Among the issues — besides the town having had to pay for assistance, medical care and books totaling $155.48 — was the assertion that Edgartown should have been responsible for the family (Cottage City had only recently seceded in 1881) if not the state. The Gazette position was this: “The notion that paupers can be carted about from place to place until the lawyers find a locality where they can be made to stick is certainly a novel one.” The newspaper went on to opine: “These interesting people are only alleged paupers, after all. They may have received a trifle of assistance in the remote past, but they claim now to be self-supporting, and there is no law condemning a person to perpetual pauperism because of a temporary lapse from the highest affluence.”
The Gazette was proven right in the lawsuit that followed when the jury asserted there had been improper and unreasonable force in removing the family, and awarded Eunice Rocker $450 in damages. While the family continued to cause controversy, Mrs. Rocker had the foresight to invest in land on the corner of Dukes County and Warwick avenues on Sept. 19, 1888, where she built the home she later died in. She left an estate of $450 that included $25 in personal property, one lot of land valued at $75 and two buildings valued at $350. I was reminded of the Rocker story (thanks to the late Arthur Railton) as another house on Warwick avenue was recently torn down by the town for nonpayment of taxes. The home next to it is condemned, the one next to it is in disrepair and indeed, the entire block could use some love and affection.
Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven (the lobster roll church) is having an inaugural ball Sunday, beginning at 6 p.m. with a social hour, dinner by Chef Jesse Martin of Park Corner Bistro in Oak BLuffs and dancing to music by Mike Benjamin. All are welcome to the festive ball; attire is black tie optional. Funds raised will help install new flooring in church meeting rooms. Tickets are $125 each, for information call 508-693-0332. The Martha’s Vineyard Democrats will host their own Obama inauguration ball on Monday at the Chilmark Community Center from 7 to 10 p.m. featuring Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Attire is “Vineyard formal” and admission is $10.
Monday was a day when you could believe the earth is flat after all, fog blending the sky with water and the end of the world just past the hay-colored beach grass. Driving down Beach Road on the way to Edgartown, the forlorn rowboat in Sengekontacket just before the bridge is once again filled to its gunwale with water. Its pistachio-tinged hue is similar to the dusty miller (okay, I asked my buddy Trina Kingsbury what it was called — she produces the MV flower posters you see around) blanketing the diminutive dunes for winter. Dude, bail that boat out! It gives us a lift when proudly perched instead of simply sunk.
I got to spend some time with Jake Gifford, the energetic owner of Circuit avenue’s favorite toy store, The Lazy Frog, who had a thought: why don’t we have signs indicating the location of the Cottage City Historic District? What a great idea! Let’s put those up and take down the one at the Sand Theatre. Maybe the theatre owner would volunteer to cover the cost of the signs to make up for the taxes the town has lost while the theatre’s property value continues to diminish.
Keep your foot on a rock.