Oak Bluffs’ Hiacoomes was the first “Christian Indian and Minister on Martha’s Vineyard” as attested by the Reverend Experience Mayhew (1672 – 1758). The reverend was the grandson of Thomas Mayhew Jr., the first Englishman to successfully proselytize a member of a tribe, perhaps anywhere. This action, written about in the May 1963 issue of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s Dukes County Intelligencer, shows why the area of Sengekontacket nearby Pecoy Point is such hallowed land.

Hiacoomes is believed to have been born in 1620, 22 years before the English settled in Edgartown. Described as having a mean (serious) countenance and slow speech, Hiacoomes was amenable to meeting with the English, thanks to Mr. Mayhew’s encouragement. Mr. Mayhew, quick to learn enough of the language to converse, found Hiacoomes equally willing and the two developed a trust that led to a relationship where the two became teacher and student of religion.

A year after the English settlement, in 1643, several members of the tribe fell sick and many felt it was due to Hiacoomes and others falling for the ways of the English. Of course we’ve now learned it was due to the disease the immigrants brought with them. But with his new beliefs, and despite the friction, Hiacoomes became a Christian and proceeded to spread the religion. In 1646, Tawanquatuck, one of the Island’s chief Sachems, asked Hiacoomes and Mr. Mayhew to speak to him and others and afterwards Hiacoomes became a minister of the new religion.

In 1650 Hiacoomes lost his pious wife and a child to disease. Thomas Mayhew spoke at the funeral about the resurrection of the godly and life eternal that salved those who attended. In a letter dated 1650, Mr. Mayhew wrote about Hiacoomes: “I must give him this testimony after some years’ experience, that he is a man of a sober spirit, and good conversation; and as he hath, as I hope, received the Lord Jesus in truth, so I look upon him to be faithful, diligent, and constant in the work of the Lord, for the good of his own soul and his neighbors with him.”

From this it’s obvious the two had also become friends.

Reverend Henry Whitefield, who had a 10-day stop on the Vineyard due to weather on a trip from Boston to England, heard of the convert and met and spoke with him.

“I desired to speak with him who preaches to the Indians twice every Lord’s day, whose name is Hiacoomes; he is of prompt understanding, of a sober and moderate spirit, and well reported of both by English and Indians.”

Mr. Mayhew died in 1657 and Hiacoomes continued his preaching until 1683 when he passed the mantle, too old to continue. He died in 1690, probably at 70 years old. Experience Mayhew’s father John was the first minister of the West Tisbury Congressional Church.

The Vineyard Conservation Society is having the annual beach clean up on Saturday, April 30, from 10 a.m. to noon at 25 beaches—including Town Beach and the Inkwell. Volunteers can get more information at vineyardconservation.org or by calling Signe Benjamin at 508-693-9588. A party will be held at the Harbor View Hotel afterwards.

April 30 is the last day to complete the planning board's town hall survey.

Giordano’s Pizza and Clam Bar will open this Thursday, April 28, from 4 to 9 p.m. and weekends from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The restaurant opens on Thursday, May 26, for the season. Ben and Bill’s ice cream and confectionery is back and so is Fat Ronnie’s. Circuit avenue is back. Yearning for all the seasonal yummies, let’s also pause and remember to do some business with Reliable, Philip’s, Sharky’s, MV Chowder and the other retail establishments who sustain us all year long.

Hurray to us and congratulations to Sandy Fisher who is opening a new fish market at the back of Jim’s Package Store parking lot. I forget how long it’s been since we had the one where Nancy’s is now, when the fire station was across from it on Lake street, or when the one on Dukes County avenue closed. Please send me a note if you recall either. I think the one on Dukes was Amaral’s. In any event, wow, a seafood market steps from the water; proud to be from OB.

Keep your foot on a rock.

Send Oak Bluffs news to skip@mvgazette.com.