David Martin, former educator and administrator at Gallaudet, visited Vineyard Haven on Sunday to talk about the legacy of the Martha’s Vineyard deaf community of the 18th and 19th centuries.


Lynn Thorp is the energy behind MV Signs: Then and Now, an endeavor to revive Martha’s Vineyard sign language used from the 17th to 19th century.


One of the more interesting houses up-Island is 231 State Road in Chilmark. It is an unusual house for Chilmark: a Queen Anne style Victorian, painted yellow, with a turret.

I don’t know of any other such houses in Chilmark, whose charm lies in its serene and lovely rolling hills, hidden houses and beaches. It is a very common type of house elsewhere in the United States, the reflection of the prosperity of the late 19th century. Prosperity that had passed Chilmark by and which it was not to achieve until well past the midpoint of the 20th century.


Chilmark fishermen Christopher Murphy approached medical anthropologist Nora Groce after her delivery of the last Nathan Mayhew Seminars lecture of the summer Thursday night, and recalled a remnant of sign language use by old-timers he used to work for.
The news came as pleasant confirmation to Miss Groce, who has spent the better part of the last six years tracing the origins of a community of deaf people who lived pretty much like - and in harmony with - the hearing populace of the Vineyard from its earliest settlement through the 19th century.


There were several deaf-and-dumb persons, as deaf-mutes were called, living in the Island towns. Although all of them were considered educated and could read and write, none of them depended upon this method of communicating with one another or with their more fortunate neighbors, but used the sign language. As a result, almost everyone old and young could converse to some extent with the deaf-mutes, and many could use the sign alphabet and spell out words and names for which there were no signs.


Just a few issues back, this column carried the biographical sketch of Joseph West of Chilmark, who is a deaf mute. This present article contains a similar sketch of his sister, Mrs. Sophronia E. Hillman, whose faculties are normal. Reared in the same family, it is interesting to correspond the two stories relating to Chilmark of nearly three-quarters of a century ago, as seen by two different pairs of eyes, directed by natural inclinations that had little in common.