Mystery Island

Mystery Island

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Mystery Island

Lying 14 miles off of the mainland and measuring roughly two and a half miles long and three-quarters of a mile wide, this island is the westernmost of the Elizabeth Islands. This island’s location at the entrance to the Vineyard Sound, just 10 miles from the coast of Cape Cod, makes it a favorite destination for sailors from around the world. The harbor here has a 10-foot draft at mean low tide and is protected on two sides by stone breakwaters. The shape of the island is like that of a lobster with one claw broken off.

Mystery Island

In 1602, Bartholomew Gosnold set sail from England with a crew of 32 men aboard the Concord. After briefly stopping in Maine, the men journeyed south to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and, finally, our mystery island. Though the men were unsuccessful in their attempt to establish a colony, their arrival predates the Mayflower voyage by 18 years and marks the first English settlement in America.

Fishing is a pastime as old as the island—the surrounding waters are home to striped bass, bluefish, and myriad other species. In 1864, local fishermen started a club, whose bylaws stated the club was “for social purposes, for angling, propagating fish, and hunting on the Island . . . and in the waters adjacent thereto.” The club was strictly for men only—members’ families were not permitted on the island.

At its peak, the club had 26 fishing stands all around the island. A record was kept of the daily catch recording the number and weight of fish caught. An island boy was assigned to each fisherman to “chum” the fishing place. The boy would bait the fisherman’s hook with a piece of lobster, which was very common at the time and considered a lowly creature best used as bait. The lobster’s body was broken up and used as “chum” to attract the fish. Some believe the word “chum,” meaning a helpful friend, came from this island tradition.

Mystery Island