Edgartown Harbor is a small town that covers Chappaquiddick Island and eastern Martha's Vineyard in southeast Massachusetts. Separated from the mainland by the Vineyard Strait, Edgartown Harbor is about 42 kilometers (26.5 miles) south of the Cape Cod Canal and some 117 kilometers (73 miles) south-southeast of Boston. Edgartown Harbor is the county seat for Dukes County, Massachusetts, and it is the biggest town on Martha's Vineyard. In 2010, just over four thousand people called Edgartown Harbor home.
Named after the son of James II of England, Edgartown Harbor was once a busy home port for America's whaling industry. Today, summer tourism is an important part of the local economy. Dating from 1642, Edgartown Harbor is home to wonderful historic homes where prosperous merchants and whalers lived. It also has some great beaches and is near popular natural areas. A ferry connects Martha's Vineyard to Edgartown Harbor and Chappaquiddick Island.
Long before Europeans arrived in the area that was to become Edgartown Harbor, the Wampanoag people occupied the land. An Algonkian-speaking people, the Wampanoag were the indigenous people who welcomed and befriended the Plymouth Pilgrims in 1620. Unfortunately, their acceptance of the new settlers did not end well for them.
The Wampanoags were the people who brought corn and turkey to the Pilgrims, establishing the Thanksgiving feast that American's still celebrate. The first insult in 1616 was the introduction of yellow fever to the Wampanoag to all of the 69 tribes of the Wampanoag Nation. About 66% of the Nation of 45 thousand people died, particularly young children and the elderly.
As more and more settlers from Britain arrived at Edgartown Harbor, they displaced the native peoples. They introduced alcohol to the Wampanoag and "bought" their lands while they were drunk. The British also sold many of the people into slavery and forbade the use of the native language and tribal names.
In 1642, families led by the Reverend Thomas Mayhew Jr. arrived to start a colony on Martha's Vineyard at Edgartown Harbor. They named it Great Harbor, but Edgartown Harbor got its current name when it was incorporated in 1671. Mayhew was the first Protestant missionary to establish a church in Edgartown Harbor, and his partner was a Wampanoag called Hiacoomes.
During the 19th Century, Edgartown Harbor was a major port for whalers. Ships arrived from around the world, and captains built beautiful mansions for their families in Edgartown Harbor. Over time, more affordable operational alternatives were adopted by the whaling industry, bringing economic decline to Edgartown Harbor. By the early 1900s, the whaling industry had disappeared from Edgartown Harbor.
Today, Edgartown Harbor is a popular summer destination for tourists and vacationers. Their arrival has stimulated a period of renovation and renewal of the old whaling captains' homes. These homes line Water Street. The big 18th Century Whaling Church has been transformed into a performing arts center. Edgartown Harbor was the main shooting location for the 1975 movie Jaws. Many of the buildings and landmarks in the film can be found in Edgartown Harbor today.
Another attractive thing about Edgartown Harbor for tourists is its suitability for getting around by foot and bicycle. South Beach runs along the southern border of Martha's Vineyard from Edgartown Harbor to Aquinnah. About four kilometers (2.5 miles) from downtown Edgartown Harbor, South Beach is very popular with visitors who enjoy waves crashing on the beach.
The south-central area of Edgartown Harbor is called Katama. Within the area are a great beach, the Herring Creek Farm, the Katama Farm, the Katama Airpark, and two resorts. Half of Manuel F. Correllus State Forest is located within Edgartown Harbor. The town has nine beaches, several natural areas, a yacht club, and two lighthouses.