NANTUCKET, a county and township (coextensive) of Massachusetts, U.S.A. Its principal part is an island of the same name, 28 m. S. of Cape Cod peninsula; it also includes the island of Tuckernuck, which has an area of 1-97 sq. m., and is used for sheep grazing; Muskeget Island, which has excellent hunting, and of which about one-half is a public park; and the Gravel Islands and other islets. Pop. of the county (1905 state census), 2930; (1910) 2962.
The island, with a minimum length of 15 m., an average width of 2| m., and an area of about 47 sq. m., has a coast-line of 88 m.; it lies within the lo-fathom line, but is separated from the mainland by Nantucket Sound, which is 25 to 30 m. across and has a maximum depth of 50 ft. The surface of Nantucket Island is open, nearly treeless, with a few hills, the highest being 91 ft. above sea-level. The soil is sandy but affords good pasture in some places, and has been farmed with some success; the flora is rich, and includes some rare species. There are a score of fresh-water ponds, the largest being Hummock (320 acres). Copaum (21 acres) was, at the time of the first settlement, a bay and the commonly used harbour, but the present harbour (6 m. long) is that formed by Coatue Beach, a long narrow tongue of land on the N. side of the island. The northern part of Coatue Beach is known as Coskata Beach, and curves to the N.W.; near its tip is Great Point, where a lighthouse was first built in 1784. There have been many terrible wrecks on the coast, and there are life-saving stations on Muskeget Island, near Maddaket, at Surfside and on Coskata Beach. At the W. end of the island is Tuckernuck Bank, a broad submarine platform, on whose edge are the island of Tuckernuck, on which is a village of the same name, and Muskeget Island. In the S.E. extremity of Nantucket Island is Siasconset (locally 'Sconset), a summer resort of some vogue; it has a Marconi wireless telegraph station, connecting with incoming steamers, the Nantucket shoals lightship and the mainland. On a bluff on the S. is the small village of Surfside. Other hamlets are Maddaket, at the W. end of the island; and Polpis, Quidnet and Wauwinet (at the head of Nantucket harbour) in its E. part.
The principal settlement and summer resort is the town of Nantucket (on the S.W. end of the harbour), which is served by steamers from New Bedford, Martha's Vineyard and Wood's Hole, and is connected with Siasconset by a primitive narrowgauge railway. Here there are large summer hotels, old residences built in the prosperous days of whaling, old lean-to houses, old graveyards and an octagonal towered windmill built in 1746. There are two libraries; one founded in 1836, and now a public library in the Atheneum building; and the other in what is now the School of Industrial and Manual Training (1904), founded in 1827 as a Lancasterian school by Admiral Sir Isaac Coffin (1759-1839), whose ancestors were Nantucket people. The Jethro Coffin House was built in 1686, according to tradition; the Old North Vestry, the first Congregational meeting-house, built in 1711, was moved in 1767, and again in 1834 to its present site on Beacon Hill. The old South Church Tower, a steeple and clock tower, 144 ft. above sea-level, has a fine Portuguese bell, made in 1810. Another old house, built in 1725, was the home of Elihu Coleman, an anti-slavery minister of the Society of Friends, who were very strong here until the close of the first quarter of the igth century. Near the old Friends' School is the building of the Nantucket Historical Society, which has a collection of relics. Nantucket was the home of Benjamin Franklin's mother, Abiah, whose father, Peter Folger, was one of the earliest settlers (1663); of Maria Mitchell, and of Lucretia Mott. Adjoining the Maria Mitchell homestead is a memorial astronomical observatory and library, containing the collections of Miss Mitchell and of her brother, Professor Henry Mitchell (1830-1902), a distinguished hydrographer. The industries of the island are unimportant; there is considerable cod and scallop fishing. Sheep-raising was once an important industry. Nantucket was long famous as a whaling port. As early as the beginning of the 18th century its fleets vied with those of eastern Long Island. In 1 7 1 2 a Nantucket whaler, Christopher Hussey, blown out to sea, killed some sperm whales and thus introduced the sperm-oil industry and put an end to the period in which only drift- and shore- or boat-whaling had been carried on the shore fishery died out about 1760. In 1757 whaling was the only livelihood of the people of Nantucket; and in 1750-1775, although whaling fleets were in repeated danger from French and Spanish privateers, the business, with the allied coopers and other trades, steadily increased. In 1775 the Nantucket fleet numbered 150, and the population was between 5000 and 6000, about 90% being Quakers; but by 1785 the fleet had been shattered, 134 ships being destroyed or captured during the war. Tallow candles as a substitute for whale-oil had been introduced, and the British market was closed by a duty of 18 a ton on oil; a bounty offered by the Massachusetts legislature (5 on white and 3 on yellow or brown spermaceti, and 2 on whale-oil per ton) was of slight assistance. During the war of 1812 the Nantucket fleet was the only one active; it suffered severely during the war, and in the decade 1820-1830 Nantucket lost its primacy to New Bedford, whose fleet in 1840 was twice as large. Nantucket's last whaler sailed in 1869. Subsequently the island has been chiefly important as a summer resort.
Title to Nantucket and the neighbouring islands was claimed under grants of the Council for New England both by William Alexander, Lord Stirling, and by Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Lord Stirling's agent sold them in 1641 to Thomas Mayhew (1592- 1682) of Watertown, Mass., and his son Thomas (c. 1616- 1657) for 40, and a little later the elder Mayhew obtained another deed for Martha's Vineyard from Gorges. In 1659 the elder Mayhew sold a joint interest in the greater part of the island of Nantucket for 30 and two beaver hats to nine partners; early in the following year the first ten admitted ten others as equal proprietors, and later, in order to encourage them to settle here, special half-grants were offered to tradesmen. The original twenty proprietors, however, endeavoured to exclude the tradesmen from any voice in the government, and this caused strife. Both factions appealed to the governor of New York, that province having claimed jurisdiction over the islands under the grant to the duke of York in 1664, and, becoming increasingly dissatisfied with that government, sought a union with Massachusetts until the islands were annexed to that province by its new charter of 1691. The town of Nantucket was settled in 1661 and was incorporated in 1671. By order of Governor Francis Lovelace it was named Sherburne in 1673, but in 1795 the present name was adopted. Its original site was Maddaket on the W. end of the island; in 1672 it was moved to its present site, then called Wescoe. When counties were first organized in New York, in 1683, Nantucket and the neighbouring islands were erected into Dukes county, but in 1695, after annexation to Massachusetts,' Nantucket Island, having been set apart from Dukes county, constituted Nantucket county, and in 1713 Tuckernuck Island was annexed to it.
See the bulletins (1896 sqq.) of the Nantucket Historical Society, established in 1894; F. B. Hough, Papers relating to the Island of Nantucket . . . while under the Colony of New York (Albany, N.Y., 1856); M. S. Dudley, Nantucket Centennial Celebration; Historic Sites and Historic Buildings (Nantucket, 1895) ; Obed Macy, History of Nantucket (Boston, 1835); L. S. Hinchman, Early Settlers of Nantucket (Philadelphia, 1896; 2nd ed., 1901); W. S. Bliss, Quaint Nantucket (Boston, 1896) ; and N. S. Shaler, Geology of Nantucket (Washington, 1889), being U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin, No. 53.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)