Last year, on 31st August 2021, Professor Tiya Miles, department of history at the Harvard University, published an article in The Atlantic about the Island of Nantucket entitled: “Nantucket doesn’t belong to the Preppies”.1 The article grew out not only from the vivid history of the island itself, but also through her conversations with many figures of the island.
Combined with private observations, biographical experiences and conversations, she first pictured colonial-white-focussed perceiptions and quickly corrects the impressions.
Picture Nantucket, and you probably imagine whales and hydrangeas, white people swimming in white-capped waves. But that’s only part of the story. Although the Black community of New Guinea has passed into history, its mark on the landscape remains, a reminder that Nantucket was once a place of working-class ingenuity and Black daring.Tiya Miles
While the most stories of Nantucket typically began with the popular anektode of English settlers, who arrived in 1690, and noticed whales while they surveyed the sandy land, the Wampanoag people had already lived there, “dispersed across multiple villages.” Miles shows how the rising wealth of “Anglo-Nantucketers […] particularly through the commercial whaling industry” based on the rising “labor from populations with ready skills that would not, or could not, reject dangerous maritime work.” For this, they not only “compelled Indigenous people to row their boats”, but also drew back to slavery by bringing people with descent from the African continent to Nantucket.
According to a census of 1764, the Island inhabited 148 “indians + Sqwaws” and 50 “Negroes”, of which a majority were enslaved. In this regard, Miles also recounts the famous case between William Swain and Boston:
One black family, the Bostons, lived on Nantucket for generations and profoundly shaped the island’s history. Boston and his wife, Maria, and their eight children were enslaved by a merchant named William Swain. In 1760, for reasons that are not documented, Swain freed the couple and their youngest baby. He placed the other children on a manumission schedule, guaranteeing that he could extract their labor for years. Eventually, members of the Boston family moved to a hilly region at the edge of town, where a handful of other free Black families lived, near the four noisy windmills that served as the island’s power source.Tiya Miles
In the 1770s, when the island suczessively “phase out slavery”, many free persons now settled themselves at “New Guinea”or “Newtown”, where they intermarriaged with Native Americans and so shaped the place as “a multicultural hub”.
- Miles, Tiya (2021): Nantucket doesn’t belong to the Preppies, in: The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/08/nantucket-doesnt-belong-to-the-preppies/619874/, 31.08.2021. [last Access:25.7.2022].