The history of Martha’s Vineyard is very fascinating.
It is an island situated off the coast of Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
The island is a very beautiful place, so you can imagine what it was like long ago.
In the late 1600s or the early 1700s, it was settled by British colonists before Clerc came to America.
The people that moved to Martha’s Vineyard mostly worked in the fishing industry, or sold delivered goods off the boats, or were whalers.
The island is only 20 miles long.
Chilmark is located at this end.
It was very isolated. It was where many of the deaf lived and stayed.
They could not afford to cross over to Massachusetts or to Rhode Island.
Alexander Graham Bell had actually visited the island to intensively investigate the cause of the large-scale deafness.
His theory was an environmental factor at play. He stated that off the west coast, it was the ocean releasing salt in the wind that made people deaf.
There were other assumptions like that, but the people in the community had a gut feeling that it was a contagion.
It was contagious among the community of deaf and hearing people.
They weren’t aware about genetics.
They married one another, even to their second and third cousins.
This resulted in the deaf genes to be passed down.
Almost all, if not all, signed to one another in what was called MVSL.
We have a video recording example of MVSL.
It’s related to the deck of playing cards, with the four different shapes.
Hearts, for example. They signed it as (Hearts).
That particular family’s signs were passed down.
They became a signing community.
I wouldn’t call it a Deaf community, because did they have the identity as Deaf members of a community? Most likely not.
It was a community where visual communication was prioritized.
Even the hearing people signed to one another.
Sometimes they signed in their sleep while dreaming!
A researcher caught this fact.
There was no way for the mainstream to influence them,
so they became a community of its own.
A living community where people signed.
It flourished for many years.
The deaf people of Martha’s Vineyard became no more because ASD was established.
This resulted in a great migration.
After they completed their schooling, they didn’t want to return to their home island.
They wanted to stay in Connecticut, and stay with the local community.
They set up new families, new connections, new social lives, and even new economic opportunities to teach at schools and such.
They figured, “Why go back to Martha’s Vineyard? What opportunities are still there?”
After the deaf people left the island, the remaining people didn’t have reason to keep it a signing community.
I wish they would have continued it to this day.
They were an extremely important part of history because they provided one of the sign languages that helped form ASL during early ASD years in Connecticut.