5: The Graves of Sarah and Capt. William A. Martin

Captain William A. Martin and his wife, Sarah Martin, are buried in a Chappaquiddick graveyard where his gravestone, though an ornate and expensive one, has a unique aspect in that it faces a different direction than the others in the graveyard. In fact, it is the opposite way — facing away from the sea — from the rest of the stones in the graveyard.

martin-gravestoneChappaquiddick is a low barrier island just to the southeast of Edgartown Harbor, MA. William Martin and Sarah Brown, as well as many other African Americans and Native Americans, made a home on the Chappaquiddick Plantation, known then as “Indian Land”. A Report to the Governor and Council by John Milton Earle of 1861 indicates that although this was a Native American community, people of other ethnicities lived there. Life on this island was difficult at best, brutal at times.

A Report to the Governor on the Condition of the Indians of the Commonwealth dated 1861 shows how land was held in severalty, with a Guardian appointed to direct the affairs of the community. The report recommended continuing the guardianship, though it expressed some sympathy for the Indian community. Members of the community could not “sue or be sued” without the consent of the guardian, could not receive wages for any voyage if payment be forbidden by the guardian, may be sent to sea as “habitual drunkards, vagabonds and idlers” and their wages withheld by the guardian, and cannot under any circumstances “alienate their lands or any portion of them.”

The author of the report made the point that such restrictions “may mostly be necessary; still in the hands of a guardian disposed to abuse such powers they might become insupportably oppressive to the Indians.”Concern is expressed about the extremely high death rate of “the community on Chappaquid-dick” and reference is made to a Commissioners’ Report of 1849 which found the location to be healthy. The report of 1861 states that “without any fatal epidemic having been among them, they dwindle away and disappear. The sea faring life, which nearly all the men follow, to a greater or less extent is, unquestionably, unfavorable to the increase of the population, but it is not sufficient to account for the diminution that has occurred.”

Many theories are given for the facing direction of the Martins’ marker. They include racial discrimination, class discrimination, and even the choice of Capt. Martin or his wife. In any case, it is unique in this cemetery.

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