Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Isaac D. Rose (1811-1890): whaleman and officer, Gay Head farmer, overseer, postmaster, district and town clerk--and Porte Crayon's estimable "Roos"

Writing in the September 1860 Harper's magazine about a visit to Gay Head (now Aquinnah) on Martha's Vineyard, David Hunter Strother (aka "Porte Crayon") describes the home and hospitality of "a very intelligent and well-mannered person" supposedly named "Roos." Strother's fictive narrator Bob Berkeley specifies the occupation of his Gay Head host as "a professional sailor, who had made his last voyage as first mate of a whale-ship." Who is this distinguished whaleman turned farmer? Here is the extended passage which I am prompted to consider after reading Nancy Shoemaker's citations and brief discussion of Strother in her new book Native American Whalemen and the World.
Continuing our walk, we at length met a man in the pathway, whose address indicated some acquaintance with the world; and in answer to our inquiry for dinner, he very politely turned and led us to his house. 
It was a small but regularly finished wooden house, and altogether of a better sort than any we had yet seen. The parlor was respectably furnished, carpeted, and curtained; the mantle- piece and tables decorated with sea-shells, Daguerreotypes, and hooks. Among the latter were some illustrated annuals, but all of them of a moral and religious character.  
Our host, Roos, we found to be a very intelligent and well-mannered person, a professional sailor, who had made his last voyage as first mate of a whale-ship. This is the occupation of most of the men of the reservation, and is the only pursuit followed by civilized men that the Indians or their descendants have shown any aptitude for. It is, in fact, nothing more than their original and natural occupation of fishing, extended and improved by the genius and enterprise of the white man. The few poor garden patches that we observed were doubtless cultivated by the women and children, after the Indian fashion. 
Roos gave us a comfortable dinner, at which he and his wife joined us. After the meal we retired to the parlor, where he spun us some sea yarns, and traded us some pretty shells which had gathered in the Indian seas. The books on his table, he informed us, belonged to the schoolmistress, who was at that time quartered at his house. 
Upon this suggestion we took leave, and wended our way to the Academy, where we found the school in session....  -- A Summer in New England
Critical of Strother's racist view of Gay Head Indians as "a thriftless and inferior people," Professor Shoemaker determines that his facts must be as faulty as his stereotypes:
They said his name was "Roos," but it must have been George Belain, who was at that time the only Gay Head native who fit their description of "a professional sailor, who had made his last voyage as first mate of a whale-ship."  --Native American Whalemen and the World, chapter 10
Wait wait wait. First we need to sort out who's talking and traveling here. Professor Shoemaker finesses "they" as transparently "[a] travel writer" (Strother) and "an illustrator" (Porte Crayon). But the actual writer and artist are one man, Strother, who throughout his "Summer in New England" series employs fictional personae (both Virginians) as a narrative device to achieve a dual perspective. Cecil D. Eby, Jr. explains it well in his 1960 biography of David Hunter Strother:
The narrator is Bob Berkeley, who writes in first person. Accompanying him on his trip is Dick Dashaway, a brainless but generous young Southerner of many love affairs. The guileless, amiable Dick serves the same function as the Chinaman in Goldsmith's Citizen of the World: he is almost painfully naive, but his comments upon the strange manners of the Yankee nation often cut to the heart of the matter. Dick's provincialism is balanced by Bob Berkeley's sophistication. We therefore obtain two interpretations of the events. -- Porte Crayon: The Life of David Hunter Strother, Writer of the Old South (University of North Carolina Press, 1960) page 97.
The New England travelogue complements Strother's previous Harper's series, A Winter in the South. Strother's actual journey to New England took place in 1859. Eby adds in a footnote that the narrator's traveling companion "Dick" is based on Berney Wolff, Strother's brother-in-law.

Without endorsing ugly and always offensive stereotypes, discerning readers will want to keep in mind the formal context, tone (often satirical), and complicated perspective of A Summer in New England. Strother's bigoted southern tourists find faults with Yankees and other New England types, not only among the Wampanoag people of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

Now about this respectable whaleman "Roos" whom Professor Shoemaker believes "must have been" George Belain.

Must have been? Ack. Despite the ploy of fictive tourists called Bob and Dick, Strother names real names of people and places. He gets them wrong sometimes, but not that wrong. His "Deacon Simon" is Simon Johnson. "Hetty Ames" can only be the widow Mehitable Ames, 80 years old in 1860 according to the Indian Census of Gay Head. And look at his sketch of the woman in the rocking chair, identified in the caption as "Jane Wormsley." Sure enough, that's Jane Wamsley. Strother's "Roos" might be harder to figure out, but not impossible. "Belain" for "Roos" can't be right. So we need a different real name closer to "Roos."

In Vital Records of Sudbury Massachusetts we find the spelling "Roos" variously associated with Rooss, Ross, and Rose. Aha, maybe Porte Crayon's "Roos" is "Rose" as in Isaac D. Rose.

In "Appendix A" of the 1849 Bird Report of the Commissioners, Isaac D. Rose (age 37) is listed with his wife Harriet A. (age 27) and infant only 10 days old with other recognized members of the "Gay Head Tribe."

As shown in the Vital Records of Tisbury, Mass., Isaac D. Rose married Harriet A. Wamsely in April 1841:
ROSE, Isaac D., colored, of Gayhead, and Harriet A. Wamsley of Gayhead, Apr. 27, 1841.* [Isaac D. of Gay Head, and Harriet A. Wamsley of Gay Head, C.r.]
Harriet was Isaac's second wife. His first wife was Harriet's sister, Priscilla A. Wamsley, who died October 12, 1838.  Isaac and Priscilla were married in 1837. The name ROSE was entered in the Vital Records of Chilmark as ROWS:
ROWS (see Rose), Isaac of New Bedford, and Priscilla Womsley, int. May 23, 1837.

ISAAC D. ROSE (1811-1890)

According to the New Bedford Family tree at Ancestry.com our Isaac D. Rose was born in Taunton, Massachusetts on November 14, 1811; and he died in Gay Head of an unspecified "heart ailment" in September 1890. No source for date of death given, but the Index to Deaths in Massachusetts 1886-1890 confirms under Rose the 1890 death at Gay Head of "Isaac D (colored)" as recorded in volume 409 page 228. (Where the date of birth comes from escapes me.)

New Bedford City Directories for 1838 and 1839 show Isaac D. Rose with the whaleship Mercury and boarding at "34 Sixth, corner Walnut" street.
New Bedford, 1839 by Granger, via fineartamerica
The 1860 census of Gay Head shows Isaac D. Rose with 12 acres of land just like George Belain. Then "farmer," Isaac D. Rose was or had been a whaleman, too. There he is again in the 1870 federal census, Isaac D. Rose, age 58, occupation "Mariner" with a healthy $700 in real estate and personal estate valued at $250. Daughters at home, Etta H. age 10 and Minola or Mincola or Minneola 17. (Daughter Mineola or "Minnie" would marry an African mariner named John Stevens.) In the 1880 census Isaac D. Rose is "farmer" again, still married to Harriet A., with Etta H. the only daughter still at home, now 20 years old. This younger daughter Etta H. Rose would marry Leonard L. Vanderhoop December 30, 1885.

Isaac and Harriet Rose also had a son, Alfred, born June 1848 in Gay Head. Alfred P. Rose died in battle on July 30, 1864, in Petersburg, Virginia, when he was 16 years old. Serving, as David J. Silverman notes in Faith and Boundaries, "among the 'colored troops' of Massachusetts."

Crew Lists show Isaac D. Rose as 3rd mate aboard two ships, the Golcoda II in 1841 and Canton II in 1845.

The 1845 record gives his age as 34 and residence as Taunton, Massachusetts--near to Fall River which is Isaac D. Rose’s place of birth according to 1860 census. Both parents of Isaac D. Rose were born in Connecticut according to the 1880 federal census.

A crew list published in the Whaleman's Shipping List August 10, 1852 names Isaac D. Rose as second mate of the whaling bark Clara Bell of Mattapoisett under "Captain David [Daniel] Flanders, of Chilmark, Mass." Isaac D. Rose worked his way up the ranks, from 3rd mate in 1841-5 to 2nd mate in 1852. It would not be surprising then to find him later in the 1850's as 1st mate of a whaler, or acting in the capacity of mate.

In the only reference to Isaac D. Rose in Native American Whalemen, Nancy Shoemaker names him among the town clerks of Gay Head, many of them whalemen. Not only whalemen, at home they were prosperous and capable leaders of the community. Wherever he went on land and sea, Isaac D. Rose proved himself a leader.

As Overseer...
Chap. 30. RESOLVE on the Petition of the Overseers of Gay Head.
Resolved, That for reasons set forth in their petition, that there be allowed and paid, out of the treasury of the Commonwealth, to Isaac D. Rose, Aaron Cooper, 2d, and Samuel
Peters, Overseers of the Indians and people of color at Gay Head, the sum of five hundred and sixty-five dollars, for the purpose of erecting a school-house at Gay Head; and the governor is hereby authorized to draw his warrant for that sum. [Approved April 14, 1857.] --1857 Acts and Resolves
This 1857 evidence of Isaac D. Rose's leadership in securing funds for the new school at Gay Head suggests a strong interest in education, consistent with Strother's observation when visiting "Roos" in 1859, of his host's pride in the community's new school, their teacher, and her books:
The books on his table, he informed us, belonged to the school-mistress, who was at that time quartered at his house. Upon this suggestion we took leave, and wended our way to the Academy, where we found the school in session...  --Strother's Summer in New England
As postmaster...
Until 1873 this town was served from the Chilmark office at Squibnocket, and on Feb. 14 of that year Isaac D. Rose was appointed the first postmaster of the newly-established office. He served eleven years, and was succeeded by William A. Vanderhoop, Dec. 11, 1884; Paulina A. Vanderhoop, Nov. 14, 1893, and Mary A. Cleggett Vanderhoop, Aug. 13, 1907, the present incumbent.  --Banks, History of Martha's Vineyard
and District then Town Clerk...

As noted above, Isaac D. Rose married two Wamsley women, Priscilla in 1837 and, several years after her death in 1838, Priscilla's sister Harriet in 1841. Despite his "non-Indian" "non-member" status alleged in the contentious but richly documented 1985 government report cited below, Isaac D. Rose was already included in the 1849 census of Gay Head Indians.
... state records indicate that the first man to hold the important position of town clerk was William D. Vanderhoop, a non-Indian, and that for the period 1873 to 1888, this post was held by Isaac D. Rose, a non-member mulatto who had previously served as an elected overseer and as the district clerk (Mass. State Vital Records 1841-1890). Between 1899 and 1920, five (5) other non-Indians were town officials, including Charles H. Ryan (cranberry agent, 1899-1901), Charles S. Hatch (auditor, 1910), William M. Marden (town clerk, 1921-1922), Merriam C. Hayson (library trustee, 1921-1922), and Harry W. Webster (constable, 1926) (Town of Gay Head 1899-1980). With the exception of Hatch, however, all of these individuals were married to Gay Head women. --Evidence of Proposed Finding Against Federal Acknowledgement
In the divisive 1869-70 controversy over enfranchisement, incorporation and land division, Isaac D. Rose initially seemed to oppose but eventually supported division of common lands--George Belain and others opposed Rose's petition in favor of the proposed "set off" (again borrowing from the historical assessment in Evidence of Proposed Finding p67).

Clearly there's a lot more to find in libraries and historical collections on Martha's Vineyard and in the National Archives in Boston. Oh I would love to visit both places and amplify with more details about the full and distinguished life of Isaac D. Rose. If some other brave researcher gets there first, so much the better.
Ha! Talk about your brave researchers. After writing every bit of the above, now I find Dr. Russell G. Handsman way way ahead of me in his brilliant essay on
Some Middle-Range Theory for Archaeological Studies of Wampanoag Indian Whaling
 a revised 2011 conference paper which I happened upon at academia.edu

Dr. Handsman starts and ends critically but fairly with Melville's Tashtego, and along the way confidently identifies the estimable Gay Head whaleman of David Hunter Strother's September 1860 Harper's article as none other than
Isaac Rose!
One of accompanying illustrations shows a detail from an 1858 map of Chilmark & Gayhead with Isaac D. Rose's place labelled what looks to me like I. or J. Rase. Or Rose. Or Ruse? If spelled "Ruse" there or anywhere, well there's your Roos!

Update: 1926 sketch-map by Edward S. Burgess shows the "Isaac Rose site" centrally located along the Old South Road of Gay Head; accessible in the Indian Converts collection via Reed Digital Collections.

Related post:


  1. All these genealogical sources make me smile.

    This is a convenient site to bookmark: http://ma-vitalrecords.org/

    1. New turf for me as you can tell. It's great to have the link to MA vital records. Thanks Bob!

    2. It looks like you're an expert already!