The history of Vinalhaven has been shaped by its location on New England's earliest highway, the sea. The first known visitors to discover the rich abundance of shell and fin fish in the Islands' waters were the Red Paint people who came here 3,8OO to 5,OOO years ago. Evidence of their visits has been discovered by archaeological digs on both the North and South Islands. Shell middens, stone tools and skeletal animal remains also indicate that the Abenaki and other Indians came later.
European explorers are known to have visited these waters in the 15OO's and in 16O3 the English Captain Martin Pring is said to have sighted the Islands and named them "The Fox Islands". Permanent settlement by English colonists did not take place, however, until after cessation of the French and Indian Wars in 1763. Thaddeus Carver arrived from Marshfield. Massachusetts in 1766 and in 1776 purchased 700 acres from Francis Cogswell who operated a sawmill on the southern shore of the South Island in the area which later became known as Carver's Harbor.
After the Revolutionary War the population of the islands grew rapidly. In 1785 seventy-five settlers petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts "to relinquish any claims that this Commonwealth may have to said Islands, to all inhabitants and their Heirs and Assigns forever...". The attorney representing the Islanders at the Court was a Bostonian, John Vinal, Esq. and the Islands were named for him. Among the first settlers were the families of Arey, Carver, Calderwood, Coombs, Dyer, Ginn, Green, Hopkins, Lane, Leadbetter, Norton, Philbrook, Pierce, Roberts, Smith, and Vinal. By 18OO the population was 86O on both Islands. In 1846 the North Island was "set off" to become North Haven. The population of the South Island, Vinalhaven, reached its peak of 2855 in 188O.
The early occupations were fishing, farming, logging, boat building and, for women, the knitting of fish nets and later thousands of horse nets sold to protect horses from flies. By 1826 the quality of Vinalhaven's granite was discovered and the Island's 1OO year period as one of Maine largest quarrying centers began. Men arrived from other states, from the British Isles and later from Scandinavia to work. Hundreds of men quarried, cut, polished, carved and shaped many tons of granite. Stone left the Island on sloops, schooners and barges for ports as far away as Pensacola and New Orleans. The first large Federal contracts were for granite blocks to reenforce the gun platforms at Forts along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts prior to the Civil War. Granite was shipped for the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, the US Customs Houses and Post Offices in New York, St. Louis, Kansas City, Buffalo, etc., the Railroad Station and the Board of Trade in Chicago, the Washington Monument and Federal Office Buildings in the Capital, foundation stone and the eight huge polished columns for the nave of The Cathedral of Saint John The Divine in NYC, the PRR Station and the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia as well as private mansions, monuments, bridges, dams, etc. and thousands of tons of paving blocks for the streets of Portland, Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and other cities. With the advent of structural steel and concrete as building materials the largest granite company closed in 1919. The paving block industry, however, continued until the late 193O's.
The sea also has been of great importance to Vinalhaven's economy as the island has always been a major supplier of seafood to markets in Portland, Boston and New York; first as salted and dried fish, then canned lobster, canned fish, fish glue, cut and packed fresh fin fish, canned herring, fresh lobsters, scallops, shrimp and sea urchins. Currently lobsters are being frozen for shipment to the U.S. and world-wide Markets. During the 18OO's and into the mid- 19OO'S the Island had a large fleet of fishing vessels some bringing home catches of 1O,OOO pounds or more. In these last years of the 2Oth Century with the fin fish supply severely depleted, Vinalhaven has had a healthy fishing economy based on the size of the catch of its large lobster fishing fleet.
Prepared by The Vinalhaven Historical Society, August, 1995.