Chappaquiddick Island

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Chappaquiddick is connected to Martha's Vineyard with the southern barrier beach between Katama and Wasque.
Toms Neck Road on Chappaquiddick.

Chappaquiddick Island (Wampanoag: Noepetchepi-aquidenet;[1] colloquially known as "Chappy") is a small island connected to the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard and is part of the town of Edgartown, Massachusetts. Norton Point, a narrow barrier beach, connects Martha's Vineyard and Chappaquiddick between Katama and Wasque (pronounced way-sqwee). Occasional breaches occur due to hurricanes and strong storms separating the islands for periods of time. Most recently, the two were separated for 8 years, starting in 2007 and reconnecting on April 2, 2015.[2][3] During times at which Chappaquiddick is connected, it is technically considered a peninsula of Martha's Vineyard.

Visitors come to the isolated island for beaches, cycling, hiking, nature tours and birding, and the MyToi Gardens, a small Japanese garden created amidst the native brush. The island has one business, the Chappy Store, occasionally open during the summer months to serve basic needs.[citation needed] Two fire trucks are stationed on the island from Edgartown. Chappaquiddick Road and Pocha Road, both paved, provide access to sandy, woodland roads, trails, and shorelines.

The name of the island became internationally recognized following the July 18, 1969 incident, where the car of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy was accidentally driven off Dike Bridge, which fatally trapped his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, inside.

Name and Early Settlement[edit]

The name Chappaquiddick comes from an Indian word "cheppiaquidne" meaning "separated island", so named because this island is separated from Martha's Vineyard by a narrow strait or gut.[4][5] The island has been historically spelled as "Chaubaqueduck" or, alternatively, "Chappaquidgick".[6]

The island was once mainly the home territory of the Chappaquiddick band of Wampanoag Indians, remaining exclusively theirs well into the nineteenth century.[7] They still have a reservation of about 100 acres (40 ha) (40 hectares) of brush land in the interior.

Early white colonists settled Edgartown in 1642, quickly proclaiming Chappaquiddick as village property as well. The first homes owned by people of exclusively European descent were built around 1750 where residents raised livestock and farmed the land.


Looking north from Cape Poge Lighthouse.

Chappaquiddick is located at 41°22′34″N 70°28′33″W / 41.37611°N 70.47583°W / 41.37611; -70.47583. The United States Census Bureau defines it as Block Group 1, Census Tract 2003 of Dukes County, Massachusetts. It has 15.915 km² (6.145 sq mi) of land.[8] Administratively, it is part of the town of Edgartown and Dukes County.

The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit conservation organization, owns and manages nearly 1,000 acres of land from the southeastern point,[9] Wasque, to Cape Poge, at the northeast. Wasque is a popular fishing spot for catching bluefish, striped bass, and other species. The Cape Poge Lighthouse, first erected in 1801, has served ships navigating the shoalwaters and shallows of Muskeget Channel.

Chappaquiddick is mainly defined by its diverse land and water ecologies with expansive salt marshes, ponds, red cedar woods, grassy meadows, and coastal wildlife including sandpipers, piping plovers, blue heron, osprey, and oysters.[10] The main interior bodies of water include Cape Poge Bay, Katama Bay, and Pocha Pond, all salty.

While the island has continually faced shifting coastlines due to ocean currents, storm surges, and astronomical tides, the 21st century has presented new erosion challenges, particularly to Wasque Point which, during the Patriots' Day Storm of 2007, was battered severely. Between 2007 and 2013, approximately 40 acres of land were lost at Wasque,[11] where currents eroded bluffs, swallowed Swan Pond, damaged shoreline trails, and threatened a residence.[12]


The On Time II (foreground), shuttling passengers between mainland Martha's Vineyard and Chappaquiddick.

As of the census[13] of 2010, there were 179 people residing on the island. The racial makeup was 93.30% White, 1.68% African American, 0.56% Native American, 0.56% Asian, and 1.68% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.23% of the population.

Socially, its residents form a tight-knit community and see themselves as distinctly separate from the rest of Edgartown.[citation needed] Longtime residents speak of "going to the mainland" when they travel to Edgartown and of "going to America" when (for example) they travel to Boston or Cape Cod.

Access to the island is served by privately owned barge-like ferries named the On Time II and On Time III which shuttle pedestrians, bicycles, and up to three cars at a time between Chappaquiddick and Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard. Two ferries run during the summer months and one during the off-season.[14] Oversand access is possible with four-wheel drive vehicles on the south shore when conditions permit.

Ted Kennedy incident[edit]

Events at Chappaquiddick Island gained international attention on July 19, 1969, when the body of Mary Jo Kopechne was soon discovered inside an overturned car in a channel on the island. The car belonged to longtime U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who had accidentally driven it off a bridge late on the previous night, the 18th. Kennedy did not report the incident to the police until the next day.[15] Kopechne's body was finally recovered by divers from the submerged car, and Kennedy entered a plea of guilty to a charge of "leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chappaquiddick Wampanoag". Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  2. ^ "Spring Gale Roars Through Island, Norton Point Is Breached". Retrieved 2015-04-03. 
  3. ^ "Land Meets Land; Norton Point Breach Closes". Retrieved 2015-04-03. 
  4. ^ "GNIS Geographic Names Information System Query". USGS. 
  5. ^ (Steel; Douglas-Lithgow 1909; MGB 1932).
  6. ^ Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Bulletin 30 – Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, edited by Frederick Webb Hodge, part 1 published in 1907, part 2 published in 1910. Use either code US-T142/B30/PT1/1907/p# or US-T142/B30/PT2/1910/p#. B30/pt1/1907/p238
  7. ^;view=2up;seq=34
  8. ^ Block Group 1, Census Tract 2003, Dukes County United States Census Bureau
  9. ^ "Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge | Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard | The Trustees of Reservations". Retrieved 2015-04-03. 
  10. ^ "Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge | Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard | The Trustees of Reservations". Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  11. ^ "As Breach Retreats, Erosion Picks Up Speed". Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  12. ^ Gross, Michelle. "Living on the edge, Wasque home safe for now". Retrieved 2015-04-04. 
  13. ^ Block Group 1, Census Tract 2003, Dukes County United States Census Bureau
  14. ^ "Chappy Ferry". Chappy Ferry. Retrieved April 3, 2015. 
  15. ^ – 1969 Year in Review: Chappaquiddick –

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°22′34″N 70°28′33″W / 41.37611°N 70.47583°W / 41.37611; -70.47583