Chappaquiddick Island

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Chappaquiddick Island
Chappaquiddick Island is connected to Martha's Vineyard with the southern barrier beach between Katama and Wasque.

Chappaquiddick Island (Massachusett language: Noepetchepi-aquidenet;[1] colloquially known as "Chappy"), a part of the town of Edgartown, Massachusetts, is a small peninsula and occasional island on the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard. 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 from 2007 to 2015.[2][3] While both land forms have mostly been connected to one another in modern history, Chappaquiddick is nevertheless referred to as an island.

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. Two fire trucks are stationed on the island from Edgartown. Chappaquiddick Road and Poucha Road, both paved, provide access to sandy, woodland roads, trails, and shorelines.

Chappaquiddick became internationally known following an incident of the same name in 1969, when U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy accidentally drove his car off the island's Dike Bridge into Poucha Pond. Kennedy's 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned inside the car.

Name and early settlement[edit]

Toms Neck Road on Chappaquiddick Island

The name Chappaquiddick comes from a Native American 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 "Chaubaqueduck" or, alternatively, "Chappaquidgick".[6]

The island was once mainly the home territory of the Chappaquiddick band of Wampanoag Indians, and remained 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 colonists settled Edgartown in 1642, and quickly proclaimed Chappaquiddick as village property. The first homes owned by people of exclusively European descent were built around 1750; these residents raised livestock and farmed the land.


Looking north from Cape Poge Lighthouse

The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit conservation organization, owns and manages nearly 1,000 acres (405 ha) of land from the southeastern point,[8] 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.[9] The main interior bodies of water include Cape Poge Bay, Katama Bay, and Poucha 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 (16 ha) of land were lost at Wasque,[10] where currents eroded bluffs, swallowed Swan Pond, damaged shoreline trails, and threatened a residence.[11]

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.[12] Administratively, it is part of the town of Edgartown and Dukes County.


The On Time II 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 93.3% White, 1.7% African American, 0.6% Native American, 0.6% Asian, and 1.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.2% 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 the islands are connected and conditions permit.

Ted Kennedy incident[edit]

Chappaquiddick Island gained international attention on July 19, 1969, when the body of Mary Jo Kopechne was discovered inside an overturned Oldsmobile 88 in a channel on the island. The car belonged to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who claimed he had taken a wrong turn and accidentally drove it off a bridge into a pond late the previous night, and did not report the accident to the police for ten hours.[15] Seven days after the incident, Kennedy entered a plea of guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury, and later received a two-month suspended sentence. Kennedy's driver's license was suspended for a year for operating too fast (20 miles per hour (32 km/h)) for existing conditions. A January 1970 judicial inquest into Kopechne's death found that Kennedy's turn toward the bridge was intentional, and he operated his car in a manner "at least negligent and possibly reckless". A grand jury investigation was held in April 1970; no indictments were issued.

The incident robbed Chappaquiddick of its traditional peace and privacy, attracting large tourist groups wanting to view the sites connected with the tragedy.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chappaquiddick Wampanoag". Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  2. ^ "Spring Gale Roars Through Island, Norton Point Is Breached". Archived from the original on March 19, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  3. ^ "Land Meets Land; Norton Point Breach Closes". Archived from the original on March 19, 2016. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  4. ^ "GNIS Geographic Names Information System Query". geonames. 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. ^ "Laws of the colonial and state governments, relating to Indians ... - Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library".
  8. ^ "Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge | Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard | The Trustees of Reservations". Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  9. ^ "Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge | Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard | The Trustees of Reservations". Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  10. ^ "As Breach Retreats, Erosion Picks Up Speed". Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  11. ^ Gross, Michelle. "Living on the edge, Wasque home safe for now". Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  12. ^ Block Group 1, Census Tract 2003, Dukes County United States Census Bureau
  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 –
  16. ^ Piney, Bill. Chappaquiddick Speaks (Stormy Weather Press, 2017), ISBN 978-0-692-94376-2. P.vii-viii.

External links[edit]

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