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Noman’s Land Island: A Brief History, and One Man’s Effort to Preserve It

Brian McCarty
MFCC member

Approximately three miles off the southwest coast of Martha’s Vineyard, lies the 628 acre island of Noman’s Land. It had once been inhabited by the Wampanoag Tribe and numerous settlers, but is now desolate and overgrown.

Many visible clues of past inhabitants have already disappeared, since the island has been off-limits to the public for the past 76 years. As time continues to pass, so does the opportunity to record the history first-hand through tangible evidence. 

Through the decades, there have been unusual occurrences reported on or around Noman’s Land. Among other fascinating tales, many believe Norsemen traveled to Noman’s Land (est. 1000 A.D), which may of served them as a seasonal hunting and fishing camp.

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A Brief History of Noman's

From the 17th to 19th centuries, the island had several permanent residents, as well as seasonal visitors. Photo courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum

In 1926, a mysterious runic stone with an inscription which translates to “Leif Erikson, 1001”, was located. Much attention has been drawn to the stone, allegedly visible only during very low tides. However, no one has been able to find it in recent years.

There are also numerous shipwrecks in the immediately surrounding waters, giving insight to the island’s many tales of woe. There have been ghost sightings, speculation of Captain Kidd’s buried treasure, and accounts of rum runners. Each story adds allure to the true history of Noman’s Land, which is unique and culturally significant. Unknown places often leave our minds to do the exploring, with great imagination. 

According to the earliest known inhabitants, the Wampanoag Tribe, the island was created when Moshup, a benevolent entity, was building a bridge to a nearby island. As he stacked boulders in the sea, a crab bit him on the big toe. Moshup threw the crab into the water along with several boulders, forming the island. 

  1. Can you explore Norman’s island

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    1. I believe only by boat Gary. I don’t think it’s legal to explore the island on foot.

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  2. Great article…fantastic video…thank you for both…

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  3. Great article Brian, love reading History. So glad that it is off limits.

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  4. I’m currently doing research on the affects on munition disposal at sea within our local area. If anyone has any science/history related questions to the cape/Islands, I’d be happy to do some further investigation.

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    1. Hi,
      I came across your article while searching online for info on Noman’s Land Island. A friend of the family, Bertrand Wood, lived on the island in the 1920’s and 30’s and wrote a fascinating book of the island’s history and his personal experiences. One of the bookstores on Martha’s Vineyard or the local historical society may have copies. I still have several copies and also photos when we last met with Bert in 1998 when he was 95. Nice to see the interest in the island and the fishing in the area.

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      1. Sounds like an awesome book!

        What is the title?

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        1. It’s titled: “Noman’s Land Island: History and Legends”, first published in January 1978.

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  5. Very interesting read, well done👍

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  6. This was great! I had no idea the story / history. Thanks!!

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  7. Awesome read Brian

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  8. Gentlemen, thank you for the positive feedback. I enjoy digging into the science and history of the places I frequent. Though Nomans remains off limits for good reason, it deserves aknowledgement for being a significant place in New England fishing history. I encourage each of you to explore your favorite fishing areas, to gain a better understanding that can help protect the environment and local biodiversity.

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  9. As an immigrant to me things like things are rely interesting ,thank you!

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  10. History,mystery and lore. Who could ask for more. Great article. Thanks.

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  11. Great article. Love places like this. Good luck Alex.

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  12. I am impressed by the amount of detail in the article. I’m a history buff, especially about the early natural history of Cape Cod. Great story. Thanks for sharing it.

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  13. Rabbits multiplying out of control on an island without predators? Who could have foreseen that?
    A very interesting article.
    Thanks Brian

    Reply

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