This Was Then: The pirates of Lake Tashmoo

From left, Marcus Smith, John B. Luce, Charles Brown, Ben Norton, Frank Golart, and Frank Lynch ham it up as a pirate crew in 1913’s “The Pageant of Lake Tashmoo.” Performed over three August days, it was billed as “A Historical Drama of the Discovery, Settlement and Incidents of the Revolutionary War, at the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, and Particularly at the Village of Vineyard Haven.” Brown, a Vineyard Haven lawyer and amateur playwright, assumes the role here of early 17th century “Pirate Captain” Thomas Hunt in Act I, Scene III: “The Incursion of Captain Hunt.”- Photo courtesy of Chris Baer

The Christian Science Monitor reported, “Most of the 190 persons taking part were lineal descendants of characters whose parts they were taking.” Many of the props were authentic relics, like a powder horn from the French and Indian War, a 200-year-old ceremonial Native American pipe, a renowned New Bedford whaleboat, and costumes which were family heirlooms. Few, if any, of the cast were Wampanoag, evident from the many uncomfortable photos taken at the pageant depicting nontribal actors in redface and feathers. On the pageant’s opening day, the New York Sun noted, “the stores were closed and the town assumed all the aspect of a gala day.”

Much of Act I told the true story of Epenow (played by Roy Mathews, not pictured), who made fools of his English captors. Kidnapped from our island in 1611, Epenow was brought to London as a “wonder” of the New World (and as the likely model of the “strange Indian” in Henry VIII, he is the only Vineyarder to appear in Shakespeare’s works). Convincing his captors that a rich gold mine awaited them on Martha’s Vineyard, Epenow returned to the Island as their guide, only to escape in a hail of arrows launched by his Vineyard friends. The pageant’s script confuses Capt. Hunt (who enslaved natives along the Massachusetts coast, most notably Tisquantum, or “Squanto”) for his contemporary, Captain Edward Harlow, believed to be Epenow’s actual captor.

Amateur actors all, Smith was a blacksmith, Luce an electrical contractor, Brown an attorney, Norton a stonemason, Golart a telephone lineman, and Lynch a boatman.

Chris Baer teaches photography and graphic design at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He’s been collecting vintage photographs for many years.