This Was Then: The Duke

The Duke of Dukes County.

“Pitted with small-pox, and with a hesitation in his speech which at moments of excitement made him difficult to understand, there was nothing in the appearance of the Prince to touch a young maid’s fancy,” wrote author Martin Haile in a biography of the Duke’s second wife, Mary of Modena.

Meet the Duke of Dukes County.

James, Duke of York, was the second son of King Charles I of England. In 1663 he purchased Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Maine, and Long Island from the Earl of Stirling for a total of £3,500. (He ultimately failed to pay a penny of it, but kept legal possession anyway.) The next year, the king gifted him New Netherland as well, and then sent four warships to take it from the Dutch. The newly seized province was renamed “New York” in the Duke’s honor, and the Vineyard officially became part of provincial New York.

In 1683 New York established its first 12 counties, including four royally named ones: Queens (now a “borough”), Kings (better known today as “Brooklyn”), Dutchess (named for Mary of Modena, Duchess of York), and Dukes (which at this time included Nantucket). Alas, the Duke himself never set foot here.

James ascended the British throne in 1685 upon the death of his older brother, and became known as King James II. His suspected Catholicism made him an unpopular monarch, however; he was deposed just three years later in the Glorious Revolution, and fled to France, remaining in exile for the remainder of his days.

Dukes County did not became a part of Massachusetts until 1691.

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