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Cape Cod Nomans Land Island (aka Nomansland Island)

This little mentioned 628 acre island a few miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard was discovered in 1602 by the explorer Gosnold after whom the Town of Gosnold (aka the Elizabeth Islands) was named.

Prior to its colonial discovery, the island is likely to have been a seasonal camp for the local tribe of Wampanoags and is referred to by the name of Cappoaquit in deed documents of 1666 or as (Teque)nomans Land in some historical records. Recorded deeds can be traced as far back as 1666, but the municipal status of the island was in question until 1714, when the island was annexed as part of the Chilmark Township of Martha’s Vineyard.

Nomans Land Island was well forested in the 17th century, but was cleared almost completely during the 1800s for farming and sheep raising.

According to public documents, in the early 1940s the U.S. Navy entered into a lease agreement with the Crane family, owners of the island at the time. The lease stipulated that Nomans Land Island was to be used “as a radar triangulation point for Buzzards Bay and Newport,” with exclusive military access. The Cranes received a stipend in exchange for the military’s use of the island for the duration of the war. The Navy’s lease indicated that Nomans Land Island was to be returned to the Cranes in the condition that it was found when the lease was signed. The military continued to use the island for weapons training for an additional 5 years after WWII. During this time a U.S. Navy Construction Battalion unit (Seabees) was stationed on the island to improve an airstrip, to erect a radio tower and other structures, and to maintain the bombing range.  In 1952 the Navy acquired the island through a declaration of Eminent Domain and settled the property transaction for a reported $33,000.—source

Nomans Land Island served as a military aerial bombardment and gunnery range from 1943 through 1996. In April 1975, 1/3 of the island on its eastern and northeastern side was designated a “No Fire Zone” managed under joint agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Navy. This area was restricted from bombardment after 1975.

Nomans Land also holds a Viking mystery. In the 1920’s the former owner of the island, Joshua Crane, spotted some strange lettering on a large black rock by the water’s edge. The rock (Leif Eriksson Runestone) is apparently only visible at low tide.

The letters were about four inches high, the top two lines being fairly evenly-spaced. The lower two were either incomplete or had been worn smooth in spots by the action of wind and waves.—source

There is also theory on Leifur Eiricksson landing on this sometimes referred to “Nomansland Island”:

The distance between outer Cape Cod and Narragansett bay is about 75 miles and could well be sailed in a single day, but it is not necessary to insist that it always was and was in this instance.  At night the ship must travel well off shore and wait or land at some convenient spot.  It is possible that a landing might have been made on an island along here somewhere,; possibly “NoMansLand Island”.—source

There are also stories of the Captain Kidd pirate treasure possibly being buried at Nomans:

One local legend relates the tale of a mysterious stranger who arrived in the Elizabeth Islands about seventy years after Kidd’s death. He was an old sailor, and he said that he had sailed with Captain Kidd as a young lad, and that he had personally assisted in burying the treasure on Nomansland Island, just south of Gay Head. The rickety old sailor attempted to draw out a map - but died before he finished the document. Residents of Robinson’s Hole, where the man died, set out to find the treasure. But it never turned up.—source

In June 1998, under the provisions the land transfer component of the Base Reallocation and Closure Act (BRAC), the entire island was transferred from the U.S. Department of Defense to the Department of the Interior. The U.S. Department of Interior conveyed to USFWS the management responsibility for the island. USFWS now operates Nomans Land Island as an unstaffed National Wildlife Refuge. Signs posted on the island by USFWS make known that the refuge is “Closed to Public Access”. Uses of the island and surrounding marine resources are not authorized. Due to the potential safety risks associated with unexploded ordnance, and the value of this Island as a relatively natural Island habitat, the Refuge is closed to all public uses.

The island remains officially closed to public entry due to unexploded ordnance (UXO) dangers. However, the Navy and USFWS acknowledge first hand accounts from residents of Martha’s Vineyard and local fishermen, that trespassing has been extensive for years.

(17 comments) What do you think about Nomans Land Island (aka Nomansland Island)? Leave a comment

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Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 08/03/06
Categories: InterestingMartha's VineyardPlaces
Keywords: interesting, legends, marthas vineyard, military, pirates, places, treasure, vikings, Leif Eriksson Runestone, Captain Kidd pirate treasure


Comments:

Did Joshua Slocum ever live in or visit Nomansland?

Posted by George Valley from St. Augustine, FL on 05/22/08 at 06:49 PM | #

Unexploded Ordnance is not spelled with an “i” as in city ordinance.

Posted by George Bridgeman from Nomans Island on 08/24/08 at 08:56 AM | #

Corrected, thanks George.

Posted by Cape Cod from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on 08/24/08 at 06:05 PM | #

Hi,

I was in the U.s. Navy in 1944-1946 and was stationed on Martha’s Vineyard N.A.S but assigned to Noman’s Land Island during part of 1945. At that time there were only 3 of us Navy personnel out there and our duty was to protect the Navy property from theft or harm.

As I remember, we were out there about 6 months, lived in a quonset hut and spent our time doing routine maintenance work, but mostly we just explored the island. I remember many rabbits we hunted and a couple of sheep, left behind by the former owner.

It was a great experience. I loved it.
Fred Shetler

Posted by Fred Shetler from Peoria, Arizona on 07/14/09 at 08:19 PM | #

Mr. Shetler, I’d like to learn more about your assignment to nomans land during WWII. If you see this post…please correspond. Did you ever see any German U Boats off shore? Were there any deer? Many more questions…mddonovan14 (at) gmail.com

All The Best.

Posted by MD from Mass on 03/25/10 at 10:47 PM | #

We had no idea that people used to live on Noman’s. I thought the Navy bombed the heck out of that island in the early 40s? Can you tell us more Mr Shetler?
Thanks!

Posted by Die Hard from Cape Cod on 03/26/10 at 10:08 PM | #

My great-great grandfather had a fishing shack on Nomans that was said to be haunted. His name was Seth Morse.

Posted by Courtland Morse from Boston on 05/05/10 at 01:22 PM | #

Mr. Shelter i am very interested in your story. i spend my summers on a 2 mile long pennisula called Mishaum that sticks into Buzzards Bay. 60 years ago the tip of the point used to be an army bunker but was later made into a fancy house after the U.S. government sold the land to the public

Posted by Tony from Mishaum on 08/31/10 at 01:37 AM | #

Mishaum is about 50 minuetes from no man’s land on a powerboat. me and my cousin usually go there for the beach

Posted by Tony from Mishaum on 08/31/10 at 01:41 AM | #

I am actually attempting to get a job in that area cleaning up the uxo, would love to get some further background as far as what was dropped, training done there, etc. That time frame leaves a huge window of possibilities.

Posted by eodsarge from somd on 01/13/11 at 12:39 AM | #

Let’s hope Mr. Shetler comments on this. Would love to know more…

Posted by MD on 01/17/11 at 11:54 AM | #

Hi,

I am the person who was stationed on NoMan’s Island in 1945 as part of a U.S. Navy 3 man detail sent out there as protectors of the Navy equipment and to keep strangers off the Island.

I have some pictures and a few stories to tell but cannot do it right away.  Have had a death in my family and I have a lot to do at this time.

Will post again in a few weeks and I would be happy to hear from anyone who is interested in my tales.

Will be looking forward to your e-mails and I will answer.

Fred Shetler

Posted by Fred Shetler from Peoria, Az. on 02/02/11 at 11:20 PM | #

My condolences for your loss…once you get back up and running, please share all that you can! Maybe even post some pictures on line if possible. Thanks again and keep in touch.

Matt

Posted by Matt from Boston on 02/06/11 at 01:54 PM | #

Dear Mr. Shetler: You certainly piqued my interest and imagination regarding your time on Nomans. I, as i am sure others, am anxiously awaiting further information of your time on the island. I am sorry to hear of your recent loss.

Posted by Paul from Boston on 05/17/11 at 01:19 PM | #

I’m part of the Crane family that once owned the Island.  My grandmother, Lurana Wood was the daughter of the caretaker there.  I guess my grandfather was smitten at the time with her, got her pregnant with my father and eventually married her.  He was an early aviator and later died in an airplane crash.

My grandmother later moved to Florida where I was born.  Most of us are in Texas with some family from my grandfather’s brother still up in that part of the country.

Glad in this internet age there is much more information about this island.

I’d like hear more from Mr. Shetler about the island post my family’s sell to the navy.

Posted by Scott Crane from Houston, TX on 03/06/12 at 05:58 PM | #

Does anyone know anything that might be related to a small Indian Painting of an Indian Chief with the letters Nomans Heart printed on it?  This is a small painting on a thin slice of tree trunk or burl.  Part of my Great Aunts estate. She was born in 1902, died in 1968. Wondering if it is related to the tribe of this area?

Posted by Lisa Stevens from Santa Barbara, CA on 04/12/12 at 05:53 PM | #

Did anyone have anymore contact with Mr. Shetler? I’m researching paintings done by Alexander Crane on No Man’s Land about 1938, before the Navy took over.
Thanks

Posted by Keith Goring from Norfolk, Ct on 02/27/13 at 07:44 PM | #

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Related Posts: are tagged with interesting, legends, marthas vineyard, military, pirates, places, treasure, vikings, Leif Eriksson Runestone, Captain Kidd pirate treasure
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