Marti, A. R. (2022). Signing and Schooling: Intimacies of Wampanoag and Deaf Settler Histories on Noepe/Martha’s Vineyard. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14418/wes01.1.2552
From the mid-seventeenth through early-nineteenth centuries, Wampanoag people and a large population of deaf English settlers lived next to each other in the neighboring towns of Aquinnah and Chilmark on the island Noepe, also known by its colonial name, Martha’s Vineyard. Despite the temporal and spatial overlap and proximity of these groups, there is not yet a scholarly work that examines their stories together. This thesis draws on Lisa Lowe’s analytic of “intimacy” to tell a combined history of these peoples through two significant nodes: sign language and missionary education. The tradition of sign language use on Noepe began with the Wampanoag people, prior to colonization, and continued with the widespread use of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) among deaf and hearing settlers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. While the connection between Wampanoag signs and MVSL is not widely explored, this thesis speculates about the potential creolization of British and Indigenous sign languages on the island space. Beyond communication, this work explores the role deaf settlers played in Wampanoag displacement and the colonization of both groups through institutionalized colonial education. The missionary tactics imposed on Wampanoag people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were used on a national scale in deaf education in the nineteenth century. By unpacking these parallels and moments of intersection within a continuous frame, my thesis provides a fuller understanding of Noepe/Martha’s Vineyard history, and in doing so, promotes futurity for Native and Deaf peoples.