By Nora Ellen Groce

From the 17th century to the early years of the 20th, the inhabitants of Martha's winery manifested an exceptionally excessive fee of profound hereditary deafness. In stark distinction to the event of so much deaf humans in our personal society, the Vineyarders who have been born deaf have been so completely built-in into the way of life of the group that they weren't seen--and didn't see themselves--as handicapped or as a bunch aside. Deaf humans have been incorporated in all elements of lifestyles, corresponding to city politics, jobs, church affairs, and social lifestyles. How used to be this attainable?

On the winery, listening to and deaf islanders alike grew up talking signal language. This distinct sociolinguistic variation intended that the standard obstacles to communique among the listening to and the deaf, which so isolate many deaf buyers, didn't exist.

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Extra info for Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard

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The likelihood that all these early settlers carried a gene for deafness is strengthened by the fact that marriages between descendants of Lambert, Skiffe, Tilton, and the others also resulted in deaf offspring, even when the parents of a deaf child were connected lineally only once to each of the ancestors. 5 To make sense of this, I had to find some connection among these early families. I anticipated that the pattern of deafness would be accounted for by marriages between members of these families on Cape Cod during the 1660s and 1670s, and I assumed that a common ancestor would be identified.

23 Although several of these families were from Kent, this portion of the population remained fairly small until 1669. In the summer of that year land in the central portion of the Island was sold to four speculators from the mainland. Two of them, James Allen and James Skiffe, were men of Kent from Sandwich. They may have known about the Island from the several members of Lothrop's original group who had already moved to Edgartown. Allen and Skiffe soon settled on their land, selling the remaining tracts to friends and neighbors from Cape Cod.

Islanders had little need to travel off-Island because they were economically self-sufficient, except for a few colonialluxuries like sugar, spices, coffee, tea, and rum. The Vineyard needed no food and few manufactured items from the mainland. Not until the early 1800s was a regular packet service established to the mainland, and only in the 1830s was there more than one boat a day. Even with regular service, travel to and from the Island was haphazard, particularly in winter when the ferries often did not run for long periods of time.

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