Chappaquiddick Island

Small island at the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard, MA, US

41°22′34″N 70°28′33″W / 41.37611°N 70.47583°W / 41.37611; -70.47583Area15.915 km2 (6.145 sq mi)Length7.96 km (4.95 mi)Width5.26 km (3.27 mi)Highest elevation28 m (92 ft)Highest pointSampson HillAdministration
United States
StateMassachusettsCountyDukesTownEdgartownDemographicsPopulation253Additional informationZIP Code02539Area code(s)508/774

Chappaquiddick Island (/ˌæpəˈkwɪdɪk/ CHAP-uh-KWID-ik;[1] Massachusett language: Noepetchepi-aquidenet;[2] colloquially known as "Chappy”) is a peninsula and occasional island off the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard. Norton Point, a narrow barrier beach, connects Martha's Vineyard and Chappaquiddick between Katama and Wasque (/ˈwskw/). Breaches occur due to hurricanes and strong storms separating the islands for periods of time. The two islands most recently reconnected on December 31, 2023. While both land forms have mostly been connected to one another in modern history, Chappaquiddick is nevertheless referred to as an island.

Visitors come to the isolated island for beaches, cycling, hiking, nature tours and birding, and the MyToi Gardens, a small Japanese garden created amidst the native brush. Two fire trucks are stationed on the island from Edgartown. Chappaquiddick Road and Poucha Road, both paved, provide access to sandy, woodland roads, trails, and shorelines.

Chappaquiddick became internationally known following an incident of the same name in 1969, when U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy accidentally drove his car off the island's Dike Bridge into Poucha Pond. Kennedy's 28-year-old passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned inside the car.

Name and early settlement

The name Chappaquiddick comes from a Native American word "cheppiaquidne" meaning "separated island", so named because this island is separated from Martha's Vineyard by a narrow strait or gut.[3][4] The island has been historically spelled "Chaubaqueduck" or, alternatively, "Chappaquidgick".[5]

The island was once mainly the home territory of the Chappaquiddick band of Wampanoag Indians, and remained exclusively theirs well into the nineteenth century.[6] They still have a reservation of about 100 acres (40 ha) (40 hectares) of brush land in the interior.

Early colonists settled Edgartown in 1642, and quickly proclaimed Chappaquiddick as village property. The first homes owned by people of exclusively European descent were built around 1750; these residents raised livestock and farmed the land.


Toms Neck Road on Chappaquiddick Island

The United States Census Bureau defines it as Block Group 1, Census Tract 2003 of Dukes County, Massachusetts. It has 15.915 km2 (6.145 sq mi) of land.[7] Administratively, it is part of the town of Edgartown and Dukes County.

The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit conservation organization, owns and manages nearly 1,000 acres (405 ha) of land from the southeastern point,[8] Wasque, to Cape Poge, at the northeast. Wasque is a popular fishing spot for catching bluefish, striped bass, and other species. The Cape Poge Lighthouse, first erected in 1801, has served ships navigating the shoals and shallows of Muskeget Channel.

Chappaquiddick is mainly defined by its diverse land and water ecologies with expansive salt marshes, ponds, red cedar woods, grassy meadows, and coastal wildlife including sandpipers, piping plovers, blue heron, osprey, and oysters.[9] The main interior bodies of water include Cape Poge Bay, Katama Bay, and Poucha Pond, all salty.

While the island has continually faced shifting coastlines due to ocean currents, storm surges, and astronomical tides, the 21st century has presented new erosion challenges, particularly to Wasque Point which, during the Patriots' Day Storm of 2007, was battered severely. Between 2007 and 2013, approximately 40 acres (16 ha) of land were lost at Wasque,[10] where currents eroded bluffs, swallowed Swan Pond, damaged shoreline trails, and threatened a residence.[11]

The Occasional Island

The area between Norton Point, Edgartown, and Wepua Point, Chappaquiddick. This was the 2022 to 2023 breach, opening up Katama Bay to the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
Date Range Status Length of Time Event
Before 1750[12] 1800 Island more than 140 years
1800 1800 Peninsula less than 1 year
1800 1869 Island 69 years
1869 1886 Peninsula 17 years
1886 1903 Island 17 years
1903 1921 Peninsula 18 years
1921 September 1938 Man-Made Breaches 29 years
September 1938[13] 1951 Island 13 years 1938 New England hurricane
1951 1953 Peninsula 2 years
1953 1969 Island 17 years
1969 1976 Peninsula 7 years
1976 1977 Island 1 year
1977 April 17, 2007 Peninsula 30 years
April 17, 2007[14] April 2, 2015 Island 7 years, 11 months, 16 days April 2007 nor'easter
April 2, 2015[15] December 27, 2022 Peninsula 7 years, 8 months, 25 days
December 27, 2022[16] December 31, 2023 Island 1 year, 4 days High winds and tide
December 31, 2023[17] Present Peninsula


The On Time II shuttling passengers between mainland Martha's Vineyard and Chappaquiddick

The 2020 census reported 253[18] residents on Chappaquiddick, up from 179 in 2010. The racial makeup was 92% White, 1% Native American, 1% Asian, and 4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1% of the population.

Socially, its residents form a tight-knit community and see themselves as distinctly separate from the rest of Edgartown.[citation needed] Longtime residents speak of "going to the mainland" when they travel to Edgartown and of "going to America" when (for example) they travel to Boston or Cape Cod.

Access to the island is served by privately owned barge-like ferries named the On Time II and On Time III which shuttle pedestrians, bicycles, and up to three cars at a time between Chappaquiddick and Edgartown, on Martha's Vineyard. Two ferries run during the summer months and one during the off-season.[19] Oversand access is possible with four-wheel drive vehicles and on foot on the south shore when the islands are connected and conditions permit.

Ted Kennedy incident

Dike Bridge, Chappaquiddick

Chappaquiddick Island gained international attention on July 19, 1969, when the body of Mary Jo Kopechne was discovered inside an overturned Oldsmobile 88 off Dike Bridge in Poucha Pond. The car belonged to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who claimed that he had taken a wrong turn and accidentally driven it off a bridge late the previous night. He did not report the accident to the police for ten hours.[20] A January 1970 judicial inquest into Kopechne's death found that Kennedy's turn toward the bridge was intentional, and he operated his car in a manner "at least negligent and possibly reckless". A grand jury investigation was held in April 1970; no indictments were issued. Dike Bridge was closed until 1995.[21] In 2017, a film based on the incident was released with many scenes filmed on Chappaquiddick itself and in Edgartown.[22]

See also

Looking west from Cape Poge Lighthouse


  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2008). Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.). Longman. ISBN 978-1-4058-8118-0.
  2. ^ "Chappaquiddick Wampanoag". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  3. ^ "GNIS Geographic Names Information System Query". geonames. USGS.
  4. ^ (Steel; Douglas-Lithgow 1909; MGB 1932).
  5. ^ Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Bulletin 30 – Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, edited by Frederick Webb Hodge, part 1 published in 1907, part 2 published in 1910. Use either code US-T142/B30/PT1/1907/p# or US-T142/B30/PT2/1910/p#. B30/pt1/1907/p238
  6. ^ Laws of the colonial and state governments, relating to Indians ... - Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | HathiTrust Digital Library. Thompson and Homans. 1832.
  7. ^ Block Group 1, Census Tract 2003, Dukes County United States Census Bureau
  8. ^ "Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge | Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard | The Trustees of Reservations". Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  9. ^ "Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge | Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard | The Trustees of Reservations". The Trustees of Reservations. Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  10. ^ "As Breach Retreats, Erosion Picks Up Speed". Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  11. ^ Gross, Michelle (February 12, 2014). "Living on the edge, Wasque home safe for now". Retrieved April 4, 2015.
  12. ^ "Norton Point Breach Timeline". Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  13. ^ "Special Report: Norton Point Breach". Martha's Vineyard Magazine. May 1, 2011. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  14. ^ "Spring Gale Roars Through Island, Norton Point Is Breached". The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  15. ^ "Land Meets Land; Norton Point Breach Closes". The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  16. ^ "High Winds and Tides Cause Breach at Norton Point". The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  17. ^ Breach has closed; no more circumnavigating Chappy by kayak (for the short term at least)…. | By Dana | Facebook, retrieved December 31, 2023
  18. ^ "Explore Census Data". Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  19. ^ "Chappy Ferry". Chappy Ferry. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
  20. ^ "Chappaquiddick - 1969 Year in Review - Audio -". UPI. Retrieved June 30, 2022.
  21. ^ "Dike Bridge Is Open to Pedestrians". The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  22. ^ "Chappaquiddick Film Takes New Look at Well-Known Story". The Vineyard Gazette - Martha's Vineyard News. Retrieved January 6, 2023.

External links

Media related to Chappaquiddick Island at Wikimedia Commons

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