The first Europeans that visited Martha's Vineyard were the Northmen, who landed about the year 1000, naming it Vineland. In some of their writings have been found descriptions that can be of no other place than Martha's Vineyard.
Another discoverer of this island was Verrazano, an Italian explorer, who first sighted the western extremity, formerly called Gay Head and now called Aquinnah, in 1524 and called it Claudia, in honor of the mother of Francis II of France. The next explorer and the one most often credited with the discovery as well as the first one to leave any account of the island, was Bartholomew Gosnold, of Falmouth, England. In 1602 he sailed for Virginia. Contrary winds drove him to the Azores; thence he sailed a little north of west, and struck out boldly across the Atlantic. He was the first Englishman to sail directly to the American coast, thereby saving nearly a thousand miles in distance and at least a week in sailing time. He landed on a cape which he named Cape Cod from the abundance of codfish found there. Then doubling the cape and sailing to the southward he landed on a small island about six miles southeast of Gay Head. He called this small island Martha's Vineyard. The next day he landed on the larger island. After exploring it and finding it so large, well wooded, and with such luxuriant grape vines, many beautiful lakes, and springs of the purest water, he transferred the name and called it Martha's Vineyard, in honor of his mother whose name was Martha. He found on Martha's Vineyard "an abundance of trees and vines of luxuriant growth." His expedition was not a failure because it showed Europe a shorter and more direct route to America and kept up the interest in the new country. The Mayflower followed this route eighteen years later.
About five years later, in 1607, Captain Martin Pring, with a more courageous company than Gosnold's, anchored in what is now Edgartown harbor on Whit Sunday and called it Whitsun Bay. He built a stockade on Chappaquiddick Bluffs which he called Mount Aldworth. Pring traded with the Indians, amused them with music, but enjoyed terrifying them with the sound of the cannon, and with two large mastiffs which he had on board his ship. He sailed away at the first sign of hostility with a cargo of the precious sassafras root.
By this time the Vineyard had also become known to the English by the Indian name of Capawock, and it seems to have been considered one of the most important places on the newly-discovered American coast. This was of course because of its geographical location, harbors and springs of purest water.
We can find in the old records at Edgartown where the first settlers had their grants of lands, for many of the deeds are written in the Indian as well as the English language. The following year, 1642, Governor Thomas Mayhew came to the Vineyard with other settlers. He brought domestic animals, tools, and many things which were needed to start a new colony. Among the families that were here in 1650 we find the names of Butler, Bland, Smith, Burchard, Daggett, Folger, Bayes, Trapp, Norton, Pease, and Vinson (aka Vincent). Many descendants of these original settling families* still reside on the Island!
The above text (somewhat modified) is from the book MARTHA'S VINEYARD by Henry Franklin Norton. Copyright 1923 by Henry Franklin Norton and Robert Emmett Pyne, publishers.
*including Ann Hoar Floyd, the owner of Sandcastle Realty, and her family!