The Vineyard Connection: How do you get to here from the Black Dog Tavern in Chilmark, England?

The Black Dog Inn in Chilmark, England.

Most everyone is familiar with the term “six degrees of separation,” the notion that any two people can be connected to each other (or Kevin Bacon) in no more than six steps. So we decided to put the theory to the test. But instead of using a person, we’re using Martha’s Vineyard. Even more specifically, we’re using the Black Dog Tavern on Martha’s Vineyard. And we want to see how many steps it takes to connect it to — the Black Dog Tavern in Chilmark, England.

From left, Shirley Mayhew, and Deborah Mayhew. —Lynn Christoffers
From left, Shirley Mayhew, and Deborah Mayhew. —Lynn Christoffers

Here’s how it works — at least for Shirley and Deborah Mayhew of West Tisbury.


First degree:

“In 1977,” writes Shirley Mayhew in her book “Looking Back — My Long Life on Martha’s Vineyard,” “I got my first chance to visit England. My daughter Deborah was spending the summer sharing an apartment in London in the upscale neighborhood of Knightsbridge with her boyfriend, and they invited me to visit.”

Shirley is an avid genealogist, and wanted to take the opportunity of her trip to England to make a side trip to southern Wales, to visit Glamorganshire, the birthplace of her great-great-grandmother. She and Deborah also wanted to visit Tisbury, England, the birthplace and childhood home of Gov. Thomas Mayhew, the first European settler on the Vineyard. Deborah is descended from Gov. Mayhew, going back 11 generations.

On their way back from Wales, they headed for Tisbury, and stopped into a little shop to inquire about an inn or B and B where they could spend the night. Shirley wrote, “‘Sorry,” said Kay Pickering, the pleasant owner of the shop, ‘there are no B and Bs or hotels in Tisbury.’ Disappointed, we explained why we were so interested in Tisbury, England. Deborah’s ancestor, ten generations ago, had been born in this town in 1593 and emigrated to Massachusetts in the 1630s. When Thomas Mayhew set up a colony on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, he had named two of the towns Tisbury and Chilmark, after his home in England. We were then informed that the village of Chilmark, England, was only a few miles from where we were now standing.”

A church in Tisbury England, circa 1977. —Courtesy Deborah Mayhew
A church in Tisbury England, circa 1977. —Courtesy Deborah Mayhew

The Mayhews ended up spending the night in Tisbury as guests of Kay Pickering and her husband Andy “in a 15th century cottage which was right across the road from the 800-year-old church (St. John the Baptist church) which had been old when Thomas Mayhew had been baptized there in 1593.”

The next day the Pickerings directed Deborah and Shirley to the home of Richard Hurford, the rector of St. John the Baptist. Shirley writes, “We were amazed to find that he was exchanging letters with Don Lyons, the pastor of Grace Church in Vineyard Haven. Indeed, the yew tree in the Vineyard Haven churchyard had been started from a cutting from the old tree in English Tisbury.”


The Rev. Mr. Hurford suggested that Deborah and Shirley meet with Ralph Jackson, the unofficial historian of the town. They went to Mr. Jackson’s house, and were quite amazed at what they found.

“To top it all,” Shirley wrote, “there was a book lying on his desk that he had bought secondhand in Salisbury — it was ‘From Off Island’ by Dionis Coffin Riggs. He was impressed when we said she was our neighbor and friend. And we were beyond excitement when he produced a recent letter from our Music Street neighbor, Bill Block. How did we ever wander into such a maze of connections!”


Second degree:

Later that day, the Mayhews decided to do a little sightseeing, and as Deborah recalls, they had gone up to to see Stonehenge, and were driving back through the town of Chilmark, which was right next to Tisbury. They were driving on one of those little winding back roads, and all of a sudden there it was: the Black Dog Tavern. It gets even stranger. Deborah had worked at the Black Dog in Vineyard Haven for three summers beginning in 1974. And her brother Jack Mayhew helped build it, with Alan Miller.

Do you hear that music in the background? Yes, it’s the theme to “The Twilight Zone.”