What and where are the Poot Ponds?

There are several small kettle-hole ponds in the Middle Moors near Altar Rock. One is known as the Doughnut Pond because it has a central island of grass surrounded by water. Another, to the southeast of Altar Rock is Wigwam Pond. The other two are the Poot Ponds.

The name Poot is from the Wampanoag word pootop meaning ‘whale.’

On February 28, 1829, the Nantucket Inquirer published a legend said by its contributor to date back to his great-grandfather’s day in the 1760s when there were still Wampanoags living on Nantucket. According to this legend, whales could swim under Nantucket Island, rising to blow and breath in the Poot Ponds. Specifically, the legend is of one pootop, which, when attacked by some of the island’s Wampanoags in one of the ponds, submerged only to rise in the other pond, this event giving the place its name “even to this day!”

On Ferdinand Ewer’s map of Nantucket, first published in 1869 and reprinted many times thereafter, the ponds are labeled “Pout Ponds,” which is almost certainly a typographical error, given the derivation of the name from pootop. This has given rise to a spelling pronunciation of the name to rhyme with bout rather than boot.

At some time between the map’s publication in the 1860s and the beginning of the 20th century, native Nantucketers inexplicably began to call the ponds the Foot Ponds, replacing the initial consonant and changing the vowel pronunciation as well.

The contributor of the legend, who signed himself HOMTAS, described himself as “a Nantucketman—plain in language—blunt in speech.” He would not have approved of Pout Ponds or Foot Ponds.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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