What does Nobadeer mean?

A: Nobody knows. Back in 1996 the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce Guide stated that it means “good fishing grounds,” but that isn’t supported by any historical source.

Dr. Elizabeth Little, who organized Nantucket citizen science projects about the Nantucket Wampanoags in the 1990s, pointed out that Nantucket has a greater density of native place names than anywhere else in New England. Every day we use them: Madaket, Polpis, Consue, Coatue, Madequecham, Shimmo, Quaise, Wannacomet, and many more. We know the meanings of just a few of them, however, mainly thanks to Zaccheus Macy, writing in 1792. He told us that Coatue means ‘long neck,’ Masquetuck ‘reed land,’ Miacomet ‘meeting place,’ Nopque (Smith’s Point) ‘landing place,’ Shawkemo ‘middle field,’ Tuckernuck ‘loaf of bread,’ Wannacomet ‘pond field,’ Wesco ‘white stone,’ and Weweeder ‘pair of horns.’ He also mentioned quite a few other place names, including Nobadeer, but he didn’t give meanings for them. Mostly Macy and others simply provided descriptions of the places or their locations.

Ferdinand Ewer published his famous map of Nantucket in 1869 with many native place names but no definitions. Although Nobadeer as a place name comes up in the publications of Henry Barnard Worth in 1910 and R. A. Douglas Lithgow in 1914, neither hazarded a guess about its meaning, and neither did Little.

The only possible clue to a meaning is that “nopa-” appears as the first part of a word in off-island native documents meaning ‘southeastward.’ Since Nobadeer lies southeast of a lot of places on Nantucket, that would make sense. On the Ewer map, Nobadeer Pond lies in the South Pasture, and stretching from there all the way to Tom Nevers Head is the Southeast Quarter.

Lead image: P7938: 1935 Aerial Survey Island of Nantucket, showing a section of the south shore between Surfside and Madequecham. This area is also known as Nobadeer Valley. Currently it is the location of the airport.

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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