Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 37 Issue 18 • Aug 23-29, 2007
now in our 37th season

Who Was Toepusher?

by Frances Karttunen

As one drives away from town on the Polpis Road, one comes to Moors End Farm.  For many years milk from Nantucket cows was pasteurized in the concrete block building that sits closest to the road.  With the demise of cattle raising on the island, the dairy ceased to operate, but farming at Moors End has continued under the Slosek family to this day.

Just across from the old dairy building, next to a Nantucket Regional Transit Authority bus stop, an unpaved road leads back into the pines.  This is the driveway to Nantucket’s Girl Scout Camp Taupawshas, which has occupied the site since the 1950s.  The camp is private property without public access, but throughout the summer months, groups of campers can be seen coming and going on the Polpis Road bicycle path.

Scouting has a remarkably long history on Nantucket.  Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts got underway on the island in 1916.  In fact, an article that appeared in the Inquirer and Mirror on January 9, 1915, announced that plans for opening Boy Scout headquarters on Nantucket were already underway a year before the national organization was chartered.

Nantucket’s first Girl Scout troop consisted of ten girls under the leadership of Nantucket High School teacher Helen Fisher.  One of these first troop members was Rozelle Coleman Jones, who remained active in island scouting for the rest of her life, first as a scout and then as a scout leader.

The first Girl Scout troop on Nantucket. (Photo courtesy of the NHA)

Scouting had gotten its start during World War I, and one of the first activities of the Nantucket Girl Scouts was to learn Morse Code.  During the post-war years Girl Scouting continued strong under the leadership of Marjorie Bartlett.  By 1931, fifty-two Nantucket girls were involved in scouting, and a Brownie troop had been added.

The Second World War gave new impetus to scouting as both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts found ways to support the war effort.  Not the least of these ways was in providing age-appropriate entertainment for the island’s youngsters.  School boys hanging around Nantucket’s U.S.O. center on South Water Street were perceived as a nuisance, so the Nantucket Boys Club, which had fallen into abeyance, was reinstituted.  In May, 1946, its director, Gilbert “Gibbie” Wyer, wrote to the Inquirer and Mirror that the Girl Scouts of Troop I had hosted a dance at the Knights of Columbus Hall for members of the Boys Club. By 1949 there were over a hundred Nantucket Girl Scouts in six troops.

Camping is at the heart and soul of scouting.  The Nantucket Girl Scouts enjoyed day camp in the open area behind North Liberty Street where the picnic tables at Something Natural are now located.  They built campfires in the dunes at Surfside over which they cooked shrimp wiggle and s’mores. Still, overnight camping was but a dream until Camp Taupawshas came into being.

Scouting is not always as much fun as it’s made out to be.  Until the sun went down, it was comfortable enough in the pines off Polpis Road, but veterans of the first years at Camp Taupawshas recall the swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes that made sleeping through the night in old canvas tents next to impossible.  One can only hope that modern tents with built-in mosquito netting have made the Taupawshas experience much more comfortable.

Where did all those mosquitoes come from, and for that matter, where did the name Taupawshas come from?

Behind Camp Taupawshas lies Taupawshas Swamp.  Or at least that’s how it’s called on the map of Nantucket made by the Rev. F. C. Ewer in 1869.  This map can be seen on the walls of the Town Building, the Nantucket Atheneum, the Anglers Club, the Maddequet Admiralty, and many another place.  The iconic map of Nantucket, it is also a very old map.  The newest map of the same area is the Middle Moors Properties Map of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.  There it appears as Tawpawshaw Bog. (As we shall soon see, there is a long history of free spelling of this name.)

To visit the swamp or bog in question, one needs to continue out Polpis Road to Nantucket Land Bank property on the left side of the road.  For this, the Conservation Foundation map is crucial.  An unpaved road heads south from Polpis Road and turns into a footpath.  Continuing south on the path, one comes to a fork.  Both the left-hand and the right-hand fork will take you to Taupawshas Swamp (or Bog if you prefer).  Beyond the wetland, the path crosses Pout Pond Road and will eventually bring the walker out on Milestone Road.  Alternatively, one can loop around the wetland and return by the same path back to Polpis Road.

This wetland, the mother lode of Middle Moors mosquitoes, was named for a man who lived in the early 1700s.  His name is variously spelled in old records as John Towpaushor, Tupasha, and Toepusher.  Before the days of the Rev. Mr. Ewer, the name of his wetland was written Towpusher’s Swamp.

And here we see where that final “s” comes from.  It used to be “‘s,” and as in other Nantucket place names, the apostrophe has gone missing.

And what do we know about old Toepusher?  Not much at all beyond his name, now attached to a wetland and a Girl Scout Camp.  He was recorded as head of a Nantucket Wampanoag family in 1723, and in 1726 he appeared before the Nantucket magistrates to accuse a man named Africa of selling alcohol to Wampanoags.  Among the list of victims of Nantucket’s Indian Sickness of 1763-64, there is not one Towpaushor or any spelling variation of the name.  Either John Towpaushor and his progeny left the island before the epidemic struck, or his line had died out in advance of its arrival.  Perhaps he and his sons, if he had any, were among the eight Wampanoags “lost whaling to the Southard” in 1731, or one of the unspecified number “lost whaling to the Southard” in 1743.  By 1756, when thirty-nine men in three crews were lost at sea, part of each crew being unnamed “Indians and strangers,” John Towpaushor would have been too old to be among them.

Nantucket’s Girl Scout camp could have been named Camp Rozelle Jones or Camp Marjorie Bartlett.  It coupld carry the name of many another Nantucket woman who devoted herself to scouting.  Instead, it helps to keep alive the vestige of an indigenous man who would otherwise be lost in utter obscurity.

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