by Natalie Ciminero, Illustration by Arlene O'Reilly
Mildred Carpenter Jewett was born in 1907, a native to Nantucket. She grew up at her grandmother’s house in the west end village of Madaket. A uniquely colorful character and a local legend,, she was affectionately well-known as “Madaket Millie.”
Unrelenting in her volunteerism and dedication to the United States Coast Guard—her great love—for nearly eight decades, Millie epitomized the spirit of endurance; ultimately she was awarded the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Service Commendation, the highest award given to a civilian. According to Captain Robert Hanson, the former regional commander, “Millie played a major role in many maritime events and helped ease or avert coastal accidents. She has given unselfishly of herself, her energy, and her time to the people of both the Madaket Lifesaving Station of years past and to the Brant Point Coast Guard Station. We cannot begin to describe the feelings we have for her. Even those who never worked directly with her are attached to her. She is a great lady.” (Preceedings Magazine, August 2003)
Her somewhat cantankerous exterior notwithstanding, she was respected by many and lovingly remembered as an unwavering friend to humans and animals. She is described as having been “one of those gifted human beings who could communicate with any animal” (Captain W. Russell Webster, U.S. Coastguard, retired).
Her little house in Madaket was a refuge of sorts for all types of animals, both large and small, and especially for injured ones. Nantucket’s Kathleen Duncombe, a long-time friend of Millie’s, shares, “she trusted animals…and took care of them. They were the most important thing in the world to her: they were her family.” Additionally, she vigilantly stood guard and kept a close watch on the coastline as well as the homes of fellow islanders during threatening hurricanes or strong nor’easters. She rescued sailor and shipwreck alike, and, as a further testament to the undercurrent of her humanity, she would, without question, often take care of those who decided to ride out the storms.
She was a force to be reckoned with, and it was not altogether surprising to have heard that she may have chased strangers and photographers away if they had the misfortune of offending or otherwise insulting her. Island folklore even includes a story of her killing a 300 - pound shark with a pitchfork. She was a steadfast protector, after all.
However, her tough veneer was not altogether impenetrable. “She knew a lot of people, but didn’t have many (close) friends. If you were her friend, she would do anything for you – she would move the earth for you – anything she could to help, she would, and ask nothing in return,” Duncombe continues, “she was a loyal friend.”
Madaket Millie’s legacy will continue to live on in the hearts of many whom she touched over the years. She was a rare character, warden of the shoreline, and champion of the island. Stories about her are reported to have been in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times, Reader’s Digest, Yankee Magazine, and National Geographic. Wonderfully telling photographs of Millie adorn the walls of many an islander’s home. Her courage of conviction, altruistic devotion, and allegiance to her country (often in times of adversity and threat) combined with her loyalty and compassion for those in need or distress, are truly inspirational. She was an essential part of the backbone of our enduring island and an embodiment of the best of the human spirit. She made a poignant impact on the lives of human and animal alike, and by extension, on life in general on Nantucket. Often misunderstood, but never forgotten, she was indomitable: one who weathered even the worst of challenges. Nantucket lost this heroic woman in March of 1990. She was truly a diamond in the rough— as much a part of the history of this island as are the sands of its shorelines.
FACT OR FICTION: DID MADAKET MILLIE REALLY KILL THE SHARK WITH A PITCHFORK?
Fine out on our digitial pubication Fall / Holiday 7th edition!