59 School Street, Box 1310, Edgartown MA 02539 - 508.627.4441
Martha's Vineyard Museum MV Museum


mid-twentieth century

Milton Jeffers (1922–2000)



Gift of Sherman Goldstein

When Milton Jeffers described the shape of an eel spear (or gig), with its upturned barbs and long center spade that protects the barbs from rocks, he was speaking with the familiarity of someone who was both a maker and a user.

IBorn on Chappaquiddick, Jeffers took the ferry to school in Edgartown until his family moved there when he was fifteen. In high school he was a good student, a talented athlete, and a skilled artist. Upon graduation he was awarded a scholarship, but he couldn't afford art school and decided to use the scholarship to learn welding in Boston. After service in the navy during World War II and a stint working as a welder in the Boston area, Jeffers returned to Edgartown, where he became well known and respected as a blacksmith and welder who could fix just about anything.

Some of the things he made were practical tools of his own patented designs—a scallop dredge and a clam rake. The Museum owns at least two metal objects that Jeffers made, one of his rakes and this eel spear.

Much of what we know about Jeffers comes from his own words, as recorded in several oral histories that were collected over decades. In one from 1978, he described spearing eels with a gig like this one: "There's a lot more to it than just going out and cutting a hole in the ice. You've got to know where to look and the kind of bottom to look for, quite a lot to it."