Legend says that a local native chief sold Sutton Island, one of the five Cranberry Islands, to Ebenezer Sutton in 1755 for two quarts of rum. According to census figures, in 1830 four households (a total of 20 people) lived on the island, a number that over the next 20 years jumped to five families (23 people). The best-known resident in those days likely was John Gilley, who lived on Sutton from the early 1850s until his death in 1896. Gilley, youngest son of the first lighthouse keeper on neighboring Baker Island, was the subject of a famous 1899 biography written by Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard University who summered in Northeast Harbor.
By 1880 the island population had soared again, to eight families (38 people), but more importantly, that era also brought the first summer visitors to the area. The first ‘off-islander’ bought a local home in 1885, beginning a trend that continues to the present day. Sutton Island now only is occupied during the summer months.