HOW DID AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE DEVELOP?
The Deaf Culture in America took shape at Martha's Vineyard. In Martha's Vinyard 1 in 155 people were Deaf. In the town of Chilmark 1 in 25 individuals were Deaf. The village of Squibnocket 1 in 4 people were Deaf. The mainland had only 1 in approx. every 6000 people who were Deaf so there was a marked difference in the average of Deaf individuals on Martha's Vinyard. The reason for this was the intermarriage of individuals who carried genes for Deafness.
As these individuals intermarried and had children, more and more Deaf children were born on the island. Because of all this, Martha's Vineyard Sign Language [MVSL] developed. It was used from the early 1800's to 1952. The last native resident of Martha's Vinyard died in the 1950's. Both Hearing and Deaf individuals in Martha's Vineyard chose to use Sign Language. Hearing people would sign even when there were no deaf people present: children signed behind a schoolteacher's back; adults signed to one another during church sermons; and farmers signed to their children across a wide field, where the spoken word would not carry. Deafness disappeared on the island when individuals with Deafness genes left the island to live on the mainland.
Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was sent to England to learn about Deaf education. While there, he met an Abee (French priest) named Roch-Ambroise Cucurron Sicard and two staff members Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu. The Abbe was the director of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris. The Abbe invited him back to Paris to learn about Deaf education first hand. He did so, and there was exposed to Old French Sign Language (OFSL).
Gallaudet befriended Clerc and convinced him to head back to the United States in order to establish a school for the Deaf. The two men collected public and private funds throughout New England and were able to establish a school for the Deaf in Hartford, Conn. The American Asylum for Deaf-mutes was established in 1816. Today the school is called "The American School for the Deaf" or ASD.