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"CAPE COD," wrote Thoreau, "is the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts; the shoulder is at Buzzard's Bay; the elbow, or crazy-bone, at Cape Mallebarre; the wrist at Truro; and the sandy fist at Provincetown—behind which the State stands on her guard."

This sandy fist curls toward the wrist in such fashion as to form a semicircular harbor, famous as the New World haven which first gave shelter to the Mayflower and her sea-worn company. On the 21st of November (by our modern reckoning), 1620, the Pilgrims, after their two bleak months of ocean, cast anchor here, rejoicing in the sight and smell of "oaks, pines, juniper, sassafras and other sweet wood." Here they signed their memorable compact, forming themselves into a "civil body politic" and covenanting with one another, as honest Englishmen, to "submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose." Upon the adoption of this simple and significant constitution, the Pilgrim Fathers, still on board the Mayflower in Provincetown harbor, proceeded to set in motion the machinery of their little republic, for "after this," wrote Bradford, "they chose, or rather confirmed, Mr. John Carver (a man godly and well approved amongst them) their Governor for one year." That same day a scouting party went ashore and brought back a fragrant boatload of red cedar for firewood, with a goodly report of the place.

These stout-hearted Pilgrims were not the first Europeans to set foot on Cape Cod. Legends of the Vikings which drift about the low white dunes are as uncertain as the shifting sands themselves, and the French and Florentine navigators who sailed along the North American coast in the first half of the sixteenth century may have done no more than sight this sickle of land between sea and bay, but there are numerous records of English, French and Dutch visits within the last twenty years before the coming of the Mayflower. It may be that no less a mariner than Sir Francis Drake was the first of the English to tread these shores, but that distinction is generally allowed to Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, who made harbor here in 1602 and was " so pestered with codfish " that he gave the Cape the name, "which," said Cotton Mather, "it will never lose till shoals of codfish be seen swimming upon the tops of its highest hills." Gosnold traded with the Indians for furs and sassafras root, and was followed the next year by Martin Pring, seeking a cargo of this latter commodity, then held precious in pharmacy. Within the next four years three French explorers touched at the Cape, and a French colony was projected, but came to nothing. The visit of Henry Hudson, too, left no traces. In 1614 that rover of land and sea, Captain John Smith, took a look at Cape Cod, which impressed him only as a "headland of hills of sand, overgrown with scrubby pines, hurts [huckleberries] and such trash, but an excellent harbor for all weathers." After Smith's departure, Hunt, his second in command, enticed a group of Nauset Indians on shipboard, carried them off, and sold them into slavery at Malaga, Spain, for twenty pounds a man. As a consequence of this crime, the Indians grew suspicious and revengeful, but nevertheless an irregular trade was maintained with them by passing vessels, until the pestilence that raged among the red men of the region from 1616 to 1619 interrupted communication.


The Pilgrims tarried in Provincetown harbor nearly a month. The compact had been signed, anchor dropped and the reconnoissance made on a Saturday. The Sunday following, the first Pilgrim Sabbath in America, was devoutly kept with prayer and praise on board the Mayflower, but the next morning secular activities began. The men carried ashore the shallop which had been brought over in sections between-decks and proceeded to put it together, while the women bundled up the soiled linen of the voyage and inaugurated the first New England Monday by a grand washing on the beach. On Wednesday, Myles Standish mustered a little army of sixteen men, each armed with musket, sword and corselet, and led them gallantly up the wooded cape, "thorou boughes and bushes," nearly as far as the present town of Wellfleet. After two days the explorers returned with no worse injury than briar-scratched armor, bringing word of game and water-springs, ploughed land and burial-mounds. William Bradford showed the noose of the deer-trap, a "very pretie devise," that had caught him by the leg, and two of the sturdiest Pilgrims bore, slung on a staff across their shoulders, a kettle of corn. As the few natives whom the party had met fled from them, the corn had been taken on credit from a buried hoard. The following year that debt was scrupulously paid, but a custom had been established which still prevails with certain summer residents on the Cape, who are said to make a practice of leaving their grocery bills over until the next season.

[Click image to see a larger version of the Cape Cod Map]

As soon as the shallop could be floated, a larger expedition was sent by water along the south coast to seek a permanent settlement. Through wind and snow the Pilgrim Fathers made their way up to Pamet River, in Truro, the limit of the earlier journey. They did not succeed in agreeing upon a fit site for the colony, but they sought out the corn deposit and, breaking the frozen ground with their swords, secured ten bushels more of priceless seed for the springtime. On the return of the second expedition there was anxious discussion about the best course to pursue. Some were for settling on the Cape and living by the fisheries, pointing out, to emphasize their arguments, the whales that sported every day about the anchored ship; but the Pilgrims were of agricultural habit and tradition and had reason enough just then to be weary of the sea. The situation was critical. "The heart of winter and unseasonable weather," wrote Bradford, "was come upon us." The gradual slope of the beach made it always necessary to "wade a bow-shoot or two" in going ashore from the Mayflower, and these icy foot-baths were largely responsible for the "vehement coughs" from which hardly one of the company was exempt.

Once more, on the 16th of December, the shallop started forth to find a home for the Pilgrims. Ten colonists, including Carver, Bradford and Standish, together with a few men of the ship's crew, volunteered for this service. It was so cold that the sleety spray glazed doublet and jerkin "and made them many times like coats of iron." The voyagers landed within the present limits of Eastham or Orleans, where, hard by the shore, a camp was roughly barricaded. One day passed safely in exploration, but at dawn of the second, when, "after prayer," the English sat about their camp-fire at breakfast, "a great and strange cry" cut the mist, and on the instant Indian arrows, headed with deer-horn and eagles' claws, whizzed about their heads. But little Captain Standish was not to be caught napping. "Having a snaphance ready," he fired in direction of the war-whoop. His comrades supported him manfully, their friends in the shallop, themselves beset, shouted encouragement, and the savages, gliding back among the trees, melted into "the dark of the morning." After this taste of Cape Cod courtesy, the Pilgrim Fathers can hardly be blamed for taking to their shallop again and plunging on, in a stiff gale, through the toppling waves, until, with broken rudder and mast split in three, they reached a refuge in the harbor of Plymouth.

When the adventurers returned to the Mayflower with glad tidings that a resting-place was found at last, the historian of the party, William Bradford, had to learn that during his absence his wife had fallen from the vessel's side and perished in those December waters. Three more of the colonists died in that first haven, and there little Peregrine White began his earthly peregrinations. In view of all these occurrences,—the signing of the compact in Provincetown harbor, the first landing of the Pilgrims on the tip of Cape Cod, the explorations, the first deaths and the first birth,—it would seem that Provincetown is fairly entitled to a share of those historic honors which are lavished, none too freely, but, perhaps, too exclusively, upon Plymouth.

When the Mayflower sailed away, carrying William Bradford and his tablets, the beautiful harbor and its circling shores were left to a long period of obscurity. Fishers, traders and adventurers of many nations came and went on their several errands, but these visits left little trace. The Plymouth colonists, meanwhile, did not forget their first landing-point, but returned sometimes, in the fishing season, for cod, bass and mackerel, always claiming full rights of ownership. This claim rested not only on their original brief occupation, but on formal purchase from the Indians, in 1654, or earlier, the payment being "2 brasse kettles six coates twelve houes 12 axes 12 knives and a box." In process of time, as the English settlers gradually pushed down the Cape, a few hovels and curing-sheds rose on the harbor shore, but the land was owned by Plymouth Colony until Massachusetts succeeded to the title. These Province Lands were made a district, in the charge of Truro, in 1714, but in 1727 the "Precinct of Cape Cod" was set off from Truro, and established, under the name of Provincetown, as a separate township. It was even then merely a fishing-hamlet, with a fluctuating population, which by 1750 had almost dwindled away. In Revolutionary times, it had only a score of dwelling-houses, and its two hundred inhabitants were defenseless before the British, whose men-of-war rode proudly in the harbor. One of these, the Somerset, while chased by a French fleet on the Back Side, as the Atlantic coast of the Cape is called, struck on Peaked Hill bars, and the waves, taking part with the rebels, flung the helpless hulk far up the beach. Stripped by "a plundering gang" from Provincetown and Truro, the frigate lay at the mercy of the sands, and they gradually hid her even from memory; but the strong gales and high tides of 1886 tore that burial-sheet aside, and brought the blackened timbers again to the light of day. The grim old ship, tormented by relic-hunters, peered out over the sea, looking from masthead to masthead for the Union Jack, and, disgusted with what she saw, dived once more under her sandy cover, where the beach-grass now grows over her.


Since the Revolution, Provincetown has steadily progressed in numbers and prosperity, until to-day, with over four thousand five hundred inhabitants, it is the banner town of the Cape. During this period of development, the Province Lands, several thousand acres in extent, naturally became a subject of dispute. Old residents had fallen into a way of buying and selling the sites on which they had built homes and stores, as if the land were theirs in legal ownership. Five years ago, however, the General Court virtually limited State ownership to the waste tracts in the north and west of the township, leaving the squatters in possession of the harbor-front. "The released portion of the said lands," stated the Harbor and Land Commissioners in their report of 1893, "is about 955 acres and includes the whole inhabited part of the town of Provincetown."

The present Provincetown is well worth a journey. From High Pole Hill, a bluff seventy feet high in the rear of the populated district, one gazes far out over blue waters, crossed with cloud-shadows and flecked with fishing-craft. Old sea-captains gather here with spyglasses to make out the shipping; bronzed sailor-boys lie in the sun and troll snatches of song; young mothers of dark complexion and gay-colored dress croon lullabies, known in Lisbon and Fayal, over sick babies brought to the hilltop for the breezy air; the very parrot that a black-eyed urchin guards in a group of admiring playmates talks "Portugee." Leaning over the railing, one looks down the bushy slope of the bluff to the curious huddle of houses at its base. Out from the horseshoe bend of shore, run thin tongues of wharf and jetty. Front Street follows the waterline, a seaport variety of outfitting stores and shops, mingled with hotels, fish-flakes, shipyards and the like, backing on the beach, with the dwelling-houses opposite facing the harbor-view. Back Street copies the curve of Front, and the two are joined by queer, irregular little crossways, that take the abashed wayfarer close under people's windows and along the very borders of their gardens and poultry-yards. Although nearly all of the buildings stand on one or the other of these main streets, there are bunches and knots of houses in sheltered places, looking as if the blast had blown them into accidental nooks. In general these houses are built close and low, tucked in under one another's elbows, but here and there an independent cottage thrusts its sharp-roofed defiance into the very face of the weather.


Up and down the sandy knolls behind the streets straggle populous graveyards, where one may read the fortunes of Provincetown more impressively, if less precisely, than in the census reports. Where the goodly old Nathaniels and Shubaels and Abrahams and Jerushas rest, a certain decorum of green sodding and white headstone is maintained, despite the irreligious riot of the winds. The Catholic burial-ground, too, is not uncared for in its Irish portion. Marble and granite monuments implore "Lord have mercy on the soul" of some Burke or Ryan or McCarty, but the Portuguese, wanderers from the Cape Verde Islands and the Azores, sleep the sleep of strangers, with no touch of tenderness or beauty about their dreary lodging. Only here and there a little Jacinto or Manuel or Antone has his short mound set about with fragments of clam-shell, as if in children's play. Some lots are enclosed, the black posts with rounded tops looking like monastic sentries, and a few headboards, with the painted name already rain-washed out of recognition, lean away from the wind. In the centre of this gaunt grave-yard, where the roaring Atlantic storms tear up even the coarse tufts of beach-grass, a great gray cross of wood, set in a hill of sand, spreads weather-beaten arms. The guardianship of the Church and the fellowship of the sea these Portuguese fisherfolk brought with them, and as yet America has given them nothing dearer.

The Portuguese constitute a large proportion of the foreign element in Barnstable County, where nearly nine tenths of the people are of English descent. The protruding tip of Cape Cod easily catches such ocean drift as these Western Islanders, and they have made their way as far up the Cape as Falmouth, where they watch their chance to buy old homesteads at low rates. They are natural farmers and even in Harwich and Truro divide their labors between sea and land. But it is in Provincetown that these swart-faced strangers most do congregate, gardening wherever a garden is possible, tending the fish-weirs, working, when herring are plenty, in the canning factories, and almost monopolizing the fresh fishing industry. Even those who are most thrifty, building homes and buying vessels, wear the look of aliens, and some, when their more active years are over, gather up their savings and return to the Azores; but the raven-haired girls are beginning to listen to Yankee wooers, and the next century may see the process of amalgamation well under way. Already these new Pilgrims have tasted so much of the air of freedom as to wax a little restive under the authority of their fiery, devoted young priest, who upbraids them with his last expletive for their shortcomings as energetically as he aids them with his last dollar in their distress.

In the general aspect of the port, it is as true to-day as when, in 1808, the townspeople petitioned for a suspension of the embargo, that their interest is "almost totally in fish and vessels." A substantial citizen keeps his boat as naturally as an inlander would keep his carriage. Any loiterer on the street can lend a hand with sweep-seine or jibstay, but the harnessing of a horse is a mystery known to few. In 1819, there was but one horse owned in Provincetown, and that "an old, white one with one eye." In point of fact, however, the fortunes of Provincetown seem to demand, at present, some further support than the fisheries. It is believed that, by dint of capital, labor and irrigation, more could be gained from the soil, and that the advantages of the place as a summer resort might be developed. The whaling business has greatly declined since the discovery of petroleum, the mackerel have forsaken their old haunts, and even cod-fishing, in which Provincetown long stood second to Gloucester, is on the wane. Wharves and marine railways are falling into ruin, and the natives of the old Cape seek a subsistence in Western ranches and crowded cities, leaving their diminished home industries to the immigrants. Still twoscore or so of vessels go to the Grand Banks, and as many more engage in the fresh fishing. Emulous tales do these fishermen tell of quick trips and large catches, for example the clipper Julia Costa, under a Portuguese skipper, which set sail at six in the morning for fishing-grounds about fifteen miles northeast of Highland Light, took fifteen thousand pounds of cod, and arrived at her Boston moorings an hour before midnight. But the "fish-stories" told in Provincetown are more often legends of the past, before the heroic days of whaling went out with the invention of the explosive bomb lance,—legends of fortunes made in oil and ambergris, of hair-breadth escapes from the infuriated monsters, and especially of Moby Dick, the veteran whale who, off the coast of Chili, defied mankind until the whale-gun rolled him over at last, with twenty-three old harpoons rusted in his body.

  From an old drawing.

The foreign element in Provincetown is not all Portuguese. There is a sprinkling of many nationalities, especially Irish, and, more numerous yet, English and Scotch from the British provinces, while sailor-feet from all over the globe tread the long plank-walk of Front Street. This famous walk was built, after much wrangling, from the town's share of the Surplus Revenue distributed by Andrew Jackson, and the story goes that the more stiff-necked opponents of this extravagance refused their lifetimes long to step upon the planks, and plodded indignantly through the sandy middle of the road. Upon this chief thoroughfare stand several churches, looking seaward. Sailors in these waters used to steer by the meeting-house steeples, which are frequent all along the Cape. Some of those early churches now struggle on with meagre congregations, and a few are abandoned, the wind whistling through the empty belfries. Provincetown has a record of ancient strife between the Orthodox and the Methodists. The established sect resented the intrusion of the new doctrine to such a degree that they made a bonfire of the timber designed for the Methodist building. The heretics effectively retaliated by securing the key to the Orthodox meeting-house, locking out the astonished owners, and taking permanent possession, triumphantly singing Methodist hymns to the Orthodox bass-viol. It was thirty-two years before the discomfited Orthodox rallied sufficiently to build themselves another church.

Journeying from Provincetown, "perched out on a crest of alluvial sand," up the wrist of the Cape, one sees the land a-making. At first the loose sand drifts like snow. Then the coarse marsh-grasses begin to bind and hold it, low bushes mat their roots about it, and planted tracts of pitch-pine give the shifting waste a real stability. The Pilgrims found, they said,—but perhaps there was a Canaan dazzle in their eyes,—their landing-place well wooded and the soil "a spit's depth, excellent black earth." But now all sods and garden-ground must be brought from a distance, and a mulberry or a sycamore, even the most stunted apple-tree that squats and cowers from the wind, is a proud possession. When President Dwight of Yale rode through Truro into Provincetown a century ago, he was amazed at the sterility and bleak desolation of the landscape, half hidden as it was by "the tempestuous tossing of the clouds of sand." He was told that the inhabitants were required by law to plant every April bunches of beach-grass to keep the sand from blowing. The national government, stirred by the danger to the harbor, afterwards took the matter in hand. Between 1826 and 1838, twenty-eight thousand dollars were expended in an attempt to strengthen the harbor shores by beach-grass. Of late Massachusetts has become aroused to the desolate condition of her Province Lands, and is making a determined effort to redeem them by the planting of trees and by other restorative measures. These blowing sand-dunes have, however, a strange beauty of their own, and the color effects in autumn, given by the low and ragged brush, are of the warmest.

"It was like the richest rug imaginable," wrote Thoreau, "spread over an uneven surface; no damask nor velvet, nor Tyrian dye or stuffs, nor the work of any loom, could ever match it. There was the incredibly bright red of the Huckleberry, and the reddish brown of the Bayberry, mingled with the bright and living green of small Pitch-Pines, and also the duller green of the Bayberry, Boxberry and Plum, the yellowish green of the Shrub Oaks, and the various golden and yellow and fawn-colored tints of the Birch and Maple and Aspen,— each making its own figure, and, in the midst, the few yellow sand-slides on the sides of the hills looked like the white floor seen through rents in the rug."

The sand has dealt most unkindly of all with Truro, choking up her harbor, from which a fine fleet of mackerel vessels used to sail. No longer is her rollicking fishing-song, apparently an inheritance from Old England, lifted on the morning breeze:

     "Up jumped the mackerel,
      With his striped back
Says he, reef in the mains'l, and haul on the tack,
      For it 's windy weather,
      It 's stormy weather,
And when the wind blows pipe all hands together—
      For, upon my word, it 's windy weather.

      "Up jumped the cod,

      With his chuckle head
And jumped into the main chains to heave at the lead,—
      For it 's windy weather," etc.

This town, the Indian Pamet, was formally settled in 1709 by a few English purchasers from Eastham, having been occupied earlier only by irresponsible fishermen and traders. The new planters took hold with energy, waging war against blackbirds and crows, wolves and foxes, for the protection of their little wealth in corn and cattle, while none the less they dug clams, fished by line and net and watched from their lookouts for offshore whales. The Cape plumes itself not a little upon its early proficiency in whaling. In 1690, one Ichabod Paddock, whose name Might so easily have been Haddock, went from Yarmouth to Nantucket "to instruct the people in the art of killing whales in boats from the shore." And when the sea-monster, thus maltreated, withdrew from its New England haunts, the daring whalemen built ships and followed, cruising the Atlantic and Pacific, even the Arctic and Antarctic oceans. But the Revolution put a check on all our maritime enterprises. The Truro fishermen, like the rest, laid by their harpoons, and melted up their mackerel leads for bullets. From one village of twenty-three houses, twenty-eight men gave up their lives for liberty. In religion, too, Truro had the courage of her convictions, building the first Methodist meeting-house on the Cape, the second in New England. The cardinal temptation of Cape Cod is Sunday fishing, and Truro righteousness was never put more sharply to the pinch than in 1834, when a prodigious school of blackfish appeared off Great Hollow one autumnal Sabbath morning. A number of Truro fishermen, from the Grand Banks and elsewhere, were on their way home in boats from Provincetown, when the shining shoulders of hundreds of the great fish were seen moving through the waves. With fortunes in full view, a goodly number of these men shifted into boats which rowed soberly for their destination, while the rest, with eager outcry, rounded up the school, and drove the frightened creatures, with shouts and blows from the oars, like sheep upon the beach. Church-members who took part in the wild chase were brought to trial, but a lurking sympathy in the hearts of their judges saved them from actual expulsion.

This befell within the period of Truro's highest prosperity. From 1830 to 1855 the wharves were crowded with sloops and schooners, a shipyard was kept busy, and salt was made all along the shore. At the middle of the century, the town had over two thousand inhabitants, but the number has now fallen off by some three fifths. The "turtle-like sheds of the salt-works," which Thoreau noted, have been long since broken up and sold for lumber. There is weir-fishing still, supplying fresh fish for market and bait for the fishing-fleets of Provincetown and Gloucester. Rods of the black netting may be seen spread over the poverty-grass to dry.


Although the sand of Cape Cod is in some places three hundred feet deep, there is believed to be a backbone of diluvian rock. There is a clay vein, too, which slants across the Cape and crops out at Truro in the so-called Clay Pounds, now crowned by Highland Light, shining two hundred feet above the ocean. This hill of clay thus renders a sovereign service to that dangerous stretch of navigation. It must be borne in mind that Cape Cod runs out straight into the Atlantic for twoscore miles, by the south measurement, and then, abruptly turning, juts up another forty to the north. The shifty sand-bars of the Back Side have caught, twisted and broken the hulls of innumerable craft. One gale of wind wrecked eighteen vessels between Race Point, at the extremity of the Cape, and Highland Light. The average width of our crooked peninsula is six miles, but at Truro it narrows to half that distance. Across this strip the storms whirl the flinty sand, until the humblest cottage may boast of ground-glass window-panes. The coast outline is ever changing and the restless dunes show the fantastic carvings of the wind. The houses cuddle down into the wavy hollows, with driftwood stacked at their back doors for fuel, and with worn-out fishnets stretched about the chicken-yards. Here and there a pine-tree abandons all attempt at keeping up appearances and lies flat before the blast. The ploughed fields are as white with sand as so many squares of beach, and the sea-tang is strong in the air. Accustomed, before their harbor failed them, to depend chiefly upon the sea for subsistence, the people of Truro now find it no easy matter to wrest a living from what they have of land. Everything is turned to account, from turnips to mayflowers. Along those sand-pits of roads, bordered with thick beds of pink-belled bear-berries, or where the dwarfish pines, their wizened branches hung with gray tags of moss, yellow the knolls, are gathered large quantities of sweetest, pinkest arbutus for the Boston market.


Wellfleet, which drew off from Eastham in 1763, has also fallen on evil days. Perhaps the fishermen have overreached themselves with the greedy seines. There is high controversy on this point between line-fishers and weir-fishers, but the fact stands that fish are growing scarce. Wellfleet had once her hundred vessels at the Banks, her whaling-schooners, built in her own yards from her own timber, and beds of oysters much prized by city palates. There was a time when forty or fifty sail were busy every season transporting Wellfleet shell-fish to Boston. "As happy as a clam" might then have been the device of Wellfleet heraldry. But suddenly the oyster died and, although the beds have been planted anew, the ancient fame has not been fully regained. A town, too, many of whose citizens spent more than half their lives on shipboard, was sure to suffer from our wars, peculiarly disastrous to seafaring pursuits. Early in the Revolution, Wellfleet was constrained to petition for an abatement of her war-tax, stating that her whale-fishery, by which nine tenths of her people lived, was entirely shut off by British gunboats, and that the shell-fish industries, on which the remaining tenth depended, was equally at a standstill. In this distress, as again in the Civil War, Cape Cod sailors took to privateering and made a memorable record. Wellfleet, like Truro, has lessened more than one half in population since 1850, but her shell roads are better than the sand-ruts of her neighbor, and bicyclists and other summer visitors are beginning to find her out. She has her own melancholy charm of barrenness and desolation quite as truly as she has her characteristic dainties of quahaug pie and fried-quahaug cakes. The place abounds in dim old stories, from the colonial legend of the minister's deformed child, done to death by a dose from its father's hand, that child whose misshapen little ghost still flits, on moonlight nights, about a certain rosebush, to the many-versioned tale of the buccaneer, ever and anon seen prowling about that point on the Back Side where Sam Bellamy's pirate-ship was cast away, and stooping to gather the coins flung up to him by the skeleton hands of his drowned shipmates. A volume would not suffice for the stories of these Cape towns. Their very calendar is kept by storms: as the Magee storm of December, 1778, when the government brig General Arnold, commanded by Captain James Magee, went down; or the Mason and Slidell storm of 1862, when the Southern emissaries were brought from Fort Warren to Provincetown, and there, amidst the protest of the elements, yielded up to the British steamer Rinaldo; or the pitiless October gale of 1841, when from Truro alone forty-seven men were swallowed by the sea.


The quiet little town of Eastham, originally "Nawsett," settled in 1646, only seven years after the three pioneers, Barnstable, Sandwich and Yarmouth, has shared the hard fortunes of the lower Cape. With a remnant of less than five hundred inhabitants, it finds, under the present stress, a resource in asparagus, shipping a carload or two to Boston every morning in the season. To this land industry the ocean consents to contribute, the soil being dressed for "sparrowgrass" with seaweed and shells. But no hardship can deprive Eastham of its history. After the encounter between the Pilgrims and Indians here in 1620, the place was not visited again until the following July, when Governor Bradford sent from Plymouth a boatload of ten men to recover that young scapegrace, John Billington. This boy, whose father, ten years after, was hanged by the colonists for murder, had come near blowing up the Mayflower, in Provincetown harbor, by shooting off a fowling-piece in her cabin, close by an open keg of powder, and, later, must needs lose himself in Plymouth woods. He had wandered into the territory of the Nausets, who, although this was the tribe which had suffered from Hunt's perfidy, restored the lad unharmed to the English. The Nausets further proved their friendliness by supplying the Pilgrims, in the starving time of 1622, with stores of corn and beans. But the following year, suspecting an Indian plot against the colonists, Myles Standish, that "little chimney soon on fire," appeared upon the Cape in full panoply of war, executed certain of the alleged conspirators and so terrified the rest that many fled to the marshes and miserably perished. The traveller up the Cape notices still that Eastham has more of a land look than the lower towns. The soil is darker, small stones appear, and the trees, although still twisted to left and right, as if to dodge a blow, are larger. The Indians had maize-fields there and the site seemed so promising to the Pilgrims that talk sprang up in the early forties of transferring the Plymouth colony thither. As a compromise, several of the old-comers obtained a grant of the Nauset land, and established a branch settlement, soon incorporated as a township. Promptly arose their meeting-house, twenty feet square, with port-holes and a thatch. They secured a full congregation by absence penalties of ten shillings, a flogging or the stocks. One of these sturdy fathers in the faith, Deacon Doane, is said to have lived to the patriarchal age of one hundred and ten, rounding life's circle so completely that at the end, as at the beginning, he was helplessly rocked in a cradle.


Thoreau was amused over a provision made by the town of Eastham in 1662, that "a part of every whale cast on shore be appropriated for the support of the ministry," and drew a fancy-picture of the old parsons sitting on the sand-hills in the storms, anxiously watching for their salaries to be rolled ashore over the bars of the Back Side. One of these worthies, Rev. Samuel Treat, whose oratory outroared the stormy surf, shares with Richard Bourne, of Sandwich, the memory of a true pastoral care for the Cape Indians. He was, in return, so well beloved, that, on his death, his wild converts dug a long passage through the remarkably deep snowfall of the time, and bore him on their shoulders down this white archway to his grave. The Revolutionary War was a heavy drain on the resources of the staunch little town, but, with the restoration of peace, whaling and all kinds of deep-sea fishing were resumed, and a tide of prosperity set in. Salt-works were established, and presently Eastham was able to afford such luxuries as a pulpit cushion and a singing-school.

Orleans, set off in 1797 from the southerly portion of Eastham, has an old-fashioned quaintness that is better than business prosperity. Sand has partially closed the harbors, and the population has been dwindling for the past half-century, but the ocean still serves old neighbors as it can with quahaugs and the seaweed, now collected for paper-making. The distinction of being the terminus of the French Atlantic Cable from Brest is in keeping with the name Orleans—a unique instance of a foreign title among these old Cape towns. The early settlers put by the melodious Indian words, Succanessett, Mattacheeset, and the rest, and substituted the dear home names from Devon, Cornwall, Norfolk and Kent. The christening of Brewster, Bourne and Dennis honored severally the Pilgrim elder, the Sandwich friend of the Indians and a Yarmouth pastor; but these are of comparatively recent date. As Wellfleet and Orleans have been cut, on north and south, out of the original Eastham, so were Harwich, Chatham, Dennis, Brewster, once "within the liberties of Yarmouth."

The history of Yarmouth, too, is so closely allied to the histories of Barnstable and of Sandwich, with her daughter Bourne, that the story of all these may be told as one.

These three initial settlements on the Cape were recognized as townships in 1639. From the outset, the difference in their locations imposed upon them different tasks. Yarmouth, the elbow town of the Cape, bore the brunt of wind and wave; Sandwich kept the border, notably in King Philip's War, when she guarded the faithful Cape Indians from temptation and received for safe harborage English refugees from the ravaged districts; and Barnstable, the aristocratic sister of the group, made traditions, set examples and produced the Otis family. With Old Yarmouth, the Cape widens. No longer do householders, as at Truro, own land in strips from shore to shore. The soil, too, deepens, and the cows need not with hungry noses brush away the drifted sand to find the grass. On the Back Side is no marked change in aspect. Still pine grove after pine grove adds flavor to the salt air, and where the carpet of needles is trodden through, gleam patches of white sand. The strange reappearance of the Somerset is out-miracled in Old Ship Harbor, where, in 1863, long after the significance of the name had been forgotten, the hull of the Sparrow-Hawk, wrecked there in 1626, on her way from London to Virginia, rose again to view. This portion of the Cape is in excellent repute with pleasure-seekers, and the seaside cottage is ubiquitous, especially in beautiful Chatham, whose everchanging shore takes the wildest raging of the surf. Harwich, which has gone through the regular stages of whaling, codding, mackerel-fishing and salt-making, cultivates in turn the summer boarder, but somewhat quizzically. Retired sea-captains are not easily overawed even by golf-sticks, and retired sea-captains, in Harwich, are as thick as cranberries. Snuffing the brine, they pace their porches like so many quarter-decks and delight their auditors and themselves with marvellous recitals. The Cape has not proved friendly to manufactures in general. Salt-works and glass-works have come to naught,—but the spinning of sea-yarns is a perennial industry.


Many of the summer guests prefer the north side of the Cape, where fogs are less frequent, or where, in ancient Indian parlance, old Maushope smokes his pipe less often. Such find in Brewster and Dennis no less delightful colonies of ancient ship-masters, living easily off their sea-hoards. In 1837 that little town of Dennis claimed no fewer than one hundred and fifty skippers sailing from various American ports, and in 1850 it was said that more sea-captains went on foreign voyages from Brewster than from any other place in the United States. Often their wives sailed with them and had thereafter something wider than village gossip to bring to the quilting- and the sewing-circle. It was a great day for the children in the village when a sea-captain came home. From door to door went his frank sailor-gifts, jars of Chinese sweetmeats, shimmering Indian stuffs, tamarinds, cocoanuts, parrots, fans of gay feather, boxes of spicy wood, glowing corals, and such great, whispering shells as Cape Cod beaches never knew. It was a hospitable and merry time, given to savory suppers, picnic clambakes, and all manner of neighborly good-cheer. Even the common dread made for a closer sympathy. Any woman, going softly to her neighbor to break the news of the husband lost in Arctic ice, might in some dark hour drop her head upon that neighbor's shoulder in hearing of a son drowned off the Banks or slain by South Sea Islanders.

The old town of Yarmouth, dozing thus among children already gray, has many a thing to dream about, when the surf is loud. She remembers the terrible gale of 1635, in which the Thacher family were wrecked upon the island that since has borne their name, the March snow-storm that destroyed the three East Indiamen from Salem, the stranding of the English Jason, and many a tragedy more. Along that treacherous Back Side, lighthouse towers are now closely set, and well-equipped, well-manned life-saving stations have succeeded the rude Charity Houses, the fireplace, wood and matches, straw pallet, and signal-pole which used to give what succor they might to hapless mariners. The old volunteer coastguard, which rarely failed to pace the beach in storms, is now replaced by a regular patrol, carrying lanterns and red hand-lights and thoroughly drilled in the use of shot-line and breeches-buoy. But still the fierce-blowing sand cuts their faces to bleeding and still the furious surf makes playthings of their lifeboats, so that manhood has no less heroic opportunity than in the earlier days. The crew at one of these stations, after an exposure of twelve hours on the wintry beach, failed in every effort to launch the surf-boat and had to see the rescue they should have made effected by a crew of fishermen volunteers. The keeper brooded over his disgrace and the following winter wiped out what is known upon the Cape as the "goading slur" by a desperate launching in a surf that beat the life from his body.


Ever since the day of the Pilgrims, who made the suggestion, and of George Washington, who furthered the project, there has been talk of a Cape Cod canal to expedite traffic and avert disaster. A channel between Eastham and Orleans was once forced by the sea, and' various routes through Yarmouth, Barnstable and Sandwich have been surveyed, and charters granted, but ships still round Race Point. The railroad, however, which was built by slow stages down the Cape and reached Provincetown only a quarter of a century since, has facilitated travel, doing away both with the red-and-yellow mail-coach, which used, a hundred years ago, to clatter through to Boston in two glorious days, and with the packet service of jolly memory. Yarmouth and Barnstable were sharp rivals in these packet trips, Barnstable putting her victories into verse:

"The Commodore Hull she sails so dull

       She makes her crew look sour;
  The Eagle Flight she is out of sight
       Less than a half an hour.
  But the bold old Emerald takes delight
  To beat the Commodore and the Flight."



Barnstable has pursued from the outset a course of modest prosperity. She does not ask too much of fortune. If her census-roll has gained only five in the last decade, that is better than losing, as most of the Cape towns have done, and, even so, her numbers rank next to Provincetown. How humble were the beginnings of this sedate and gracious county seat may be learned from the letter of an early citizen, declining Governor Winslow's appointment to lead an expedition against the Dutch. This quiet colonist, who commanded the Plymouth forces in King Philip's War, pleads his domestic cares:

"My wife, as is well known to the whole town, is not only a weak woman, and has been so all along, but now, by reason of age, being sixty-seven years and upwards, and nature decaying, so her illness grows more strongly upon her. Never a day passes but she is forced to rise at break of day, or before. She cannot lie for want of breath. And when she is up, she cannot light a pipe of tobacco, but it must be lighted for her. And she has never a maid. That day your letter came to my hands, my maid's year being out, she went away, and I cannot get or hear of another. And then in regard of my occasions abroad, for the tending and looking after all my creatures, the fetching home my hay, that is yet at the place where it grew, getting of wood, going to mill, and for the performing all other family occasions, I have now but a small Indian boy about thirteen years of age, to help me. Sir, I can truly say that I do not in the least waive the business out of an effeminate or dastardly spirit, but am as freely willing to serve my King and my country as any man whatsoever, in what I am capable and fitted for, but do not understand that a man is so called to serve his country with the inevitable ruin and destruction of his own family."

An "effeminate or dastardly spirit" would indeed be a novelty in the birthplace of James Otis. But it was not only in face of the Indian and the redcoat that these three old towns showed firm courage. To their glory be it remembered that they withstood the persecutor and bluntly refused to enforce the laws against heresy, so that a special officer had to be sent by Plymouth Court to hunt out and oppress the Quakers. Under his petty tyrannies, the faith of the Friends gained many converts, and Quakerism became permanently established on the Cape.

These upper towns have never depended on the sea as exclusively as those below, and hence the decline of the fisheries has been less disastrous to them. They need industries to hold their young people at home, but the marine manufacture of salt by solar evaporation, the discovery of a Dennis sea-captain, has had its day, and the once famous Sandwich glassworks are now idle. Sheep-raising and cattle-raising were long since abandoned, but while the New England Thanksgiving lasts, cranberry culture bids fair to yield an honest profit. As early as 1677, Massachusetts presented Charles II. (put out of humor by the pine-tree shilling) with three thousand codfish, two hogsheads of samp and ten barrels of cranberries. These last are still good enough for a better king than the Merry Monarch, and cranberry-picking is one of the most picturesque sights on the modern Cape. Hundreds of pickers, gathering by hand or with the newly invented machines, move over a bog in ordered companies. The "summer folks" flock to the fun, and Portuguese, Italians, Swedes, Poles, Finns, Russians, troop down from Boston and over from New Bedford for the brief cranberry season, or they may come earlier to join the blueberry-pickers that dot the August hills. The bogs are easily made from the wastes of swamp, which are drained, sanded, planted and given three years to grow a solid mat of vines. The crop from a few acres brings dollars enough to carry the thrifty Cape Codder through the year. Rents are of the lowest, and the shrewd old seaman who tends his own garden, salts his own pork, raises his own chickens, milks his own cow and occasionally "goes a-fishin'," while his wife cooks and sews, and "ties tags" for pin-money, has no heavy bills to meet. There is so little actual poverty in these towns that the poorhouse is often rented.

Even Mashpee, once the Indian reservation, but now a little township peopled by half-breeds, mulattoes and a sprinkling of whites, grows tidier and more capable every year. The aborigines of Cape Cod have left slight traces save the melodious names that cling to bay and creek. Arrow-heads are scattered about, and now and then the plough turns up one of the clam-shell hoes with which the Nausets used to till their maize-fields. The Praying Indians of the Cape deserve our memory, for they were always faithful to their English neighbors. When the first regiment was raised in Barnstable County for the Revolutionary War, twenty-two Mashpees enlisted, of whom but one came home. A Praying Indian of Yarmouth has won a place in New England song,—Nauhaught the Deacon, who, hunger-pinched, restored the tempting purse of gold to the Wellfleet skipper and received a tithe "as an honest man."

The beauty of the upper Cape, culminating in the lovely town of Falmouth, is largely rural and sylvan. A system of dyking has, within the last fifty years, converted much of the salt marsh to good, fresh meadow, and, from Orleans up, the look of the country is more and more agricultural. Portions of Yarmouth are well wooded, and in Barnstable, Sandwich and Falmouth are depths of forest where the fox and the deer run wild. The wolf alone has been exterminated, and that with no small trouble, the Cape finally proposing, after grisly heads had been nailed on all her meeting-houses, to build a high fence along her upper border and shut the wolves out. But Plymouth and Wareham objected, from their side of the question, to having the wolves shut in, and this ingenious scheme had to be abandoned. These woodlands are dotted in profusion with silvery ponds, which the Fish Commission at Wood's Holl keeps well stocked. Often the north side, as in Sandwich, is skirted by long stretches of unreclaimed marsh, over which the heron flaps, with the distinguished air of an old resident, and from which the sweet whistle of the marsh quail answers the "Bob White" of the woods. There is plenty of rock in this landscape, the backbone of the Cape jutting through. Barnstable proudly exhibits four hundred feet of wall, two feet in width, wrought from a single mass of granite found within her limits. Falmouth arbutus grows pinkest about the base of a big boulder known as City Rock, and a field of tumbled stones upon her Quisset road is accounted for on the hypothesis that here the Devil, flying with his burden over to Nantucket, "broke his apron-string." The trees, too, are of goodly size and stand erect. Elms, silver-leaf poplars, balm of Gileads, great sycamores, spotted with iron-rust lichen, and willows, lemon yellow in the sun, shade the waysides. Golden-winged woodpeckers and red-shouldered blackbirds dart to and fro, while the abundance of jaunty martin-houses shows that Cape Cod hospitality is not limited to the human.


The quiet, white homesteads, with green blinds, broad porches and sometimes a cupola for the sea-view, stand in a sweet tranquillity and dignity that should abash the showy summer residence. But these old-fashioned homes keep up with the times. Against the wellsweep leans the bicycle. The dooryards are blue with myrtle, or pink with rose-bushes, or gay with waving daffodils. Old age is in fashion on the Cape. When twilight fades, the passer-by sees gathered about the early evening lamp the white heads of those whose "chores" are done. And though death comes at last, the cemeteries are so tenderly kept that the grave is robbed of half its dread. Even in the oldest burial-grounds, where the worn, scarred stones lean with the privilege of age, the staring death's-heads are cozily muffled in moss, and "Patience, wife of Experience," sleeps under a coverlet of heartsease.

All the way from Provincetown to Falmouth are certain briny signals,—a ship's figurehead, marble steps whose stone was washed ashore as wreckage, lobster-pots, herring-nets, conch-shells set on lintels, a discontented polar bear pacing a stout-paled yard, ruffling cockatoos, boats converted into flower-boxes, whales' vertebræ displayed for ornament, garden-beds marked out with scallop-shells, everywhere the ship-shape look, the sailor's handy rig, and everywhere the codfish used for weathercocks. In Barnstable court-house a mammoth cod is suspended from the ceiling. Vistas of ocean outlook, too, from under arches of green branches, flash upon the eye, the salty flavor is not lost in woodland fragrances, and the rolling hills and wavy pastures take their model from the sea.


Of the old-timey features of the Cape, no one is more impressive than the witch-like windmill with its peaked cap, outspread arms and slanting broomstick, reminding us that the Pilgrims came from Holland. Some of these antique mills have been bought by summer residents and moved to their estates for curiosities, but the one at Orleans was in use as late as 1892, taking its profitable toll of two quarts out of the bushel.


The general history of Falmouth but repeats the story of her sister towns. The first settlers are believed to have come in boats from Barnstable, in 1660. They encamped for the night among the flags of Consider Hatch's Pond, where a child was born and, in recognition of the rushes that sang his earliest lullaby, named Moses. The town was duly incorporated in 1686, next after Eastham, and has steadfastly stood for piety, wisdom and patriotism. She admitted the Quakers, and if one of her deacons held a negro slave, as colonial deacons often did, poor Cuffee was at least brought to the communion table. It is Truro that contains "Pomp's Lot," where the stolen African, with loaf of bread and jug of water at his feet for sustenance on his new journey, escaped slavery by hanging. As for learning, it was Sandwich Academy which the Cape towns held in awe, but our Falmouth men, like the rest, half sailor, half farmer and all theologian, had a genuine culture, born of keen-eyed voyaging and of lonely thought, that kept the air about them tingling with intelligence. When it comes to war stories, if Provincetown, from her end of the Cape, can tell of her boy in blue that went down with the Cumberland, and her naval captain at Manila, Falmouth can recall that twice she was bombarded by the British and twice defended by the valor of her sons, and when the Civil War broke out, with the larger share of her able-bodied men at sea, she yet sent more than her quota of soldiers to the front.


Within the last quarter-century, Falmouth has entered on new activities, largely due to the increasing fame of Buzzard's Bay as a summer resort. The story goes that the town had all gone to sleep, but somebody woke one day and painted his front fence, and forthwith his neighbors, not to be outdone, painted theirs, and their houses too, and the new era came in with a rush. But whatever good fortune the future has in store, Paul Revere's bell, that sounds from her central steeple, will hold Falmouth true to her traditions; for these Cape towns, simple as their record is, have worked out on unconsciously heroic lines the essential principles of a God-fearing, self-respecting democracy.

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