Cape Cod.

F. Mitchell
The Century Magazine
1883


THE most striking feature of the New England coast-line is Cape Cod. Standing far out, lonesome, into the ocean, it gives, from the map, the impression of a sand-bar. In looking at other sea-coast reaches, the imagination flies at once to a sheltered inland: to village streets and peaceful farms and bush-fringed ponds and wild flowers; but looking at this weird projection, it seems impossible to conjure up an inland.

There are wastes, in fact, along this stretch of sea-board. The farthest town has not a farm, and the soil of its gardens is brought in the holds of vessels. Nothing could give a stronger impression of desolation than the wild sea of shifting sand-hills lying open to the Atlantic on the outer coast of Provincetown, and the sand-hills on the harbor side, which crowd two miles of houses to the water. The open plain between Provincetown and Truro is wild and barren; its vegetation is for the most part little more than moss; although in favored spots is seen the mock-cranberry's red-berried creeping vine and some recent plantations of pine, all making headway.

When the Pilgrims entered Cape Cod harbor, this stretch of country was all covered with soil, and bore a forest growth of oak and pine. Woods and soil, like the Indians, have given way before civilization, and, under the white man's rule, sand has beaten in and swamped the vegetation. Even now, in Provincetown, one can see the process of desolation going on. In every violent gale, the looser sand is drifted about, and after the storm is over, here and there peep out the tops of newly submerged bushes.

All through the Cape, too, are barren stretches of "old fields," crossed by decayed rail fences or stone walls gray with moss: such fields as are seen through the whole of eastern Massachusetts. The last generation of farmers beggars the land and leaves it. It is hard to realize now that Eastham was once the granary of Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth; that the sandy tip of the Cape was covered with trees; that the "old fields" once waved with substantial crops. Nevertheless, such are the facts.

With all the grandeur of wildness that has seized upon a great part of the outer coast from Provincetown to Chatham, speaking in every line of storms, of surf, of wrecks, of bodies heaved up by the sea, a quiet inland beauty nestles still in the shelter of Cape Cod. There are woods and farms; there are elm trees overhanging village streets; there are blue ponds and still, dark flumes and wild flowers.

Two hundred and sixty years ago, and more, the Mayflower anchored in Cape Cod harbor, off what is now Provincetown. Although the settlement of the Pilgrims was finally made at Plymouth, it was at Cape Cod that the first birth and the first death occurred, and that the famous compact of government was signed. It was on Cape Cod that a party under Miles Standish made the first excursion inland, tracked Indians through the woods, laid hold on corn, rifled a wigwam and, with that delicacy which always characterized their captain, explored an Indian grave.

Carried by steam, today, through the whole length of the Cape, in cars of the latest pattern, raising our eyes from the last novel to look upon stretches of open country, it is hard to frame a vision of Cape Cod as it was when the Pilgrims landed. Shut your eyes to the sand-hills, to all the neglected acres white with daisies or gay with golden-rod; clothe the seventy miles of curving peninsula, except the broad salt-marshes, with forest trees; think of the numberless bays and ponds and streams that light up the country still; picture here and there an Indian clearing, a cluster of wigwams, and a sachem with his followers; fill the woods with deer and wolves and foxes, and you see Cape Cod as it lay on that November morning when the plunge of the Mayflower's anchor broke the stillness.

Soon after the settlement at Plymouth, a trading-house, the foundations of which may still be traced, was built at Manomet, now known as Monument, near the head of Buzzard's Bay; but the first settlement, properly speaking, on Cape Cod, was made at Sandwich. "April 3, 1637," say the Plymouth records, "it is also agreed by the court that these ten men of Saugus [naming them] shall have liberty to view a place to sit down, and have land sufficient for three-score families."

In view of the later history of Cape Cod, there is an amusing ring in this liberty to "sit down," granted to the nucleus of a people who in their growth have shown a constant disclosed, on the contrary, a most determined desire to do anything but sit down; who have disposition "the ocean's depths to sound, or pierce to either pole"; who hang Calcutta hats upon their hat-trees; whose parlors give out a sandal-wood perfume from the islands of the Pacific. If there was any one form of words that was to prove peculiarly inappropriate to the settlement of Cape Cod, it was this of a liberty to "sit down."

Soon after this settlement was begun, two commissioners were sent from Plymouth, directed to "go to Sandwich, with all convenient speed [which was probably about three miles an hour], and set forth the bounds of the lands granted there." Their names lend a certain flavor of romance: Miles Standish and John Alden. When they came to settle the titles of Sandwich, the eventful deputation to settle the title to Priscilla, if any such there was, had long since taken place. We can hardly think, without a smile, of these two heroes, all unconscious of the poetic halo that was to gather about their names, peacefully working together in the unromantic task of running boundary lines, parceling upland and salt-marsh.

The mention here of the two famous suitors reminds me of two bachelor settlers such they seem to have been whose lot was less romantic. They had undertaken to "sit down" in Sandwich, and had begun to clear allotments. They presumed to be "disorderly" by "keeping house alone," and for this they were arraigned at Plymouth. Poor Pilgrims ! Who knows their story! Perhaps they had dutifully tried to win for themselves two humble Priscillas, and, through John Aldens of their own, had failed. Nevertheless, the rigid views of the colony could not allow them, as bread in the desert, even this pale joy of keeping house alone.

The settlement at Sandwich was quickly followed by others, at Barnstable, at Yarmouth, and lower down the Cape. Eastham was settled by a colony from Plymouth, headed by Thomas Prince, for many years governor, whose descendants live there still. The question of a general removal from Plymouth to Eastham was seriously debated.

[GOVERNOR THOMAS PRINCE'S BIRTHPLACE.]

Many interesting historical associations are connected with the different towns. In the scattered village of East Sandwich stands, on a little rise of ground, a large, bare building, which, from its absolute plainness, you would know, if you took it for a house of worship at all, to be a Friends' meeting-house. This building dates only from the beginning of the present century, but it stands in the place of an older structure, and the society is of long standing. The Sandwich monthly meeting has been said to be the oldest in the country. The surnames which prevail in the neighborhood figure in the ancient court records of the Plymouth colony, for this was a marked locality in the early struggle for religious liberty.

Nicholas Upsall was a member of the Boston church. When he was far advanced in years, he was, for outspoken disapproval of the persecution of the Quakers, fined twenty pounds and banished. His choice of a retreat being limited, he came to Plymouth; but he was now viewed as a Quaker, and it was illegal in the Plymouth colony to entertain him. Nevertheless, a man who was returning to Cape Cod took the old man in his convoy to Sandwich. Here he most have been harbored, for we find an order of the General Court to John Newland of that town, forbidding any further meetings at his house tending "to the disturbance of the public worship of God," and a direction that Nicholas Upsall, the " instigator" of this trouble, "be carried out of the government by Tristan Hull, who brought him." Upsall seems to have sown some seed, for, shortly after this, a number of persons were punished for encouraging what were called "Quaker" movements. In 1658, a large number of citizens of Sandwich were fined for expressing sympathy, in one way or another, with Quaker views, and feeling ran so high in the town against the strictness of the colony, that the town constable could not, or perhaps would not, perform the duties of his office, and a sort of metropolitan police, in the form of a special marshal, was appointed by the Plymouth government to fill his place. In Barnstable and Yarmouth, too, the local officer was superseded.

Barlow, the marshal set over Sandwich, had no morbid delicacy. When he had a fine to levy upon the goods of a Quaker, he would select for seizure the article least to be spared, as the family kettle. An Indian charged with theft justified himself by precedent "I have done," he said, "only as you do by the Quakers."

There was a long contest between Barlow, backed by the Plymouth government, on the one hand, and public opinion in Sandwich on the other, with many amusing features. How natural and human it makes the life of those early days, to read of the superseded constable's prosecution for "railing" at the marshal who supplanted him!

Perhaps, in the features of the settlements on Cape Cod, including their absolute freedom from the witchcraft mania, the curious inquirer may seek for a certain clew to traits that have marked Cape Cod in later times. Her genius has been practical. The strongest characteristics of her people have been a commonsense sagacity and a capacity for affairs. Perhaps it is that very enthusiastic temperament which, in other sections, led to extreme and fanatical convictions in religion, that has unfolded itself in later times, in the imaginative literature of Massachusetts.

[WELLFLEET ANCIENT WHARVES.]

One of the most curious buildings of Cape Cod stands in East Sandwich. It is a blockhouse, built in 1644. It is now the parlor of a dwelling-house, and its neat and peaceful interior, cheered by a cabinet organ, is in strange contrast with the thought of Pilgrims, in peaked hats, standing guard against possible forays of Indians.

Next below Sandwich lies the scattered village of West Barnstable, anciently called "Great Marshes," from the vast sweep of salt-marsh, rich in suggestive beauty, which makes far out to Barnstable Bay. From the road that rises to the southward to cross the Cape, you look on woods and farms, on bits of swamp, green in the hottest summer, on the great marshes and the hay. The meeting-house, high up the hill, is nearly one hundred and seventy years old, being one of the oldest in the State. It takes the place of an earlier structure, and the church which worships in it has a history. In the early part of the seventeenth century, Henry Jacob, a clergyman of the Church of England, wrote against the English Congregationalists then in exile. Shortly after, he went to Leyden, where he met with John Robinson, and, influenced probably by him, changed his views. On his return to England he took the lead in the establishment, in 1616, of an Independent Church, of which, for eight years, he was the pastor. He was succeeded by John Lathrop. Another eight years the congregation worshiped in secret in London, but it was finally discovered, by the bishop's pursuivant, at the house of one Humphrey Barnet, in Blackfriars. Forty-two persons were apprehended, and the prisoners were held for some two years. Mr. Lathrop, the pastor, was detained longest, and it was only after the death of his wife, on the intercession of his children, that he was released, on condition of leaving the kingdom. He came to New England with thirty of his people, and settled at Scituate; but in 1639, with a majority of the members of the church, he emigrated to Great Marshes, and so began the settlement of Barnstable. "This circumstance," says Palfrey, the historian of New England, himself a native of the town, "makes the first church in Barnstable the representative of the first Congregational church established in England, unless, which perhaps was the fact, the church of John Robinson, now surviving in that of Plymouth, was organized on Congregational principles before he left the mother country for Holland." "Another interesting fact," he adds, "connected with that primitive English Congregational church which still survives in our church at Great Marshes, is that from its bosom also proceeded the first English Baptist church: so that it is further entitled to the eminent rank of parent of the now very numerous churches of that denomination both in England and America."

[AN OLD INHABITANT.]

[HIGHLAND LIGHT, NORTH TRURO, AND NAUSETT LIGHT, EASTHAM.]

Among those who came with Lathrop from Scituate to Barnstable were the famous James Cudworth and Isaac Robinson, a son of the great Leyden pastor. Robinson was deputed by the General Court to attend, with others, the meetings of the Quakers, and to endeavor to convince them of their errors. He went, and in the end became convinced that there should be no persecution of them, and for his open defense of their right to religious freedom was disfranchised. He subsequently settled in Falmouth, and built the first house in that town. Descendants through him of the famous Leyden pastor live there to this day.

Half way down the hill, between the church and the railway, stands a large square house (formerly the parsonage), the birthplace of Chief-Justice Shaw, whose father was the minister of the parish. A quarter of a mile from there, on the road to Barnstable, is the site of the Otis mansion, where Colonel James Otis lived, and his son, the patriot Otis,"the soul of the Revolution," the elder Adams calls him, was born.

This unnoticed hamlet is, therefore, the seat of a church which is the representative of the earliest or the second of the English Congregational churches, and the parent of another great denomination; it has also given the country one of its loftiest statesmen and one of its greatest judges. Other men of mark have sprung from the town of Barnstable: Governor Hinckley, Nymphas Marston, and Samuel A. Otis, member of Congress from this district and the father of Harrison Gray Otis; Solicitor-General Davis, and Mr. Palfrey, the historian, among others.

[OLD HALLETT HOUSE, OSTERVILLE]

[THE THACHER CRADLE.]

One of the most interesting relics of Pilgrim days upon Cape Cod is a cradle which has descended in a prominent family in Yarmouth, and is now in possession of Mr. Henry C. Thacher. Anthony Thacher came to New England in 1635, with a wife and several children, and with a young nephew, who became the ancestor of the judges George and Peter Oxenbridge Thacher. He landed at Newbury, and, to continue his journey, took passage by sea; but the nephew, having a presentiment of danger, could not be persuaded to go by water, and made his way by land. The vessel was wrecked off Cape Ann on what is known as Thacher's Island, and Mr. Thacher and his wife alone were saved, their children being drowned before their eyes. This cradle, which had held the youngest, was washed ashore, with a worked broad-cloth covering, which has also been preserved.

The records of Brewster give a striking illustration of the exposed situation of Cape Cod in case of war. During the war of 1812, a British man-of-war, the Spencer, appeared there, and exacted four thousand dollars as the condition of sparing the town and the valuable salt-works.

The feeling at Boston and Philadelphia as to tea, in 1775, ran high upon Cape Cod. A vessel loaded with tea went ashore at Provincetown, and for some service or other a Wellfleet man received and undertook to sell a chest or two of tea, saying that, as it had not paid duty, there was no harm in his accepting it. Public spirit has always been strong upon Cape Cod, and the general indignation rose to such a pitch that he finally felt obliged to present a written apology in town-meeting. "I had no intention," he says, "to injure the liberties of my country."

In February, 1774, Truro discussed, at a town-meeting, the conduct of some of its citizens who had bought small quantities of teas from what had been cast ashore at Provincetown, and on their making acknowledgment they were "excused" on account of extenuating circumstances. "And though we have the mortification," say the resolutions, passed unanimously, "to own that some persons among us have been weak enough to be led astray by noted rescinders from all good resolutions, we cannot, in justice to ourselves, omit making public the fact that no person in this town could be prevailed upon to accept the infamous employment of transporting the tea saved out of the Messrs. Clarks' brigantine from Cape Cod to the vessel, but that the repeated solicitations of the owners were refused, notwithstanding liberal promises of a large reward, and notwithstanding we had several vessels here unemployed." Somebody in Truro knew how to write vigorous English.

The little town which showed such spirit on the tea question, displayed an ingenuity equal to it on another occasion, during the Revolution. A British fleet appeared off-shore; the town was defenseless, except for a few militia, and the enemy seemed about to land. So the Cape Cod Yankees hit upon a device. There were sand-hills then, as now, along the coast; and the handful of militia-men, taking position behind an inner one, kept marching over it, and, hidden by a hill in front, back again, around and over the first elevation again, thus making a procession of theatrical length. The enemy seem to have been fairly cheated, for they sailed away without attempting to land.

[THE OLD MILL]

The first glance at the map suggests the question of cutting a ship-canal across the Cape. The "back of Cape Cod" is full of terrors in bad weather, and the circuit, with head-winds, is always tedious. In fact, the narrowness of the Cape at the head of Buzzard's Bay has afforded food for speculation from early times. The Plymouth colonists utilized this strip of land for a portage or carry when they set up their trading-post at Manomet. It was put to this use again in the war of 1812.

[OLD MILL AT BREWSTER, FROM THE STAGE.]

More than a hundred years ago the project of a ship-canal was seriously discussed. Very recently a corporation, not composed, we ought to state, of Cape Cod men, undertook the work. The route surveyed was about seven miles in length. An army of Italian laborers was brought on from New York, and digging was begun; but the enterprise suddenly collapsed, and the sons of Rome were left there, penniless, to shake their fists and utter Italian threats, and the town of Sandwich found itself obliged to feed the unfortunate men and send them back to New York. The project has lately been revived.

Long ago, the tempting narrowness of the isthmus gave rise in the mind of some local genius to a singular proposition. In those days, wolves made serious havoc. It would seem that Cape Cod was subject to visitations from the main-land. And so, in 1717, it was proposed to build a high fence from "Picket Cliff," on the north side of the Cape, to Wareham, to keep wolves from coming into the county ; but the lower towns, finding, perhaps, in the activity of the Sandwich farmers already a sufficient bulwark, were lukewarm, and the scheme fell through. The discussion of it, however, disclosed a certain lack of a spirit of self-denial in some of the outside towns. They objected to the fence, not wishing, they said, "all the wolves to be shut out of the county upon their limits." So, in one way and another, by the project of a ship-canal or a wolf-fence, the main-land has, from the earliest time, trembled under a perpetual menace of being cut off from Cape Cod.

The question of cutting the Cape at Eastham was once debated. It was thought, however, that the channel would be likely to be closed by the action of the sea, which often shows a mind of its own with regard to geography. The ocean, in fact, is constantly making changes in the shores of the Cape. Stage Harbor is entered by a narrow opening in a long tongue of sand. This opening has been changing its location, It was formerly in Eastham; but being of a roving disposition, as befits a Cape Cod institution, it has gradually moved to the south, and is now in the town of Orleans.

[VILLAGE STREET.]

In many places on the more exposed coast-line, the shores are slowly washing away. Where there are woods immediately on the bluff trees are often seen lying along the beach, with their uptorn roots exposed in the bank where they were undermined in a winter's gale. Sometimes, on the other hand, a storm makes beach, by throwing thousands of tons of sand upon a low stretch of coast and burying out of sight the marsh-bank. In Eastham, large stumps may be discovered nearly a mile from land, and ancient peat-meadows now lie under water. At another place in that town is a peat-meadow which was buried in remote times by sand, but has been washed out again by the waves, and fuel has been taken from it.

While there is much barren country on Cape Cod, there are in tillage, including hay lands of all kinds, eleven thousand acres, and of woodland there are some thirty thousand acres. There is good land in almost every section, and in many places there is productive soil. Even in Truro there is good farming, and in the upper towns fine crops are often raised. On the inner side of the Cape, the soil is generally better than on the outer; but there are some marked instances of profitable farming on the outer shore. The lighter soil is warm, and being free from stones it is easily worked, and there are many crops which flourish in it.The yield of English hay, by the last State census, was four thousand one hundred and seventy tons from three thousand eight hundred and fifteen acres.

It has been proposed, at different times, to dike-in the vast salt-marshes and convert them into dry land. The soil is deep and rich, and there is little doubt that, if they could be so protected, heavy crops of English hay or of grain could be raised upon them, and, as they are level and of great extent, they could, by cooperation, be tilled by machinery, like prairie farms of the West. If other avenues of activity were not freely open, it is more than likely that these meadows would be reclaimed.

The great feature in Cape Cod agriculture is cranberry raising. No other part of the country can compete with the Cape in this. Everywhere lie the cranberry meadows, or bogs, as they are properly called. They form one of the most characteristic features of the landscape. You see them from the car windows, spreading out over level acres, or skirting, with varying width, the running streams; you see them in winding valleys, far below the carriage road; you come upon them suddenly in the woods, strangely trim, rectangular clearings, darkly shut in by a dense swamp growth. The culture of the cranberry has been reduced to a science. A swamp is cleared of its wild growth of trees and bushes and leveled like a floor; six inches of clear sand are carted on, to cover the heavy bog soil; numerous trenches for the flow of water are cut ; a dike is thrown up about the field, and a brook is turned to run through it, with gates, so that the land can be " flowed" in spring to kill insects, and in the fall for protection from frost. Vines are set out at regular intervals, and spreading, they mat the ground. It costs on the average perhaps $400 an acre to transform a rough swamp into a cranberry meadow in bearing condition. One marsh in Barnstable cost $30,000. The profits, however, are large. One meadow, of two or three acres, has repaid six weeks' annual labor with $1000 a year for twenty years. Another, of half an acre, belonging to Mr. Emulous Small, of Harwichport, an expert in this culture, has yielded ninety-eight barrels in one season. A meadow of sixteen
acres, at Marstons Mills, netted in one year $ 8000, and another of forty-eight acres, at Newtown, in Barnstable, has yielded in one season, within a year or two, forty-two hundred barrels, netting a profit of eighty per cent. There are probably on Cape Cod some thirteen hundred acres of cranberry meadows, from a few rods to fifty acres in size, and the acreage is constantly increasing. The crop is from thirty to forty-five thousand barrels, worth from $250,000 to $300,000 on the ground. The picking time is an era in the year. Schools are often closed, and the boys and girls, with many of their elders, turn to gathering the crop; rakes are seldom used, for fear of damage to the berries, which are best picked by hand. The price of picking is not included in the figures given above, and on the whole a substantial amount of ready money is distributed in a thousand tiny rivulets from this industry.

There is more forest on Cape Cod, it is said, than there was fifty years ago. Extensive tracts that once were tilled have been left to run to wood, their former names still clinging to them. You will hear of a piece of woodland known as the "Thomas field" or "West New Field." A farmer dies; his sons have all left home to follow the seas, to keep store in Boston, or to practice law in San Francisco. The first year, the fields are neglected: withered stubble of the year before alone remains to tell of cultivation. Another year, a feeble crop of grass comes stealing in; another summer, unless the land is fated to remain as an " old field," you will see miniature pitch-pines all over it; another summer yet, and they are hushes; and before you can realize it, the whole field is rejoicing in a vigorous growth. Even in many of the roads you hardly leave the woods. It seems as if a chief business on Cape Cod from the time of Noah had been the making of roads. The village streets and the county highways are often wide; but there are numberless wagon roads that began existence merely as unofficial cart-paths, and by stealthy inroads gradually found favor and wound into the affections of the public until they gained recognition. They are very narrow often, and the trees meet overhead. Sometimes you are tempted to pursue such a way until it turns out a "blind road," and you can go no further, and can with difficulty turn back. In some of them it is the rarest thing we might almost say illegal for two vehicles to meet; if there is a meeting, it takes a certain Yankee planning sometimes to effect an interchange of position. But a man who has passed a score of years or more in riding up and down high-rolling waves thinks nothing of urging a wagon, loaded with cordwood or oysters, up the steepest bank, or of driving over saplings six feet high, to make a circuit.

[COMMERCIAL STREET, PROVINCETOWN.]

In many places, the woods run along the coast to the very edge of the sandy bluff. For many miles upon the southern shore, in Osterville and Cotuit, and on the headlands of Mashpee, for example, one can stroll through the pine woods on an August day and enjoy the fragrance and the dense shade, listening all the while to the steady breaking of waves upon the beach.

A wood-packet runs regularly from Cotuit to Nantucket. It is quite common for the crews of coasting vessels hauled up in the winter to turn to felling wood; in this, as in everything else, is seen a mingling of rural and maritime pursuits. Every mariner knows something of farming, and every farmer is more or less of a sailor. They tell of an action against a town for injuries from a defect in a highway, in which the distance of a certain hole in the road from the traveled path was in question. A town officer had fixed the distance by actual measurement, and the only evidence for the plaintiff was that of a man who simply gave his judgment. Nobody could guess how the plaintiff s counsel would get around the evidence of the town officer. But he was undaunted. "Gentlemen of the jury," he said, "both witnesses are honest; one of them is mistaken which is it? You all know how liable we are, in ciphering or in measuring, to make a mistake of calculation; my good friend, the selectman, probably laid down his foot-rule one time more or less than he thought, and so he is mistaken; but my witness, gentlemen, did not put his trust on any foot-rule he knew better. As you all know, he has cut more cord-wood than any other man in Barnstable County, and he can measure by his eye infallibly. About his accuracy, therefore, there can be no possible question. The selectman may be wrong; my witness can't be."

[THE TOWN-CRIER.]

The natural ponds of the Cape are among its chief charms. You come upon them everywhere. The smaller ones are much alike, except as nature loves to give to each some shy, peculiar grace. They lie for the most part in an amphitheater, and have neither inlet nor outlet. The bottom and the shore are commonly of white sand, and the water is as clear as crystal and singularly pure.

These ponds are, of course, spring-fed, and there must be an overflow through the loose upper soil by percolation. Many of them are wooded all about and to the very beach, and the trees throw out long branches over the water, and fling their shadows far on its surface. Others are surrounded by pastures divided from each other by rail fences, which project out to deep water to keep the cows of different farms separate. Often a farmhouse, with its barn and sheds, stands on the bank above the pond.

There is no rocky coast upon Cape Cod. The powerful swirl of waves into worn granite race-ways is unknown. Instead of rocks, there are long sand beaches curving as far as the eye can reach, cut, every few miles, by the opening of some little bay or harbor. There are no perils on a bold rocky shore equal to those of Peaked Hill Bars off the white Provincetown sand-hills, seizing vessels in their sunken traps and holding them there to beat in pieces. There is not a mile of coast from Provincetown to Chatham that has not stories to tell of shipwreck. In fact, the history of the whole coast line, inner and outer, of Cape Cod would be a history of disasters, from the time when the pirate ship Whidah was driven ashore in a gale, a century ago, and more than a hundred bodies were washed up on the beach.

The number of birds on Cape Cod is very great, and among them are many rare ones for the North, such as the black skimmer, or shear-water, and the Maryland yellow-throat. Mr. H. E. Chase, who spends his summers at Hyannisport, has himself counted a, hundred and eighteen varieties, and has shot and stuffed a good many of the more interesting.

The prairie warbler is often met in the pine woods. It is so bold that one can sit within a few feet of it, while it hunts for its food like the chickadees, often head down, clinging to some twig, now and then pausing to chirp. At dusk, the night-heron wings its way out over the salt-marshes to relieve the kingfisher, who has been sounding his rattle all day long from some favorite post; and as the deeper shadows gather, whip-poor-wills and owls come out from the deepest recesses of the woods.

[CENTRAL WHARF, PROVINCETOWN.]

Among the most common birds are the meadow-lark or marsh quail, the sharp-tailed finch, the red-wing blackbird, the grassfinch, the green heron, the tern or mackerel-gull, and the shore birds. They are all independent of the woods. From the peculiar position of Cape Cod, and the equalizing effect necessarily produced on the climate by the ceaseless sweep of ocean breezes, many stragglers also of northern and southern species, never seen in other parts of Massachusetts, find their way here, and some which usually pass further south have even been known to winter here.

Birds which follow the shore in their migrations consult the nature of the coast. In Eastern Massachusetts, more plainly than anywhere else, is seen the change from the low, sandy shore which marks the South to the high and rocky coast-line of the North. Such a change is sure to be noticed by birds on their migrations, for on the character of the coast depends their food. Cape Cod is, therefore, particularly fitted for a resting-place of the thousands of shore birds on their southward journey, and acts, moreover, as a barrier to Southern species wandering North in the late summer. Some years ago, a great white heron was shot near Yarmouth, and the least-bittern has been shot at Chatham.

The winter is so much milder on Cape Cod than further North, that the Wilson's snipe sometimes stay all winter around the upper, fresh portions of the marshes. Snowy owls are probably more abundant during the winter on Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket, than in any other places of the same area in New England. Monomoy Island seems to be a favorite winter resort for this owl. Hawk-owls are sometimes seen along the shore, where they often alight in the beach-grass or sea-weed. The Carolina or turtle-dove is common on the Cape, and flocks of from half a dozen to twenty may often be seen in the fields of stubble. Its nest has been found in a grove of stunted pines on the edge of the Great Marshes in Barnstable. Eagles are quite often seen on the Cape.

There may still be found between Buzzard's Bay and Provincetown the mink, rabbit, fox, raccoon, and deer. There are miles of woodland, unfenced and dotted over with ponds, where the deer still roam, and when pursued, usually escape by taking to the water. Cape Cod was one of the best Indian hunting grounds. Numberless arrowheads have been picked up on the narrowest parts, where large game was probably intercepted, and flocks of sea-birds were shot at while crossing at points which are still found to be preferred by them.

The occupation of the people of Cape Cod is chiefly maritime. Some of the towns have given their attention mainly to foreign voyages, others to coasting, others to banks fishing.

Three or four years ago a case was tried at Barnstable, in which a lawyer from a distance was concerned. Talking over the prospect of a verdict, he said that with a rural jury, who knew nothing of the world beyond their own door-yards, of course he could not expect a very intelligent consideration of the case. Some one took pains to inquire who the jurymen were, and it turned out that eleven of the twelve had been either all over the world, or pretty nearly all over their own country, as masters of vessels, or in some business of responsibility, and that the twelfth was a substantial farmer.

In view of such juries as these, it seems almost a pity that the people of Cape Cod do not show a litigious spirit and improve their opportunity. In fact, the courts have hardly business enough for exercise. Although there is wealth there, the little county having a valuation of sixteen millions, and although there is a boundless field for disputes in claims under the cranberry-flowage statutes and in fishing and beach privileges, there is in fact no litigation of any account. There are well-to-do populous villages on the Cape which probably have not furnished a lawsuit for twenty years. The population of the county is thirty thousand, and there are only five practicing lawyers. Perhaps a general familiarity with the world has had its influence in imparting a certain good-humored tact in settling controversies.

A characteristic story is told of a jury case at Barnstable. A man was tried for a violent assault. In argument, his counsel, who was from an inland county, alluded to the fact that the injured person had not called a doctor to wounds which he had described as serious, and based the defense very largely upon this. He saw no possible answer to his argument. But he did not know his ground. Judge Marston, the district attorney, afterward attorney-general of the State, was born and bred upon Cape Cod of a family of Barnstable lawyers, and he had his ready answer. "Gentlemen," he said, "you have heard the plausible argument of my ingenious young legal friend, who has come from a distant city to enlighten your benighted understandings, and you see through his sophistry. You all know Captain , the father of the victim of this assault; you know what our young friend, with all his learning, has plainly never discovered, that a man is not master of a ship for thirty years without learning how to deal with wounds, and you know well that there is no doctor on Cape Cod who can heal cuts and bruises better than the captain can. Why should he have sent for a doctor?"

The mariner's habit of thought appears in everything. A few years ago, the school committee in one of the towns decided on a change of geographies, and the superintendent of schools was besieged by publishers' agents. One of them called upon him and undertook to explain the features of his book. "I don't think you need to tell me anything about geography," said the superintendent, who was an old sea-captain, "but I will teach you something. Here is a picture of what you call a smack fishing for mackerel, and you've got her on the port tack, with sheets hauled aft, making about seven knots an hour. Now, in a mackerel boat they keep the kit on the port side, and she lays off to fish on the starboard tack, with the sheets off, the peak of the foresail slacked down, and the tiller lashed hard down." Not long after, the publishers wrote and asked him for a correct drawing, and he had a rough sketch made by a sailor who had a knack with the pencil, and sent it to them.

No one who travels through Cape Cod and visits the people in their houses can fail to notice an almost universal thrift and comfort. No other section of the State, perhaps, shows more general independence and average prosperity. There are large villages, with streets of handsome houses and bearing signs of wealth. But, to a considerable extent, the houses are in hamlets, or stand apart in lonely situations. To city people they often seem forbidding. You see a cottage, with an L extravagantly long, standing by itself upon a hill-side, by a pond, or near the beach. The outside, very likely, has never been painted; but if you enter, you are pretty sure to find substantial comfort. And if you find a welcome, it is no more than you have a right to expect in the little county which, in King Philip's war, invited to its hospitality the people of three whole towns exposed to Indian ravages. And it is a barren house that does not display some foreign treasures. No mean museum could be filled from the houses of Cape Cod. Everywhere, too, you see signs of familiarity with the sea. There are often great foreign shells on the gate-posts, or rows of shells up a front path; a wide-doored barn with haymows will have a cod-fish weather vane; from a key left in the door of a blacksmith's shop will dangle a shell, instead of a billet of wood. Occasionally, you will see a hen-yard fenced about with a seine.

[MARSHES (EVENING).]

Even the men whose work lies ashore have all been more or less at sea, and can steer and reef on a pinch. A man was hurried off a farm awhile ago to fill a gap on a coaster. He had the easy berth, and through all the heavy weather that prevailed he merely stood and hauled on deck. But when the voyage was over, and the vessel swung at anchor in the home port, and there was occasion for some one to go to the foretop mast-head, the farmer, with a twinkle in his eye, seized the ratlines and went up like a cat. He had shrewdly kept dark as to his seamanship.

The history of Cape Cod has, of course, been closely interwoven with the fate of the Indians. The titles of lands are based upon grants from them. The prices, of course, were very small. One of the early deeds runs as follows:

"AUGUST 26, 1644.

"These presents witness that I, Serunk, Indian, now dwelling at South Sea, do sell and make over unto the town of Barnstable all the sd. lands and meadows lying betwixt the bounds of Sandwich and the bounds of Prexit and other Indians, in consideration of four coats and three axes. In witness I have hereunto set my hand, the day and year above written.

"The mark of + Serunk.

ANTHONY ANNABLE,
HENRY COBB,
THOMAS ALLEN,
JOHN SMITH,
LAURENCE WILLIS,
THOMAS DIMOCK, Witnesses."


There is, however, evidence of a certain fairness of dealing, in the friendly relations which subsisted between the two races on Cape Cod even through King Philip's war. We have spoken of an old block-house, built in 1644. There were, nevertheless, no Indian forays on the Cape, and the tribes that lived there seem to have been well disposed to the white men.

The Indians figure prominently in legislation. It was forbidden to furnish them with firearms; for it had been "found by experience that the Indians, who are naturally perfidious, are abundantly more Insolent and Proud when they are furnished with English Arms." Even so dignified a man as Mr. Leverich, the minister of Sandwich, was brought before the court for lending a gun to an Indian.

It appears that there were, even in those early days, evasions of law; for complaint being made that certain persons provided Indians with guns upon the pretense that they were their servants, it was forbidden for the future to hire Indians and furnish them with arms, an exception being made in favor of such as "have been servants for divers years, and are in a good measure civilized and approved of by the Governor and assistants." It was forbidden to sell wine or strong water to an Indian, except in case of illness. It was also unlawful to sell Indians boats or casks. Idle children of the Indians were to be bound out to service. Indians, "especially young men," were, to work out their debts. Indian captives were in some cases to be sold; a runaway Indian servant was to be returned and whipped; it was unlawful for an Indian to remove from one place to another without a written permit. These provisions present the aborigines in Plymouth Colony in the position of a subject race at an early day.

There were, however, humane provisions in their favor. An act of 1643, reciting that it has been held unlawful "from our first beginning" to purchase or hire land from the natives without the magistrates' consent, prescribes a penalty for making such purchases without permission. And in 1663 it was enacted "that no man shall make any particular use of any Indian's land without leave of the court." In 1659 is a curiously suggestive provision standing incomplete upon the records:


"The Court understanding that some, in an underhand way, have given unto the Indians money or goods for their lands formerly purchased according to order of Court by the magistrates, thereby insinuating as if they had dealt unjustly with them, it is enacted by the Court that some course be taken with those whom we understand "

Were their tender consciences disturbed about these purchases?

The only Indian settlement now remaining on Cape Cod is that of Massipaug, or Mashpee. Richard Bourne, a leading man in Sandwich, stirred, probably, by the efforts of Eliot, began to labor for the improvement of the Indians here at a very early day. Through his influence, a deed of what is now the township of Mashpee was secured, and the land was set aside for a reservation. The deed is still in existence. Somewhat shorn from time to time, this territory has continued to be a home for the descendants of the Indians. Within a few years, it has become incorporated as a town, and the inhabitants now stand on precisely the footing of other citizens of Massachusetts. In 1880, Mashpee cast a unanimous vote for Garfield.

The Indians have been held in guardianship, in one form or another, until very recently. In later years, the inhabitants of Mashpee have improved their condition greatly, particularly since the introduction of the cranberry culture has given importance to their lands and brought money into the town.

There are now probably none of unmixed blood among them, although Indian names remain, and many of the people have a strongly marked Indian appearance. The names of Pocknet and Attaquin are unmistakable. Intermarriage with other races has been very common among them. Some of the Hessians who were captured in the Revolution came to Suconeset, in Mashpee, to oversee salt-works there, and married Indian girls; and their descendants may still be met with. The names of Hush (Hirsch) and De Grass came from this source. We have talked with an old seaman who, in his boyhood, knew the Hessian Louis Hirsch, who married here.

Beyond the western point of Suconeset headland, looking off to the light-ship on the Shoals and to the shining bluffs of Martha's Vineyard, lies, on the sea, a tract of neglected land called the "MacGrego Farm." It is encircled by a dike, now overgrown and not more than three feet in height, although originally six feet high. On the eastern side, where the cart-road runs, is an opening in the wall, and inside this are a few fruit-trees, now grown wild, and a bit of sward, which plainly mark the former seat of a dwelling. The "MacGrego Farm" has a story. Among the prisoners captured in the Revolution was a young fellow named MacGregor, the son of an English clergyman, who, after getting a classical education, ran a way from home, from love of adventure, and shipped on an English privateer. Being captured, he was held as a prisoner until the close of the war, and on regaining his freedom he came from Boston, with some of the Hessians, to look after salt-works on this shore, in the interest of Boston merchants. Among the Indians was an orphan girl of sixteen, tall and good-looking, called Mercy Moses. The late Captain Peter Lewis, of Waquoit, a very intelligent man, who knew both her and Thomas MacGregor in their later years, said that when advanced in age Mercy was as straight as an arrow. Some persons now living at Mashpee also knew her, among them Deacon Matthias Amos and his wife, who, before her marriage, taught school near Mercy's wigwam.

Mercy Moses had inherited this tract of which we have spoken and another parcel of land upon the sea, on Suconeset headland. Thomas MacGregor succumbed to the charms of the Indian girl, and married her, and they made their home upon the "MacGrego Farm," as it came to be called. He was a man of great bodily strength and activity; his farming was celebrated all through the region, and people used to come from other places to see his crops. About 1812, we are told, the farm was flooded by an unusual tide. Probably it was in 1815, when the tides, helped by a tremendous gale, rose so high in Buzzard's Bay as nearly to overflow the isthmus and make the Cape for the time an island, lodged a schooner in the woods, and set a sloop down like a foundling a perfectly natural foundling for Cape Cod before the door of a house. Although the tide did not flow so high in the Vineyard Sound, the MacGrego farm, low lying, was flooded; and, for fear of another deluge, MacGregor threw up, by his own labor, a dike six feet in height around the whole forty acres.

Although he staid at Mashpee all his days, and built a barn for his cattle, he himself lived in a wigwam to the day of his death. The neighboring ministers (who were probably all college-bred men) used to visit him.

Mercy MacGregor survived her husband, and died about forty years ago. The land has lately been reclaimed by her heirs, who, to make out their title, had to go back a hundred and twenty years, and prove that she was the daughter of one Jude Moses and so the sister of one Samuel Jude Moses, from whom, in different branches, they were descended. One of the most interesting things with regard to the relations between the whites and the Indians is the occasional appearance, to this day, in the Massachusetts law reports, among street-widening cases and controversies turning on steam and electricity, of suits relating to Indian titles.

[MAP OF CAPE COD.]

The descendants of the Indians have fallen into the sea-faring ways of their white neighbors, and you will find in almost every house in Mashpee a man who can tell you of voyages. It is worth while to have a chat with Solomon Attaquin, who keeps the excellent inn in Mashpee village, and to visit Deacon Matthias Amos, one of the leading men and a good story-teller, and hear this descendant of King Philip give the dramatic story of how he first heard of the late war, by the capture, in the spring of 1881, by the cruiser John C. Calhoun, of a whaler of which he was first mate, and of his romantic escape with his crew from New Orleans, by the connivance of a domesticated Southerner from Cape Cod.

Like all the rest of the New England coast, Cape Cod is becoming familiar with the aspect of the summer visitor. Where only a dozen years ago the beaches lay deserted, now the poles of sketching umbrellas are planted in the sand, and the red roofs of English cottages peep out between pitch-pines along the bluffs. For many years a number of Boston families have had summer-houses at Cotuit, and more recently city people have been establishing themselves on Buzzard's Bay, at Wood's Hole (which has attempted to become fine by changing its honest seaboard name to Wood's Holl), at Waquoit, at Osterville, and at Hyannis Port, and summer-boarders find their way to the lower towns. The bluffs of the Indian town of Mashpee have not yet been invaded.

While this current of city visitors disturbs to some extent the natural charm of simplicity of the villages, still the people of the Cape, already familiar with the outside world, are not disturbed as most communities would be; and there is every year a growing market for garden produce, and a good deal of work is brought, in one way or other, to those who need it. Osterville has gained a benefit from the summer colony in a public library, erected partly by home effort, but at the instance and largely by the generosity of Mr. W. L. Garrison of Boston, a son of the great reformer, aided by others who have summer cottages there.

[THE LIBRARY AT OSTERVILLE.]

One of the chief attractions in summer of the shore of Cape Cod, both on Buzzard's Bay and on the outer southern coast, is the exquisite climate, not particularly bracing, but cool, and remarkably equable. The prevailing breeze is from the south-west, from off the Vineyard Sound, and the harshness of east winds is seldom felt. The water, too, is warmer by some twenty degrees than at Swampscott or Manchester, for example, and the sea-bathing, on that account, attracts a good many people. And although in landscape this region has nothing like the richness of the Beverly shore, it has, nevertheless, not a little rural beauty, with a wild, peculiar charm that is all its own.

F. Mitchell

The Century Magazine, Vol. XXVI, No. 5, pages 643-658
September, 1883.