An Elementary Geography for Massachusetts Children

by Wm. B. Fowle and Asa Fitz

Boston: Fowle and Capen 1845

Cape and Islands entries


map of Cape Cod with numbered towns

pages 136-142

Barnstable County was once a part of Plymouth Colony, and was made a separate county, when Plymouth County was united to that of Massachusetts, in 1685.

The whole county is a peninsula, joined to Plymouth County by an isthmus only five miles across.

The whole county is a mass of sand, covered at best by a very thin coat of soil, which does not produce enough for the consumption of the inhabitants.

The inhabitants in a great measure depend upon commerce and fishing, and are a hardy race, frugal and moral, and not unworthy of their Pilgrim ancestors.

There are few streams in the county, and the chief manufacture is that of salt which of late, has greatly declined.

Inc. 1639.]                1. BARNSTABLE.                [Pop. 4,301.

The Indian name was Mattacheeset, which nearly resembles the name of the State. Barnstable is the County Town.

The town extends across the peninsula, being from five to nine miles wide, and it contains several ponds, of which the largest is called Great Pond.

Sandy Neck, a strip of land extending from Sandwich in front of Barnstable, forms the harbor of Barnstable, which is capacious, but does not admit large vessels in consequence of of a sand bank at its entrance.

Besides the main village there is Hyannis, a good harbor at the south ; Osterville at the southeast ; and Cotuit at the west.

James Otis, a distinguished patriot just before the Revolution, was born here. He was killed by lightning when there was no appearance of a cloud in the sky.

The inhabitants are engaged in commerce, the fisheries, and the manufacture of salt.

Distance from Boston, by land, 65 miles.

Inc. 1639.]                2. SANDWICH.                [Pop. 3,719.

Sandwich was settled by persons from Saugus, then a part of Lynn.

The soil is better than that of other towns in the county, which grows more sandy and barren as it goes east, until there is hardly any verdure.

Glass, and the fisheries, employ the inhabitants.

The ponds and brooks furnish abundance of fish and game.

A ship canal across the isthmus was once seriously contemplated, the distance being only five miles.

Distance from Barnstable, 12 miles ; from Boston, by land, 53.

Inc. 1793.]                3. DENNIS.                [Pop. 2,942.

Dennis was named after its first minister ; and was formerly the eastern part of Yarmouth.

The town extends across the peninsula, North and South Dennis being on the opposite sides.

Most of the inhabitants are concerned in navigation, the fisheries, or the manufacture of salt, which last important business is said to have been first attempted in Dennis.

The soil is sandy, and the highest hill in the county is in this town.

Distance from Barnstable, 8 miles ; from Boston, by water, 60.

Inc.1694.]                4. HARWICH.                [Pop. 2,930.

Harwich once included Brewster, which was the oldest settlement of the two.

Long Pond has an outlet, called Herring River, of which some use is made for mills.

The soil is sandy, and the inhabitants are chiefly employed in the fisheries, or business connected with them.

Distance from Barnstable, 13 miles ; from Boston, by water, 75.

Inc. 1686.]                5. FALMOUTH.                [ Pop. 2,589

Falmouth is the southwest point of the peninsula, of which the Elizabeth Islands, now part of Dukes County, seem to have been a continuation.

The town contains a great number of ponds, and at the southwest point, on a small peninsula, is a good harbor, called Wood's Hole.

The inhabitants are somewhat extensively engaged in the whale and other fisheries, and in the manufacture of salt.

Distance from Barnstable, 22 miles ; from Boston, by land, 71.

Inc. 1639.]                6. YARMOUTH.                [Pop. 2,554

Yarmouth extends extends across the peninsula, and has a harbor on each shore, they being about 4 miles apart.

The soil is light and sandy, and much of the land begins to look desert, being unfenced.

The people are extensively engaged in the manufacture of salt, and in the fisheries.

There are several ponds from which a small stream called Bass River issues, and runs south.

Distance from Barnstable, 4 miles ; from Boston, by water, 60.

Inc. 1763.]                7. WELLFLEET.                [Pop. 2,377.

Wellfleet was formerly the north part of Eastham, and extends across the peninsula.

From this town to the extremity of Cape Cod, is a range of Hills, all composed of sand except one, which is of solid clay, and on the seashore.

The town has many ponds among its sands, and the harbor is a good one for small vessels.

The fisheries, and the manufacture of salt, employ most of the inhabitants.

Distance from Barnstable, 33 miles ; from Boston, by water, 60.

Inc. 1712.]                8. CHATHAM.                [Pop. 2,334.

Chatham was called, by the Indians, Monamoy.

Between the sand-hills are numerous ponds, and one hill, called Great Hill, is a prominent object from the ocean.

A spit of land, proceeding from Orleans, forms a considerable bay north of Chatham, and defends both Orleans and Chatham from the ocean.

This spit is evidently extending southwardly, and the sand has gradually been filling up the harbor of Chatham.

Though the soil is mere sand, the town is thrifty, the people being largely engaged in commerce, the fisheries, and the manufacture of salt, from sea-water, as usual, by evaporation in the open air.

Distance from Barnstable, 22 miles ; from Boston, by land, 77.

Inc. 1727.]                 9. PROVINCETOWN.                [Pop. 2,122.

Provincetown was originally a part of Truro. It lies at the very extremity of the peninsula, forming a sort of claw, to an arm, which the county is said to resemble in form.

The town is composed of sand-hills, but the harbor is large, deep, safe, and of so great importance to mariners, that the Government of the United States has expended large sums in its improvement.

The May Flower, that brought the first freight of pilgrims to New England, put in here before proceeding to Plymouth ; and here the pilgrims signed a form of government, and chose a governor.

Some years after its settlement the town was almost abandoned by its inhabitants, but, after the Revolutionary War, it revived.

The inhabitants are extensively engaged in the fisheries, and in the manufacture of salt.

Distance, in a straight line from Barnstable, 30 miles ; from Boston, by water, 50, and by land, 116.

Inc. 1797.]                10. ORLEANS.                [Pop. 1,974.

Orleans was formerly the south part of Eastham.

The town is very irregularly shaped, has a small harbor on Massachusetts Bay, and an agreeable arm of the sea, called Pleasant Bay, at the southeast.

The soil is sandy and barren, and the inhabitants are engaged in the fisheries, and the manufacture of salt.

Chatham Beach, a long spit of land, extends south about 12 miles, and its annual increase, by the action of the Atlantic Ocean, has been calculated.

Distance from Barnstable, 20 miles ; from Boston, by land, 85.

Inc. 1709.]                11. TRURO.                 [Pop. 1,920.

The Indian name of Truro was Pamet. It is situated at the northern part of the peninsula, and is so sandy that little or no verdure is ever seen.

Near the light-house is a singular hill of clay, called the Clay Pounds, because, it is said, many vessels have been pounded to pieces against it.

The inhabitants are engaged in the fisheries, and in the manufacture of salt.

Distance from Barnstable, 42 miles ; from Boston, by land, 109.

Inc. 1803.]                12. BREWSTER.                [Pop. 1,522.

Brewster, formerly the north parish of Harwich, was named after William Brewster, the venerable elder, who acted as minister to the Plymouth Pilgrims.

Notwithstanding the sandy soil, Brewster has a water power, supplied by several ponds, sufficient to turn several mills.

The town does somewhat in the manufacture of salt, and in fishing, but many of its citizens sail from other ports.

Distance from Barnstable, 16 miles ; from Boston, by water, 69.

Inc. 1646.]                13. EASTHAM.                 [Pop. 955.

The Indian name of Eastham was Nauset, and the sea beach still retains the name.

Eastham originally was owned by Plymouth, and included Wellfleet and Orleans.

The ravages of the ocean on the coast are distinctly seen, and the sand-hills are constantly increasing in height.

The manufacture of salt, and the fisheries, give employment to the inhabitants.

Distance from Barnstable, 23 miles ; from Boston, in a straight line, 68.


Besides the towns in Barnstable County, there is a tract still belonging to the Indians, and called Marshpee.

This tract is situated between Barnstable, Sandwich, and Falmouth, is full of ponds, and a pleasant residence for the few descendants of the natives, who once swarmed in that vicinity.

The Indians, in part, govern themselves, and are under the special care of the Legislature of the State.

Distance from Barnstable, 12 miles ; from Boston, 65.


map of Duke's and Nantucket Counties

pages 143-145

Duke's County, which at first included Nantucket also, was so named in honor of the Duke of York, to whom the king had granted New York, and who claimed theses islands as under his jurisdiction.

Thomas Mayhew, the first proprietor, and an early settler, was the Governor from 1641 till 1644, from which time, till 1664, the islands were dependent upon Massachusetts. In 1644, they were restored to New York, and continued so until 1692, when they were permanently annexed to Massachusetts.

Duke's County now consists of the Island of Martha's Vineyard (V) ; Chappaquiddick (4) ; No-Man's Land (5) ; and the Elizabeth Isles (6, 7, 8, and 9).

Martha's Vineyard, the principal island, contains three towns, being about 19 miles long, and, on an average, 5 miles broad.

It was so named by Gosnold, its discoverer, but what Martha it was named for does not appear. The Indian name was Capawok, or, as some think, Nope.

Chappaquiddick (4) belongs to Edgartown.

No-Man's Land (5) feeds a few sheep and belongs to Chilmark.

The Elizabeth Islands, 16 in number, were named by Captain Gosnold, after Queen Elizabeth. The chief of them are :--

Nashawn (6).

Nashawenna (7).

Pasque (8).

Cuttahunk (9).

The other islands are very small, and the largest only contains a few families, and affords pasture for a few sheep.

When first settled by the English, Martha's Vineyard was well peopled with Indians, who all became so far Christians as to remain quiet during Philip's War, in which the Indians of the main land generally took a hostile part.

Inc. 1671.]                1. EDGARTOWN.                [Pop. 1,736.

Edgartown, being the oldest settlement on Martha's Vineyard, has also been called Old-town. It lies at the west end.

It was settled in 1641, but not incorporated till 1671, while belonging to New York.

The strait which separates the town from Chappaquiddick Island, forms one of the best harbors in the United States.

The inhabitants pay some attention to whaling, and to the manufacture of salt, and many articles of wool.

Distance from Boston, by the way of New Bedford, 80 miles.

Inc. 1671.]                2. TISBURY.                [Pop. 1,520.

Tisbury occupies the middle part of Martha's Vineyard.

In an inlet of the sea, at the north, is an excellent harbor called Holmes's Hole.

The inhabitants raise many sheep, and manufacture some salt, shoes, hats, &c.

Distance from Boston, by the way of New Bedford, 75 miles.

Inc. 1714.]                3. CHILMARK.                [Pop. 702.

Chilmark occupies the west end of Martha's Vineyard, and includes the isle of No-Man's Land and the Elizabeth Isles.

The highest land on the island is in this town, and terminates in a cliff, called Gay Head, because of the gay appearance given to it by the stripes of variegated clay and sand of which it is composed.

The land around Gay Head still belongs to the remnant of Indians settled on it, and the cliff is extremely interesting to Geologists, from the fossil remains of whales, sharks, crocodiles, and other animals, belonging to 'the world before the flood,' that are found in it.

Distance from Boston, by the way of New Bedford, 75 miles.


pages 145-146

The County of Nantucket is composed of Five Islands, only one of which (N) is of any importance.

The main island is about 15 miles long, and, on an average, about 4 miles wide, the soil being low and very sandy.

Nantucket Island has a somewhat triangular or three-sided form, the northeastern angle being called Sandy Point ; the southeastern, Sancoty Head ; and the western, Smith's Point, near to which is Tuckanuck Island, with the other small ones belonging to the county.

Inc. 1687.]                NANTUCKET TOWN.                [Pop. 9,012

The town of Nantucket (marked n) is situated at the west end of a sort of bay, on the north side of the island, and there are few other houses, except at the small village of Siasconset (S) at the eastern end of the Island.

The harbor is capacious and safe, but a bar of sand before its mouth prevents the entrance of large vessels unless they are buoyed up or unloaded.

The great business of Nantucket is the whale fishery, which was first introduced in 1690, by a whaleman from Cape Cod, and was long carried on in boats near the shore. As the whales gradually retired from the coast, the enterprising islanders pursued them to the most distant seas.

Thomas Mayhew obtained the first grant of this island in 1641, and Thomas Macy was the first settler, in 1659. In 1695, after Duke's County, in which Nantucket was included, was taken from New York and given to Massachusetts, Nantucket was made a separate county.

The town, under the name of Sherburne, was incorporated in 1687, but after 1795, the Indian name, Nantucket, was given to the County, Island, and Town.

Distance, in a straight line from Boston, about 90 miles ; and by the way of New Bedford, about 107.

19th century Cape Cod, main page