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Cape Cod and the Old Colony
Albert Perry Brigham
Geographical Review, Vol. 10 (1):
1-22. (July 1920) American Geographical Society.


VOL. X                                       JULY, 1920                                         NO. 1



Colgate University

    In this essay are offered the results of a regional study of Cape Cod and of the western shore belt of Cape Cod Bay. The region includes Barnstable County, which is practically coextensive with Cape Cod, and the eastern, or coastal, part of Plymouth County. It thus embraces the entire land circuit of the bay. On the east is the open ocean from Provincetown to Monomoy; on the south are Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds; and Buzzards Bay lies on the west from Woods Hole to Buzzards Bay village and Onset.

Cape Cod a Natural Region

    We have here essentially a natural region. All but the northern part of the Plymouth County shore belt is of glacial or postglacial origin and has characteristic surface, soil, and vegetation. The shore line, developed on frail Pleistocene materials, matures rapidly and shows a variety of changing features. The climate is distinctly oceanic, and the Cape marks, as nearly as can be designated, the place where the Gulf Stream influences meet the chilling effects of the most southern reach of the Arctic Current.

    Viewed in its human relations, the region is as much historically as physically unified. These lands were all settled by the Mayflower people or by their early successors in colonial endeavor. They all belong therefore to the Plymouth, or Old, Colony, the two being identical. The region under review does not, however, take in all of the Old Colony, which extended westward beyond the scope of this investigation and on the southwest included the sites of New Bedford and Fall River and some of the lands of eastern Rhode Island.

    The industrial oneness of the bay area is in like manner pronounced. It has always possessed a meager agriculture, although the tillage and the

* This paper, read before the Association of American Geographers at St. Louis, Jan. 1, 1920, is based on more extended studies which have recently appeared under the same title in book form through G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York.

Copyright, 1920, by the American Geographical Society of New York

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products have been of a higher order than is commonly supposed. The environmental influences and the resulting activities of the people have ever been prevailingly of the marine order but in greatly variant forms, especially as seen in the summer industry which has grown up during the past forty years.

The Physical Geography of the Region

    The unfolding and present status of the human geography form the primary aim of this paper, which might be called an essay in historical geography. The physical basis of Old Colony life will therefore be described in a brief and summary way as affording the foundation and guiding influence of the human activities.1

Its Glacial Formation

    That glaciers and accompanying agencies have been the main formative forces has been recognized from the earliest observations which came within the field of scientific geology. These were made by Dr. Edward Hitchcock, who, indeed, did not voice such conclusions in the body of his Massachusetts report, but, impelled by the then new studies of Agassiz and Lyell, included in his preface a remarkable diagnosis of Cape Cod as the terminal moraine of a glacier occupying Cape Cod Bay. In more recent years, contributions to the geology and physiography of the Cape have been made by N. S. Shaler, W. M. Davis, and also by J. B. Woodworth, who after many years of investigation has now completed an extended report upon the entire region, including the outer islands, which fall outside the present study.

    If we except the postglacial developments of alluvial, lacustrine, eolian, and shore formations, the youngest and most widely diffused deposits are of Wisconsin age. Prior to these, Woodworth distinguishes the following, from younger to older: (1) Vineyard interglacial interval; (2) Manhasset group, represented by pebbly till at Nauset Head and Jacob sands above blue clay at Highland Light; (3) Gardiner clay, at Highland Light ("clay pounds") and a few other localities; (4) Jameco gravel, under the Gardiner clay at Highland Light, old and consolidated; (5) Sankaty fossiliferous moraine sands in deep well near Provincetown and reported in well at Orleans. All of these deposits are considered to be of Pleistocene age, and no boring, well, or shore erosion around the bay has reached bed rocks belonging to older New England terranes. The characteristic thick accumulations and strong topography of the Wisconsin period are found in the Plymouth region, on all of the upper Cape, and even as far down as the town of Orleans and the southern part of Eastham. Beyond that point an older glacial topography appears as far as High Head in Truro. It consists of the

1 In the paragraphs relating to the physical history, the author acknowledges his indebtedness to Professor J. B. Woodworth of Harvard University.

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low plains of Eastham and of the higher and dissected plains of Wellfleet and Truro, all of which are in places masked by Wisconsin deposits which, however, rarely conceal the pre-Wisconsin expression of form.

Brigham map of Cape
Fig. 1祐ketch map of the Cape Cod region. Scale, 1:567,000.

    The Cape is often considered as the most northern extension of the Atlantic Coastal Plain; but, as Fenneman has pointed out, if it consists wholly of glacial deposits built above sea level on a submarine platform, it is not a true coastal plain. Such a glacial peninsula standing out into the ocean sixty to seventy miles from base to tip is, so far as the present writer knows, unique among the shore features of the continents.

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The Glacial Topography and Its Origin

    Looking more in detail at the glacial topography of the bay circuit, we find a belt of strong, morainic hills extending past Plymouth to Buzzards Bay, Falmouth, and Woods Hole. Branching at the village of Buzzards Bay, or in the town of Bourne at the base of the Cape, a range of glacial hills extends eastward, near the bay shore, through Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, and Brewster, into Orleans and Eastham. These are all Wisconsin moraines, and deposits of similar age are, as already noted, found in patchy distribution northward to High Head.

    South of the moraine, which is often unhappily called the "backbone" of the Cape as if there were a rocky axis, is an extensive outwash plain, which descends gently to the borders of Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds. This plain contains many kettle-holes, lakes, and swamps, the last-named forming the basis of the cranberry culture of the Cape. These kettle-holes were due to the presence of stagnant ice left as buried and isolated blocks in the retreat from the Nantucket and Marthas Vineyard ice fronts. Reaching from one to three miles inland from the southern shore is a series of parallel bays, which occupy outwash channels in the frontal apron and are due to submergence and invasion by marine waters. They are identical in origin with the bays indenting the southern shores of the outer islands.

    We may therefore picture the Cape Cod glacial lobe as resulting from the recession of the Nantucket lobe to the northern border of the upper, or east-by-west, section of the Cape. There the ice front stood long enough to build a massive moraine, culminating in Bourne Hill at nearly 300 feet. The sands and clays were spread out in front of it, later to be pitted by the disappearance of blocks of the older ice.

    At the same time, another ice lobe lay westward. There had been a retreat from the Marthas Vineyard front to the zone of the Elizabeth Islands. The ice deployed west of Plymouth and southward in Buzzards Bay, being therefore properly known as the Buzzards Bay lobe. Hence the Plymouth moraine is interlobate. It culminates in Manomet Hill, at an altitude of 394 feet, one of the most conspicuous landmarks on the Massachusetts coast.

    If we go to the eastern shore and look out over the waters, we find reasons for a startling conclusion which Professor Woodworth has drawn from his prolonged studies. Southeast of the Cape are the Nantucket shoals, known for centuries as a menace to navigation. From 100 to 140 miles farther east are St. George's shoals, where tradition has a tale of a ship's crew playing baseball at low tide.

    We may now recall what we know of the Maine coast, of the powerful glaciers that moved over it; of their great thickness, dominating and subduing even Mount Desert. We do not know how far a great glacial sheet invaded what is now the Gulf of Maine. To these considerations we add now a striking feature of the topography of the lower Cape in Wellfleet and Truro, namely, a series of about a dozen east-by-west channels which cross

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it with floors descending to the west. One of the most conspicuous of these is the valley of the Pamet River, so called, which is only a tidal channel extending from the bay to the Atlantic side of the Cape. These valleys were described a hundred years ago by a member of the Humane Society in indicating the positions of rescue huts which might be sought by wrecked mariners. The valleys have every appearance of having been beheaded by the western migration of the shore cliffs.

    The valleys must have been made by land streams flowing westward across the lower Cape. Whence came these streams? Let us follow Wood-worth in putting the facts together. There was a great lobe moving over Maine to an unknown distance on what is now sea bottom. The St. George's and Nantucket shoals in character and alignment might be the terminal moraine. Waters spilling from the westward margin of the lobe could make the channels that cross the lower Cape. The evidence of the South Channel lobe may not be demonstrative, but it is strong.

    We understand therefore that there were three lobes, the smallest, or Buzzards Bay, lobe on the west; the Cape Cod lobe, intermediate in position and size; and the great South Channel lobe. Furthermore, the Buzzards Bay lobe seems to have melted first, and the main drainage of the Cape Cod lobe swept across its moraine and opened the great passage at the base of the Cape which is now followed by the Cape Cod Canal. Then the Cape Cod lobe went out, or waned sufficiently for the drainage of the South Channel lobe to spill across the lower Cape into Cape Cod Bay. Such in brief outline is the origin of the deposits and land forms on and about the Cape.

Shore Line Development

    The moraines with their irregularities and the outwash plains with their drainage creases were subjected to a submergence which left the shore line sinuous and broken. The waters intruded among the hills and entered seaward ends of the drainage channels. Such were the conditions when the land took its present stand with relation to sea level. The materials of the Cape and Plymouth shores are frail and easily shifted, and therefore the maturing of the shore lines has proceeded rapidly.

    The most violent attack was on the eastern, or outer, coast, where the open Atlantic has been unhindered in its operations. The glacial headlands and promontories were cut away by powerful wave action, and the barriers and spits were brought to their present development. Professor Davis has dealt with the recession of the eastern shore line and with the disposition of the materials thus derived. It is to be remembered預nd a glance at the topographic map brings the fact out vividly葉hat the older, or glacial, part of the Cape ends northward in the town of Truro at High Head, or Pilgrim Heights. Northward and westward are ten square miles of surface redeemed from the sea in the postglacial interval and now occupied by beaches, lagoon swamps and waters, and fields of dunes.

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    The waste first removed from the outer shore, as shown by Davis, was carried northward and westward and built into a bar on the bordering curve of the harbor of Provincetown. By the common processes of wave and wind work this extension of the Cape became the inner range of dune hills, as related to the present lands in and behind Provincetown. Further recession of the eastern coast cliffs afforded material for a bar outside of the first, thus widening the dune peninsula. Between every two successive bars there was a lagoon, like Race Run of the present time, and, like Race Run, these lagoons filled rapidly, and thus successive accretions were made into continuous land. This process has continued until the dune lands are now three miles wide from Provincetown northward to the open ocean.

    The recession of the cliffs of Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro has perhaps been equal in amount to the outbuilding at the end of the Cape. Hence Professor Davis has well likened the recession of the more southerly line and the pushing out of the northerly shore to the swinging of the land border on a fulcrum, located at or near High Head. The process is not yet complete. A beacon warns the sailor from Peaked Hill Bar, now building outside the northern shore and marking further widening of the new end of the Cape.

    The rate of recession of the outer cliffs has often aroused curious inquiry. The government has lost approximately half its lighthouse site at Highland Light during a hundred years or a little more. Professor Woodworth thinks the recession has amounted to a third of a mile in the white man's time, three or four hundred years. There are reasons why the recession may not continue uniformly. It may safely be said, in a general way, that the Cape in that section has been losing width for some thousands of years and that it would require some thousands more to destroy these outer towns.

    From the human point of view the most significant result of these changes has been the carriage of the waste under the influence of wind and wave westward and southward from the great bars above described to form the magnificent hooked spit which incloses the harbor of Provincetown.

    Not all the material removed from the outer Cape has gone northward. Professor Woodworth indeed thinks that more waste is at present moving southward. The long line of Nauset beaches and dunes springs from the mainland in Eastham, shuts in the shore waters and deep bays of Orleans and Chatham, and terminates at the end of Monomoy about nine miles south of Chatham. Thus the main glacial mass is being cut back, and giant spits and bars are growing north and south, bringing the outer Cape into Gulliver's category of the "winged beheadland."2

    Similar work is under way on the bay shore, as shown by the cliffs of Wellfleet and Truro. From the western side of High Head near the Provincetown waterworks in Truro there springs a beach which carries the highway and the railway northward. This is a natural barrier save for a short distance near Provincetown, where man finished the work of nature many

2 F. P. Gulliver: Shoreline Topography, Proc. Amer. Acad of Arts and Sci., Vol. 34, 1899, pp. 151-258.

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years ago. The old East Harbor then became a fresh-water lake, with swamps under High Head on both sides. Thus an observer standing on High Head may in imagination see himself flanked by the bars and outgrowing spits, lengthening by the waste brought northward on the ocean side and on the bay side.

    Some of the bay materials have gone southward, tying to the mainland in recent decades certain islands which flanked Wellfleet harbor on the west, and the soundings show a broad, slightly submerged bar extending for several miles into the bay southwest from Billingsgate Light.

    Among other transformations of the inner shore, two localities have special interest. One of these is Sandy Neck, a dune-capped barrier which nearly incloses Barnstable Bay and the thousands of acres of the Great Marshes.

    The other locality is the Plymouth neighborhood. Here some of the waste derived in the cutting of the splendid cliffs of Manomet has been carried northward and made into the beach which incloses Plymouth harbor. Joined to the mainland in Duxbury, the Duxbury beach reaches six miles southward and ties to the mainland the glacial island of Gurnet, where are now the twin Gurnet Lights. In Pilgrim days there were two islands within this beach. One of these, Saquish, has been tied to Gurnet since the Mayflower passed into the harbor. The other is Clark's Island, where the scouting party from the Mayflower in Provincetown harbor made the first landing and spent the first Sunday on the Plymouth side of the bay. Thus these postglacial beaches shut in the combined shallow waters of Duxbury, Kingston, and Plymouth.

    The changes of the southern shore and on Buzzards Bay have been of a minor character, as was appropriate to these more quiet waters. Bars have more or less completely shut off some of the bays, and there are interesting examples of barrier beaches, cuspate forelands, sea cliffs, and tied islands, which make the shores attractive to the summer population and afford interest to the occasional physiographer under whose eyes they may fall.

Wind Work

    The main theater of wind activity is on the exposed foreland leading from the outside of High Head around the circuit of Provincetown. Here the dunes have long been observed because their changes threatened the existence of the town and the perpetuity of the harbor. Hence there is a record of about two hundred years of more or less intermittent town, state, and federal activity in restricting pasturage, in preserving the forest cover where present, in the planting of beach grass and pine trees, and in other forms of sand binding. The bibliography contains references to guide the reader who wishes to pursue this line of inquiry in connection with the geography of the Cape. Elsewhere the most conspicuous examples of eolian work are found throughout the reach of Sandy Neck and on the long succession of beaches extending approximately twenty miles from the Nauset Life Saving Station to the southern tip of Monomoy Island.

                                THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW

    Though popular impression is to the contrary, there has been little wind work of geological significance in the interior of the Cape. Occasionally the light soils of the glacial terrane have been disturbed and much sand has been swept from beaches and cliff slopes to the top of the coastal escarpments. Popular opinion has been misled here by writers professing to know, who have thought that the entire Cape was an aggregate of sand dunes.

    The lagoons, tidal flats, and salt marshes have been important in relation to mollusk and other fisheries and in the cutting of salt hay in older days. They still have potential value, in the aggregate of many square miles which may be reclaimed, as population density becomes great, and become agriculturally productive.

The Human Geography of the Region

    When the Pilgrims arrived on Old Colony shores in 1620, the region was not so much a land of mystery as has been supposed. Within twenty years there had been visits and explorations by Gosnold, Pring, De Monts with Champlain, and Captain John Smith, and both the Cape and the first home of the colonists had each received several names, including those which they now bear. For far more than a single generation European fishermen had frequented American waters, and there may have been many unrecorded visits to the Cape and visions of its shores. The conditions were hard enough for the colonists without imagining them as landing in a wilderness wholly unknown.

    More than is commonly understood, the Cape, like Plymouth, belongs to the early Pilgrim period. The month of sojourn, of exploration, of deliberation and endurance in Provincetown harbor in late November and early December links the point of the Cape forever with the major settlement on the western side of the bay. Within twenty years also an active diffusion of occupation had reached far out from the Plymouth center. This appears in the migration northward of such foremost Mayflower people as William Brewster, Miles Standish, and John Alden and the occupation of lands in the present Duxbury and Kingston, Duxbury gaining its name from the ancestral home of the Standishes in England.

    There was a still more extended migration to the south and east, for the oldest town on Cape Cod, the town of Sandwich, was settled in 1637, while Barnstable, the county seat of Barnstable County, celebrated its two hundredth anniversary in 1839. Yarmouth was contemporary with Barnstable in its beginnings and was the parent town of Harwich, Chatham, Dennis, and Brewster. Even Eastham, far out on the Cape and at first known as Nauset, was settled as early as 1647, and there were those who, unmindful of the limitations of the district, were in favor of moving the whole Plymouth colony thither. Truro was settled about 1700, and Wellfleet became a separate town fifty years later. Provincetown was merely a precinct of Truro in 1714 and did not receive separate incorporation until 1727. Thus the colonial movement passed from Plymouth down the Cape and occupied

CAPE COD AND THE OLD COLONY                           9

a century in arriving at the first resting-place of the Pilgrims. Then the circuit of the bay was complete, and the southern shore was also occupied by early settlements in Falmouth, Barnstable, and other towns.

Geographic Influences Affecting Early Settlements

    It is not difficult to find the geographic reasons for the choice of sites for Old Colony centers of population. The colonists desired a good harbor, for they expected to live in relations with the outer world. This they found behind the Plymouth beach. They found also a strip of land which had long been cleared and cultivated by the aborigines. To have built their homes in the winter, in the face of sickness and death, and to have added to their burdens the clearing of a forest for the next season's planting would have been beyond human power. There were ample supplies of fresh water, and there was timber at hand for houses and for ships. Moreover, Plymouth was in a region almost empty of savages, owing to the sweep of a pestilence some years before; and for enemies that remained, who might rally for attack, there was an isolated hill affording the best facilities for fortification and defense.. The soil, for eastern Massachusetts, was good, and there were wild fruits, herbs, and fibers.

    Other Old Colony positions offered similar, if less abundant, attractions. Sandwich is in a niche among morainic hills and has a stream for small water power and for the ascent of the herring. Falmouth is on a fertile plain at the eastern base of the moraine, close by fresh lakes and inlets from the sea. Barnstable is on good soil, by the waters of an ample bay, and counted much on the large supplies of salt hay from the Great Marshes. Hyannis is at the head of a branch of the great Lewis Bay and necessarily on the southern-shore highway. Chatham was planted in the midst of a network of protected waters, and Orleans is at the head of Town Cove, a secluded bay which admits the tides to the middle of the Cape. Wellfleet stands at the head of its great harbor, once white with sails and affording upon its wide acreage of shallow bottoms a home for large crops of quahaugs and oysters. Truro is on the tidal inlet of Pamet River, once a good harbor, then destroyed by silting, and now being re-opened by the dredge. North Truro is the old Pond Village, by a small lake in a bowl-shaped hollow, where the dwellers are protected from the fierce winds of the outer Cape. Provincetown, late in origin, has outstripped other towns of the Cape for reasons that are purely oceanic揺arborage, fishing, and the romance and scenic beauty of a marine environment.

Agriculture and Fishing the First Occupations

    The greater part of the Old Colony was covered at least with isolated settlements by 1692, the year in which the Colony was merged with that of Massachusetts Bay. This is a convenient, if somewhat arbitrary, time marker to set off the period of beginnings. Agriculture was the staple

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occupation of the colonists from the very outset. They came without even fishhooks or nets for the smaller fish, or apparatus for whales, which played around the Mayflower and tantalized the wayfarers with visions of unattainable wealth.

    The soils in Plymouth and at other places were pronounced good, even to a spade's depth of true mold in some places. The corn found in Indian caches on the outer Cape was a forecast of the ample crops of this essential grain which would be raised for many years. Twenty, forty, and even fifty bushels per acre were not unusual crops, and the Cape, even the seemingly dreary and barren Nauset, had corn enough and to spare. It was the period of home industry in which all necessities must be met out of the home soil, save as trade should provide funds for getting furniture, clothing stuffs, and other necessities from the mother country. There were no roads or white men to the westward. The Old Colony was not then required to adjust itself to a developing continent that would later stretch out behind it to remote seas.

    Though the Pilgrims did not come to fish or to sail, they were forced to do both by their marine environment. Though the Plymouth fathers "sucked the abundance of the seas," they were never very successful in fishing; but they knew the cod, the herring, and the eel, and they did not require large appliances for gathering the shellfish of the Plymouth flats when the tide was out. From the beginning and by geographic pressure more and more as the generations came and went, they became an "amphibious" people.

The Development of Whaling and the Fishing Industry in the Colonial Period

    The seventeenth century led into larger growth, along similar lines, throughout the remainder of the colonial period to 1776, the year of independence. Agriculture of the old type was continued, house industries were universal, and small mills and factories were erected. The grist mill was imperative, and within a few years of the Mayflower mills were built at Plymouth and then, to save long and laborious journeys, at Sandwich. Surface streams with suitable fall are so rare on the Cape that wind power was invoked, and the windmill became a common object in the landscape, the few surviving towers being now regarded as among the most characteristic reminders of the older days.

    Throughout the colonial period the securing of drift whales engaged the interest of all Old Colony men. To watch for drift whales was a distinct part of public duty in Plymouth, and various towns record regulations to secure private and town rights in such spoils. Readers of Thoreau will recall his diverting comments on the minister who watched the waves for this important addition to his meager salary.

    In time boat whaling, for the taking of these creatures in offshore waters, became an important enterprise. An official letter to England in 1688

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asserted the great profit of whale killing to the Plymouth colony. The Old Colony was the pioneer in this industry, even Nantucket having followed its leadership and sought its instruction. Down to 1700 Nantucket was the only place outside of the Old Colony that had whaling interests. As early as 1737, Provincetown was sending a dozen whalers to Davis Strait in the far north. At the opening of the Revolution, Wellfleet, Barnstable, and Falmouth had thirty-six whaling vessels, mostly in northern waters.

    Whaling and other fishing had reached a large development at the end of the colonial era. The Old Colony then had more than a thousand ships and more than ten thousand men engaged in the work, though Marblehead and Gloucester had taken precedence of all Cape towns. Plymouth and Chatham were the Old Colony centers, Plymouth having sixty vessels and Chatham about half that number. Thus at a time when nearly all Old Colony men were trained sailors, they were ready to take, as they did take, a large part in driving the French power from North America. Equally important was their service in the American navy in the War of the Revolution.

The Fishing Industry in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century

    This war, however, marked the well-nigh total disappearance of fishing, including whaling, from the New England shores. At the end of the war, the fishing vessels were few, but of widows and sonless mothers there were many in all Cape Cod towns. A picture of the industrial ruin the war brought to the Cape is drawn in the plea of Fisher Ames in 1789, explaining why, if fishing was so decayed and profitless, the men did not leave the region. He said, and it was no uncommon remark in those days, "they are too poor to live there and are too poor to remove."

    There was a recovery in fishing after the Revolution, which, although checked in the War of 1812, assumed large proportions in the first fifty years and more of the nineteenth century. Along with fishing grew up in the same period that vast and world-wide extension of sea trade which is one of the glories of New England history.

    If we take the first century of the federal period, we may say of Old Colony fishing and marine commerce that they reached their supreme development about 1850 and were far down in decline after the Civil War. By 1800 the Plymouth shore was lined with fishing structures, and the markets were as remote as Spain, Portugal, and the Atlantic islands. At about the same time Provincetown had no less than thirty vessels, carrying their voyages as far as Newfoundland and Labrador. Wellfleet trade was large, and even Duxbury was building ships and catching cod. There was half a century of codfishing in which most Old Colony towns had a part, yet today one may spend a week in any one of them with a good chance of neither seeing nor hearing mention of a codfish.

    With the decline in codfish in the middle of the century, the mackerel was taking its place. Wellfleet began her mackerel trade in 1826 and had seventy-five schooners in the business as late as 1860. The facts were sim-

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ilar as regards cod and mackerel in Dennis, Harwich, and Chatham. In the last place, however, nature intervened and by silting the harbor made it impracticable for cod-taking craft, while the smaller mackerel boats could still come and go.

    The great decline in fishing in the twenty-five years following 1850 was due to a number of causes. Competition of Great Lakes and Pacific coast products was made possible by railroads and cold cars, and the sardines canned on the Maine coast slackened the demand for mackerel. The introduction of seines in place of lines and hooks put the young boys out of employment, and they began to abandon the Cape. There was enforced idleness in some parts of the year, and the toll of manly life taken in those dangerous seas was so terrible that young women hesitated to marry seamen. Thus the dangers of the business, its change in technique, and the pressure of outside competition reduced the industry to minor importance.

    As a natural concomitant of Cape fishing there grew up a widespread salt industry. The Cape shores in the earlier years of the last century were lined with simple plants for the evaporation of sea water. This manufacture culminated soon after 1850. Then western and foreign salt began to contest the market; the lumber for vats, which was Maine pine, became more costly, and the business fell off. There were at one time several hundred plants with an annual output of a third of a million bushels. The last salt plant on the Cape, so far as is known to the writer, was operated in Yarmouth as late as 1885.

    Whaling also was at its maximum in the first half of the last century, culminating just after 1840. Falmouth, Plymouth, and Provincetown were all important whaling centers. For most of the towns the last recorded sailings of whalers ranged from 1846 for Barnstable to 1867 for Wellfleet. Provincetown still had three whalers in 1906, and there are today six whalers assessed in Provincetown, but they fit out and land at New Bedford.

Coasting and Oversea Trade

    The same period that saw the great expansion of fishing and whaling saw the growth of coasting and oversea trade by those swift sailing vessels that were owned in every port of the Old Colony. At the present time a single steamship plies between Boston and Provincetown, but only in summer time. Plymouth also has a summer boat from Boston. Otherwise the sea is abandoned for the train and the automobile. But conditions were very different from 1800 to the advent of the Old Colony Railroad. There were Cape residents who were at home in the Orient who had never gone to Boston by land. The packets were swift and had regular sailings from ports which today harbor only the minor craft of small fishing or pleasure sailing.

    Ships owned in Brewster, Barnstable, Falmouth, indeed in almost all the Cape towns, made voyages to the West Indies, to South America, to the ports of the Indian Ocean, of eastern Asia, and of Australia. Thirty years ago

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the villages of the Old Colony were full of retired sea captains, who lived in mansions which they or their seagoing ancestors had built. At the present time nearly all who took part in this marine life have passed away, and the mansions in Barnstable, Yarmouth, Brewster, and other villages are occupied by their descendants, either as permanent residents or as summer visitors, or have passed into other hands. The old era of Cape Cod is closed, the time when most of her men were trained to the hazardous life of the sea, were conversant with remote lands and cities, and gained the wide outlook derived from daily experience of the ocean.

The Decline of Agriculture and Fishing After the Civil War

    This great decline in the activities of the Old Colony shores took place rapidly after the Civil War. The invention of the steam engine revolutionized seagoing ships. As they became larger and could only move in deeper waters most of the harbors, being shallow, fell into disuse. The railroads brought Western commodities into competition with home products, and there was a great decline in agriculture. This was also due in part to the exhaustion of Cape soils. There are no extensive grasslands on the Caper and the production of grains is small, thus preventing the keeping of much live stock and limiting the amount of fertilizer which might have served to perpetuate the fertility of the fields. Such exposed towns as Truro and Eastham show at the present time few and small areas of cultivated land as compared with early days.

    Fishing has concentrated mainly in the larger centers of Boston and Gloucester, and the mollusk fisheries have in like manner suffered a long; decline. Provincetown in Thoreau's day was filled with drying codfish, and scores of ships served the oyster trade of Wellfleet. Proper conservation has not been applied to the preservation and development of the edible mollusks. The fathers thought them inexhaustible and treated them recklessly. The later decades have seen heavy demand and larger production, but this at the expense of almost exterminating these forms of life in some localities. The increasing paucity is shown by the fact that quahaugs are now tonged off some Cape shores at depths of fifty and sixty feet. The fishing sheds and sail makers and boat repairers are few in all Old Colony villages, and the ancient docks are falling to decay.

Decline in Population

    With the breaking up of marine business the main motive for living on this foreland has been impaired, and many of the more progressive and ambitious people have migrated to Western homes and larger opportunities. There has been a decline in the population of many Cape towns and of the Cape as a whole. The town of Truro is a typical example, having lost its marine life and not having gained as yet such compensations from summer trade as have come to a number of the other Old Colony communities. In

14                                    THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW

1800 Truro had about 1,150 persons. It moved steadily with the general marine growth and had in 1850 a population of 2,100. Then began a steady and unbroken decline until 1910, whose census record showed a population of less than 700. Provincetown, on the other hand, having 200 persons at the opening of the American Revolution, did not cease to grow until 1890, when the population was about 4,600. Then there was decline until 1900 and some recovery to 1910.

The whole of Barnstable County had 12,000 inhabitants in 1765 and grew in numbers in every decade until 1860, when it had 36,000; after that date it fell more or less rapidly until 1910, when the total was between 27,000 and 28,000.

Modern Adjustment to the Life of the Summer Resident

    It remains to observe the changes that have come in the life of the Old Colony region during the last half century, or since 1870. The fundamental condition, as in all the earlier history, has been the marine environment, but the reaction to it has been in the main of a new order. A dense and wealthy population has occupied the New England interior, the Middle Atlantic States, and the Mississippi Valley. The common needs of the coastal region are now met not by home industry but by purchase. A hotel in Chatham or Wellfleet may order even its fish and its lobsters from Boston. Cape Cod no longer derives the major part of its income directly from the sea.

    The region belongs, however, to the ocean as much as ever it did. It does not draw out its living with hook and seine or get valuable booty with a harpoon; but it has resources in wave and surf, in cool and salty winds, in cliff, dune, field, and moor, in lake and forest, in expansive views, in historic lore and patriotic ideals. It is the home of the fathers, a land of the imagination, a place for rebuilding shattered energies. These resources have become tangible; they are transformed into money; and, reluctant as the elder men may be to admit the change, the leading industry of the Cape is not fishing nor cranberry growing but the summer resident. The Old Colony in its three centuries of geographic unfolding has reached its place of adjustment in reference to the continent behind it. To fish, to catch whales, to raise corn葉hese were temporary conditions, leading up to uses to which the land is most suited and in which it may fill its largest place in the greater domain of which it is a fragment.

Localization and Specialization of Industries

    This change does not mean that the old occupations are dead. There will always be fishing and sailing, farms and crops; but these will be limited, localized, and special. There are, in place of stacks of drying fish, several refrigerator plants in Provincetown, and there is one each in Truro, Yarmouth Port, Barnstable, and Chatham. There are fish weirs at Province-

CAPE COD AND THE OLD COLONY                          15

town and Truro and off the southern shores of the bay; there are lobster traps; and the oyster, the clam, the quahaug, and the scallop are still harvested. These industries, however, are only fringes on the edge of a larger life. There are more automobiles than there are bushels of oysters in a Wellfleet season, and there are more artists than there are codfish in Provincetown. One can chaffer with a stray fisherman off the dock at Plymouth, but Plymouth is mainly at home in her Pilgrim memories and in her great factories. We may not agree in interpretation of the facts, but we recognize the great change expressed in the utterance of the now elderly daughter of an old sea king of Truro, "The Cape ain't what it used to be, its runnin' down fast."

    The writer has seen cornfields on the upper Cape which would look well in Illinois or in Iowa, but corn is no longer a staple crop in that region. Around Barnstable and in some other towns are good meadows and pastures, replacing the salt hay that was formerly much esteemed. Today, however, the piles in the marshes are going to decay, without supporting the picturesque stacks of the old time. Yet "English" hay will never be extensively grown on the light Cape soils.

    There is a notable revival of agriculture, but it takes special forms adapted to soils, climate, and the markets. The main specialties are apples and small fruits, vegetables and poultry. Dairying is and must be small and local because this industry cannot carry the heavy cost of Western feed and the pastures are inadequate. Apples thrive under modern care, and there are model orchards of fine fruit even as far down as Truro, where protected situations are utilized and scientific care is given.

The Cranberry Industry

    The great development in small fruit is in the cranberry, in which Barnstable and Plymouth Counties lead all other parts of the United States. The culture was developed on the Cape less than a hundred years ago, and all Massachusetts cranberries are often named as of Cape Cod, though Plymouth County produces more than the Cape. Like most other crops, the cranberry has seen much modern improvement in care and in harvesting, and plantations are larger or consist of many fields under one management. A single company operating in Plymouth County controls about 800 acres of bogs.

    All the natural conditions needed by this fruit are perfectly supplied in this region. The natural marshes, due to glacial blockade and the filling of shallow lakes, afford the chief requisite. The water needed for flooding is at hand, by gravity flow or by pumping, and there are ample and convenient beds of sand for sanding the bogs. In addition, the growing season is long, and the severe frosts of autumn are usually subsequent to the period of harvest. The cranberry is a nearly perfect adjustment to nature in the lands of the Old Colony.

16                                 THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW

Other Fruits and Vegetables

    The fruit next in importance, but a remote second, is the strawberry whose development was much later here than the culture of the cranberry The main center is the town of Falmouth, and the cultivators are the somewhat recent Portuguese immigrants. These newcomers have bought old farms and have cleared many fields in the oak scrub north of the main highway, where strawberries are supplemented by red raspberries and several kinds of vegetables, with some corn and beans. The markets for the berries are found locally and in Boston, seventy-three carloads of strawberries having been shipped from the Falmouth village station during the season of 1919.

    One vegetable, asparagus, is assuming commercial importance as a characteristic Cape product. The principal development is in the town of Eastham, where some large and many small fields are found, and it is extending into other parts of the Cape. There is no reason why asparagus and strawberries should not be grown in nearly all parts of Barnstable County. The cranberry does not move eastward much beyond Orleans on the outer arm of the Cape.

    Several nurseries have been established, including one forest nursery of the state of Massachusetts. Work was begun on this nursery in the outskirts of Barnstable village as late as 1913, and already the nursery has 4,000,000 trees in various stages of growth, including 2,000,000 white pines which will be ready to transplant in 1920. There is much reason in climate and soil for future progress here in the nursery industry.

Large-Scale Farming

    Some attempts have been made at farming on a large scale, with modern machinery and the use of all advanced methods. It has been shown that there are areas of productive soil, and good results have been gained. It has not been shown that such farms could ever meet the large overhead charges which could be afforded by men of wealth. Thus there is a ranch of 14,000 acres near Hatchville, the lands being part of the butwash plain in Falmouth and Sandwich. Tractors are used for clearing, modern buildings have been erected, blooded herds established, large fields of corn and other forage crops put in, and an asparagus plantation started.

    In like manner the smaller Lombard ranch at Forestdale, in Sandwich, demonstrated the existence of eighteen inches of good soil. Luxuriant crops were raised where but two years before there was oak scrub. Such work requires free use of capital. Small undertakings demand the owners' hard labor and are therefore confined to Portuguese and Finns who, with their large families, are accustomed to toil and win success in fields which the native Americans do not attempt.

CAPE COD AND THE OLD COLONY                             17


    The environment of Cape Cod Bay has never given itself largely to manufactures. Water* powers are few and small, and such industry therefore lacked the early impetus which it received in many other parts of New England. Grist mills and small woolen mills met the needs of the local people, but in the main these have disappeared. Salt was made, as we have seen, on a scale large for the times; but that industry, too, has completely passed away. At one time the largest glass factory in America was operated at Sandwich, but that was long ago abandoned, and the buildings are beginning to fall into ruin.

    Such important manufacturing centers as Brockton, Fall River, and New Bedford had grown up in the Old Colony, but these lie outside the field of this essay. The two exceptions to the general rule in the bay county are Plymouth and Sagamore. At Plymouth are immense cordage works, which bring their raw material from Yucatan in their own ships and land it on Plymouth docks. The town also has large textile and metal works; but they have not seriously invaded the historic center of Plymouth, and they do not injure the Pilgrim atmosphere or make the town any the less an alluring place of pilgrimage.

    Sagamore, in the town of Bourne, long a part of Sandwich, the oldest Cape town, offers a discouraging introduction at the gateway to those who visit the Cape expecting only rural simplicity and the solitudes of the sea. The great car shops do not seem in keeping with the marine border. But they are soon left behind with the barren wastes of the canal dumping, and the forests, marshes, sand dunes, and water vistas of the real Cape Cod begin. We may say of the factory, as of fishing and farming in the Old Colony, that it has become specialized and localized. None of the three longer stands for the main motive or leading occupation of the Cape or its Plymouth background.

Railroads and Highways

    As in every modernized region, the processes of invention, applied to transportation, have gone far to revolutionize the geography. The railways approaching Plymouth from the north and west find their terminus there. These roads run from Boston by way of Hingham and Duxbury, from Boston by way of Whitman, and from Middleboro, which is the Old Colony outlet to New York City and the South. Curiously, no steam or electric road leads along the shore to the Cape, over the first long trail which the Pilgrims most used. There is, however, a state road through the coastal forests from Plymouth to Sagamore and Buzzards Bay.

    The main highways of the older Cape were, as we have seen, on the water. Steam enlarged the ships, drove out the packets, and brought in the railway, which made water transportation unnecessary for reaching inland places or the northern shore. At the same time the advent of the

18                                 THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW

Old Colony Railroad removed the stages from the heavy sand roads of the Cape. The railway was opened from Middleboro to Sandwich in 1848, to Hyannis in 1854, to Wellfleet in 1869, and to Provincetown in 1873. The Chatham branch was finished in 1887. Woods Hole had been joined to Buzzards Bay and the main line in 1872, the year in which the various branches became known as the Old Colony Railroad. The conductor who ran the first railway train into Provincetown still lives in Orleans.

    The state roads, which are now perhaps the most marked feature of the whole region, save the bordering sea, followed upon the invention of the automobile. There is a trunk line near the northern shore and another near the southern shore of the upper Cape. These lie far enough back from the main water to pass around the heads of the numerous bays and salt marshes. Some parts of these lines are almost a continuous village, as from Barnstable to Brewster and from Hyannis to Chatham.

    Connecting roads have been built through the forests from one main line to the other across the Cape. One joins Woods Hole and Buzzards Bay along the Buzzards Bay shore; another leads northward from Chatham and, uniting with the north shore line at Orleans, becomes the trunk road of the outer Cape, ending at the Pilgrim landing place in Provincetown. Spurs of improved road lead out to the open sea in Orleans, from North Truro to Highland Light, and in Provincetown.

    The Cape is not now so much engaged in sailing ships as in helping other people to sail them. Marine maps show hundreds of wrecks off these fateful shores. The Humane Society's huts were in due time succeeded by a chain of fully equipped life-saving stations, stretching from Race Point to the southern end of Monomoy. Cape Cod light, commonly known as Highland Light, is the most powerful on the New England coast and is supported by other beacons and light ships at danger points of the inner and outer shores.

The Cape Cod Canal

    We may now recall the remarkable scourway opened at the base of the Cape by the waters from the glacier of Cape Cod Bay. Tidal waters entered it from the north and south, and from either side the lofty hills of the moraine look at each other across the gap. Plymouth colony was barely two years old when Governor Bradford visited Manomet River and saw the facility with which trade could be carried on between the two great bays. Like all great canals, as Suez or Panama, possibilities were seen long before they were realized, thousands of years for Suez, hundreds for Panama, and generations for Cape Cod. Washington was interested in the Cape Cod project, and a survey was made by a Cambridge engineer in 1791.

    Not until recent years was the canal completed, but it has already become one of the important waterways of the Atlantic coast and a part of that great system of protected channels by which communication will, in the near future, be established between our Northern and Southern shores. Already the New York and Boston boats use the inside route, and the tows of coal

CAPE COD AND THE OLD COLONY                          19

barges are less often seen from the eastern cliffs, pursuing the old and dangerous route of the stormy Atlantic and the treacherous Nantucket shoals. The saving of distance is from 63 to 152 miles for ships moving from any ports between New York and Providence to ports north of the Cape. The New York and Boston boats shorten their running time from sixteen or eighteen hours to thirteen and one-half hours. Government ownership and release from tolls would invite all, or nearly all, shipping along the coast to the safe inside route.

Evidences of Prosperity Due to the Summer Life

    The summer industry has become the dominant interest of the Cape. This may not be capable of proof in figures, but of its truth the author, after some years of observation, has no doubt. Indeed, only one resident of the Cape預nd inquiry has been made of many揺as expressed a contrary opinion. In this instance there was, it would seem, reluctance on the part of an old and honored citizen to concede that the old life of the Cape has been so largely replaced by a new order.

    There is not much winter activity, but the summer life expands in every town; in a few, whether one likes it or not, there are displays of an almost metropolitan activity. The financial returns of this industry come in by numerous and often untraceable channels. The hotels and boarding houses, the provision stores and garages could count their annual receipts and profits. We are, however, to take account of the stated and year-round outlays upon summer homes, the vast increase in taxation values, the outlay for roads, and many other things in which the Cape exchanges the boon of nature for the support of its life.

    The new growth may be marked in the increase of summer train service and more recently in the vast movements on the state roads. A single day's census in the village of Hyannis during the summer of 1919 showed that 9,000 automobiles within the day passed a given point on the main street of the town.

    The town of Falmouth in 1872 had taxation values of less than $2,000,000. The next quarter century almost quadrupled the valuation of the town, and another twenty-five years brought the figure to $20,000,000. This sum does not now appear on the tax roll owing to recent changes in the order of state and federal taxes. There is no possible source for most of this increase, other than the expansion of the summer life. Chatham about quadrupled its valuation from 1890 to 1919, and the facts are similar for some other towns. There is no apparent limit to the enlargement of summer business which may take place in the future.

    Changes in the Character of the Population The circuit of the bay has in three hundred years seen interesting changes of population. The changes in totals have already been noticed. It remains to refer to modifications of the primitive stock. The whole region is

20                                    THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW

sparsely peopled, because the soil resources are small, because it is not suited to the growth of cities, and by reason of the migration westward of the sons of the Old Colony. Barnstable County's density at the census of 1910 was 67.8 to the square mile as against 418.8 for the entire state. Plymouth County had a density of 213.8. If, however, we leave out the city of Brockton and other industrial centers of the interior, we should find that the shore areas are much like the Cape.

    Barnstable County had in 1910 a little over 13 per cent of foreign-born inhabitants, a figure so low as to be in striking contrast with Boston or any other large city of the state. Plymouth County had only about 20 per cent of foreign born, although it contains the large manufacturing city of Brockton. The foreign born consist more of Portuguese than of any other nationality. They have come from the Atlantic islands and from Portugal and represent both white and black Portuguese. The older incursion of this nationality is in Provincetown, where the Portuguese probably constitute nearly half of the permanent residents. They have spread southward into Truro. The recent Portuguese incoming has been in Falmouth, where they number perhaps 1,000, and they have spread eastward through Barnstable as far as Harwich and Chatham. They are fishermen to a considerable extent on the lower Cape but are given to the soil on the upper Cape.

    The Finns have long formed a small colony in Barnstable, and the Italians center in Sagamore and Sandwich, many of them being employed in the Keith Car Works. There are some recent comers from England and other parts of Great Britain, which fact if taken into account would reduce the percentage of the foreign born who are in any sense alien to the primitive colonial stock. Altogether we may say, and it is one of the alluring features of these shores, that here we still have one of the most American parts of America.


A few important titles are here given, with no attempt at completeness. The historical books and papers relating to the Plymouth Colony, which would afford matter of geographic value, would of themselves form a voluminous list.

Geological Material

N. S. Shaler: Geology of the Cape Cod District, 18th Ann. Rept. U. S. Geol. Survey, 1896-97, Part II, pp. 497-593.

W. M. Davis: The Outline of Cape Cod, Proc. Amer. Acad. of Arts and Sci., Vol. 31, 1896, pp. 303-332.

N. S. Shaler, J. B. Woodworth, and C. F. Marbut: The Glacial Brick Clays of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts; Ch. 2, Geology and Geography of the Clays, by J. B. Woodworth, 17th Ann. Rept. U. S. Geol. Survey, 1895-96, Part I, pp. 975-988.

J. M. Westgate: Reclamation of Cape Cod Sand Dunes, Bur. Plant Industry Bull. No. 65, U. S. Dept. of Agric, Washington, D. C, 1904.

B. K. Emerson: Geology of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, U. S. Geol. Survey Bull. 597, Washington, D. C, 1917, pp. 137-138, 208.

W. E. McLendon and G. B. Jones: Soil Survey of Plymouth County, Mass., U. S. Bur. of Soils. Washington, D. C, 1912.

CAPE COD AND THE OLD COLONY                          21

Historical and Descriptive Material

Frederick Freeman: The History of Cape Cod: Annals of the Thirteen Towns of Barnstable County, 2 vols., W. H. Piper & Co., Boston, 1869.

Timothy Dwight: Travels in New-England and New-York, 4 vols., William Baynes & Son, etc., London, 1823; reference in Vol. 3, pp. 63-106.

C. F. Swift: History of Old Yarmouth, Mass., C. F. Swift, Yarmouthport, Mass., 1884.

Enoch Pratt: Comprehensive History of Eastham, Wellfleet and Orleans, from 1684 to 1844, Yarmouth, Mass., 1844.

C. W. Jenkins: Three Lectures on the Early History of the Town of Falmouth, Delivered 1843, Falmouth, Mass., 1889.

W. C. Smith: A History of Chatham, W. S. Smith, Chatham, Mass., 1909-13.

Shebnah Rich: Truro, Cape Cod; or Land Marks and Sea Marks, D. Lothrop & Co., Boston, 1883. [Ample and thoroughgoing volume, full of lore, geographic and historic, of this town.]

James Winthrop: Journal of a Survey in 1791, for a Canal across Cape Cod, Boston Public Library Bull, Vol. 6, 1901, pp. 36-38, 73-78, 120-129.

[James Freeman:] A Description of the Eastern Coast of the County of Barnstable, etc., by A Member of the Humane Society, Hosea Sprague, Boston, 1802.

Levi Whitman: Letter to Rev. James Freeman: Account of the Creeks and Islands in Wellfleet and Observations on the Importance of Cape Cod (Provincetown) Harbor, Massachusetts Hist. Soc. Colls., Vol. 4, 1795, pp. 41-44, S. Hale, Boston.

覧覧The Cape Cod Centennial Celebration at Barnstable, September 3, 1839, of the

Incorporation of that town, September 3, 1639, S. B. Phinney, Barnstable, Mass., 1840.

Raymond McFarland: A History of the New England Fisheries, Univ. of Pennsylvania Publs. in Polit. Econ. and Public Law, D. Appleton and Co., New York, 1911.

W. S. Tower: A History of the American Whale Fishery, Univ. of Pennsylvania Publs. in Polit. Econ. and Public Law No. 20, Philadelphia, 1907.

覧覧Series of annual and special reports dealing with mollusk fisheries, Commissioners of Fisheries and Game, State of Massachusetts, State Library, Boston.

覧覧Social and Industrial Changes in Barnstable County, 27th Ann. Rept. Massachusetts Bur. of Statistics of Labor, 1897, pp. 3-104, Boston. [Highly interesting and important document.]

H. D. Thoreau: Cape Cod, various editions.

Agnes Edwards: Cape Cod, New and Old, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1918.

A. P. Brigham: Cape Cod and the Old Colony, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York,1920.

P. E. Sargent: A Handbook of New England, An Annual Publication, Porter E. Sargent, Boston, 1916; espec. pp. 554-571.

Katharine Lee Bates: Cape Cod Towns, in "Historic Towns of New England," by L. P. Powell, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1902, pp. 345-402.

Ellen Watson: Plymouth, in "Historic Towns of New England," by L. P. Powell, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1902, pp. 299-343.

E. M. Bacon: Historic Pilgrimages in New England, Silver, Burdett & Co., Boston, 1898, pp. 16-110.

E. J. Carpenter: Provincetown, New England Mag., Vol. 1, 1884, pp. 22-53.

覧覧Sandwich and Yarmouth, New England Mag., Vol. 1, 1884, pp. 300-313.

覧覧Description of Sandwich, Dennis, Truro, Eastham, and Orleans, Massachusetts Hist. Soc. Colls., Vol. 8, 1802, Boston.

Hyman Askwith: Early Explorations of the New England Coast (Old South Prize Essay, 1902), New England Mag., Vol. 28, N. S., 1903, pp. 19-32.

覧覧Cape Cod Magazine, 1915-18, three full volumes, discontinued after the early numbers of Vol. 4, Cape Cod Publ. Co., Wareham, Mass.

22                                    THE GEOGRAPHICAL REVIEW

G. W. Soper: Among the Friendly Indians of Mashpee, New England Mag., Vol. 2, N. S., 1890, p. 277.

G. M. Jones and O. G. Moles: Atlantic Intracoastal Canals: Cape Cod Canal, pp. 13-14, 37-58, U. S. Dept. of Commerce, Washington, D. C, 1918.

H. W. Henderson: A Loiterer in New England, George H. Doran Co., New York, 1919. [Several chapters on Cape Cod and Plymouth.]