Cape Cod History home page
17th to 20th century documents
posted May 2006

from JSTOR

1933. Colonial Architecture of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Alfred Easton Poor
1933. Cape Cod Ahoy!, Arthur Wilson Tarbell
1935. Geography and Geology of the Region including Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islans, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, No Man's Land and Block Island, JB Woodworth & Edward Wigglesworth
1937. Along New England Shores, A. Hyatt Verrill
1943. Boston Looks Seaward. WPA
1946. Blue Water Men and Other Cape Codders, Katherine Crosby
1947. A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod, Edward Rowe Snow

    also, a review of Kittredge's Mooncussers of Cape Cod, 1937

Colonial Architecture of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard

Review Author: Henry C. Kittredge

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Jun., 1933), 392.

Colonial Architecture of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. By Alfred Easton Poor. (New York: William Helburn. 1932. Pp. 135. $8.50.)

Builders on Cape Cod will do well to peruse at length this admirable collection of photographs of houses on the Cape, Nantucket, and the Vineyard as an antidote to the amorphous bungalows that have recently become the fashion. Mr. Poor's book includes pictures of old houses of almost every type, from the Jorgenson house in Dennis (Plate 2), a typical, one-story Cape cottage, where Captain Daniel Howes lived for more than ninety years, to the mansions built on whale-oil in Nantucket. Even the humble, necessary barn has its place in the collection, and an old windmill or two for lovers of the picturesque. Specialists will enjoy the scale drawings of fireplaces, doorways, and windows which are included at the end of the book.

It is, perhaps, unkind to mention omissions in so generous a collection as Mr. Poor's, but one looks in vain for the Captain Joseph Atwood house in Chatham (almost the only remaining example of a gambrel roof since Captain James Baxter's house in Barnstable burned a generation ago) and for the Isaac Dillingham house in West Brewster, a very early specimen of the graceful salt-box type. More serious than his omissions are Mr. Poor's geographical inaccuracies. The Jacquelin cottage (Plate 5), which is credited to Barnstable, was not built on the Cape at all, but was moved there quite recently from somewhere in the Plymouth woods; the fine two-story house shown in Plate 33 is not in South Yarmouth but in Yarmouthport; "near Barnstable" is too cautious for the salt-box house on Plate 20—it is in Barnstable; and the nearest old mill to Truro (Plate 54) is in Eastham, two towns away. However, these slips are of no concern to the general reader, who will turn the pages of this book with delight and, if he is wise, with profit as well.

Henry C. Kittredge.

Cape Cod Ahoy! A Travel Book for the Summer Visitor

Review Author: H. C. Kittredge

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Mar., 1933), 183.

BOOK REVIEWS                        183

Cafe Cod Ahoy! A Travel Book for the Summer Visitor. By Arthur Wilson Tarbell. (Boston: A. T. Ramsay and Company. 1932. Pp. 342. $2.00.)

The title of this book strikes the keynote of the whole volume: it is breezy, flippant, and superficial — light fare for the casual automobilist. Though it contains a great deal of information about the past and present of the Cape, it reveals none of that underlying serenity and leisureliness of the inhabitants, which is one of the great charms of the region. Tarbell, in the course of his twenty summers at Chatham, must have discovered that Cape men move at a restful temfo, but he does not permit his readers the same peaceful pace. Town by town they are rushed down the north side of the Cape and up the south, until they are left breathless at Falmouth, wondering what it is all about.

This effect of haste is owing, at least in part, to the forced transitions which, instead of smoothing over the jolts between topic and topic, serve rather to prevent the reader from pausing for a contemplative moment at the end of one section before proceeding to the next. No phrase, however dexterous, can bridge the gulf between the statement that the Eastham parson's salary in 1662 came from drift whales and the item that Marconi sent his first wireless message across the Atlantic from Wellfleet in 1903. Those who take interest in the vanished shipmasters, furthermore, will not like the author's calling Captain Frederick Howes' double topsail rig a "jib hank," nor will they approve of his giving Captain John Kendrick the credit for discovering the Columbia River.

However, Tarbell deserves praise for the great fund of information that he has collected, even if we disapprove of the manner in which he has presented it. He has told the truth, too, about such important matters as the pronunciation of Chatham and Highland Light and has caught perfectly the bleakness of the outer beaches in the line, "Melancholy and loneliness hover over Monomoy." A newcomer to the Cape may read the book with profit.


Geography and Geology of the Region including Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islands, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, No Man's Land and Block Island

Review Author: Henry C. Kittredge

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Jun., 1935), 284-286.


Geography and Geology of the Region including Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islands, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, No Man's Land and Block Island. Memoirs of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College. Volume lii. By J. B. Woodworth and Edward Wigglesworth. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Printed for the Museum. 1934. Pp. xvi, 322; 38 plates. $15.00.)

This book begins with a scholarly account of the general geology of Cape Cod, the Elizabeth Islands, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, No Man's Land, and Block Island. There follow detailed studies of each of these areas. The whole is a very thorough piece of work, including erudite comment on the findings of earlier geologists as well as the matured but never dogmatic opinions of the authors themselves. This complete lack of dogmatism is, indeed, one of the striking characteristics of the volume — a good indication of its genuine scholarship.

Such a book is necessarily so technical as to make hard reading for the uninitiated; but to offset this difficulty, the authors have prepared a remarkable set of geological maps of all parts of the region, so colored and carrying such clear legends, that any one can grasp at a glance the general story of the glaciers' work. The bay shore of the cape, for example, from Bourne to Orleans and as far south as the wooded ridge that runs east and west along it, is composed of material deposited during the Wisconsin stage of glacial activity, by the Cape Cod Bay glacier, on top of older Pleistocene foundations. All the territory south of this ridge consists of sand and gravel washed out from under this glacier by rivers of melting ice and spread out in a gentle slope to the waters of Nantucket Sound.

The rest of the cape, from Orleans north to Truro, was formed, on earlier Pleistocene foundations, by the action of this glacier operating on the west, and outwash deposited by streams flowing west from under the South Channel glacier that lay off what is now the back side of this part of the cape.

The tip of the cape — Provincetown and the northerly fringe of Truro — is not glacial at all, but is composed of sand washed off the back side of Wellfleet and Truro by the sea and carried north. It was almost immediately bent west by the easterly gales, then south by the north-easters, until it formed the hook that to-day encloses Provincetown Harbor. Equally clear are the maps and text that explain the geology of Nantucket and the Vineyard, Block Island, and the Elizabeth Islands.

The process was, of course, not so simple as this, nor can the story of it be so simply told. Each of the earlier stages of glacial activity played its part in building the foundation for the deposits of the Wisconsin stage of glaciation — the visible part of the cape's surface to-day — and each of these earlier periods is explained fully and in a masterly fashion.

The many ponds that dot the cape were created by great blocks of ice which, settling into depressions left by earlier ice invasions, lay unmelted until after the rest of the glacier had vanished. When they finally did melt, the surface water flowed into the cavities left by them, and the ponds that we see to-day are the result. The picturesque chain of hollows along the east coast of Truro and Wellfleet — Dyer's, Harding's, Newcomb's, and Cahoon's hollows — were formed in the same general way by the melting of isolated glacial fragments.

There is a good account of Cyprian Southack's crossing of the cape by water in 1717 along what is now the Orleans-Eastham town line, via Boat Meadow Creek, Jeremiah's Gutter, Town Cove, and Nauset Harbor, on his way to take possession of what was left of the wrecked pirate ship Whidah on the Wellfleet beach. The authors agree with Townshend that Southack was not the only man to use this route, but that it was frequently followed by small craft until it was blocked by the great storm and tidal wave of October 20, 1770. They even suggest that Pamet River in Truro may at one time have furnished a passage across the cape for small boats, a conjecture in which, so far as this reviewer is aware, they are alone.

The extent to which the cape was once wooded is indicated not only by the statement that submerged stumps of large trees have been reported off both sides of it, but also that Yarmouth, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro formerly yielded peat in considerable quantities. We are told, in fact, that in all probability, fresh swamps containing peat lie under all the salt marshes on the cape.

The authors give careful information in regard to the postglacial changes in the shore line of the cape, the most extensive of which have taken place along the outer beach from Provincetown to Chatham. Just as Provincetown was composed of material dislodged from this coast and swept north, so the long barrier beaches of Nauset and Monomoy, that protect many miles of upland from further incursions of the sea, were washed into place by the sweep of the north-easters, aided always by the southerly set of the tide along this stretch of coast. Webb's Island, which is said to have lain several miles off-shore south-east of Chatham, and to have been demolished by the sea, the authors believe was actually adjacent to Monomoy Beach and formed an integral part of it. In this opinion they are in general accord with both Smith and Nickerson. The authors estimate that at the time when the formation of Provincetown was begun — perhaps twenty-one hundred years ago — the outer beach lay two miles east of its present position. They suggest that at the same rate, the cape between Orleans and Wellfleet will have vanished in three thousand years.

The beaches thus formed by the sea have further affected the appearance of the cape by furnishing the sand for its miles of dunes — one of the most characteristic and picturesque features of Cape Cod to-day. On-shore winds, carrying the loose beach-sand before them, pile it up inland and continue to sport with it, twisting it this way and that as season follows season until one never knows from year to year what spot may be a sand hill and what a hollow between two dunes.

A remarkable series of photographs of these beaches and dunes, together with views of marsh and rolling moraine, conclude this sumptuous volume. It is not for an amateur to comment on the accuracy of its geological findings — the reputation of the authors should be enough to vouch for that; but one will travel far before finding a geological work in which maps and drawings so clearly illustrate the statements of the text, or in which science and art are so beautifully blended in illustrative photographs.

Henry C. Kittredge.

Along New England Shores

Review Author: Henry C. Kittredge

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Jun., 1937), 393.


Along New England Shores. By A. Hyatt Verrill. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1936. Pp. xxi, 298. Illustrated. $3.00.)

This is something like a guide-book for the towns along the New England coast from Greenwich to Eastport. It contains fragments of history, many legends, and some statistics, but the book is unworthy because grossly inaccurate.

The author says, for example, that the remains of Viking walls at Provincetown indicate that Leif Ericson landed there. An old cellar-hole is the foundation for this exploded theory. He tells us that Champlain landed at Chatham in 1696. The correct date is 1606. No meeting-house in Barnstable was ever floated across the bay from Scituate. Ships' figureheads do not stand beside the doorways of Cape Cod houses, nor do the inhabitants fence their chicken yards with fish nets. It was not Orleans, but Wellfleet, that specialized in whaling; the Somerset was wrecked in 1778, not early in the eighteenth century; the Mary Anne, captured by Bellamy, was an Irish pinkie, not a Yankee whaler; and the Whidaw was wrecked on the back side of Wellfleet, not on the bay shore. It was Yarmouth, not Truro, that taught whaling to the Nantuck-eters; Provincetown's two main thoroughfares are Commercial Street and Bradford Street, not Front Street and Back Street. And it would be illuminating to learn against which old Cape Cod cottage the frozen spume vollies like musketry in every winter storm.

Equally overdrawn is Mr. Verrill's picture of Bath as a city full of old houses "furnished exactly as they were a century ago," with whale teeth, walrus tusks, tropical shells, and priceless antique furniture. To mention another error or two in the chapters that deal with Maine, shipbuilding there was killed quite as much by the collapse of the natural ice industry as by the advent of steam; and ex-Governor Gardiner's house at Phips's Point, in the Kenne-bec, contains not even a splinter of old Sir William's dwelling.

It is unfortunate that typographical errors occur in such important names as Captain Josiah Cressy and Nathaniel Bowditch. The former appears as Crossy; the latter as Boditch. The book has neither bibliography nor index.

St. Paul's School.                                           Henry C. Kittredge.

Boston Looks Seaward. The Story of the Port, 1630-1940

Review Author: Henry C. Kittredge

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Jun., 1943), 322-324.

Boston Looks Seaward. The Story of the Port, 1630--1940. American Guide Series. Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in Massachusetts—Sponsored by the Boston Port Authority. (Boston: Bruce Humphries. 1941. Pp. 316. Illustrated. $2.75.)

Here is the whole story of the port of Boston from its beginnings up to 1940. The book deals with the very early and lucrative rum-slave-and-molasses trade to Africa and the West Indies; with the fisheries, for which Boston has been famous for three hundred years; with pre-Revolutionary whale oil, lumber, and rum exports; with the ruin that came with the Revolution and the depression that followed it, until, first through coasting and then through the tremendous voyages of the Northwest fur-traders, Boston merchants recaptured prosperity. The authors tell next of Neutral Trade with warring Europe and increasing difficulties with the French which led to Jefferson's Embargo of 1807, and of the hard times which lasted until after the War of 1812. Then, we learn, Boston merchants were at work again with voyages of various kinds, from coastwise trade in little steamers to voyages through the Mediterranean to Smyrna.

A lively chapter covers the era of the clippers and their races round the Horn to San Francisco. The depression of 1857 and the paralysis of trade caused by the Civil War come next, and the slow decline of Boston as a seaport after the War. This decline, we are told, was owing to lack of ships and an insufficiently aggressive railroad policy. An appendix provides tables of appropriate statistics.

The book is painstaking and complete, but it is marred by an arrangement which distributes the same topics in widely scattered subdivisions covering short periods. There are, for example, six separate sections on the fisheries and four on shipwrecks. The result is incoherence.

The compilers, wisely and properly, have drawn heavily on Morison's Maritime History of Massachusetts, but they have not always been accurate in interpreting it. It was one thing, for example, for Thomas Perkins, William Sturgis, Daniel Sargent, and other Boston merchants to attend the Hartford Convention in 1814; it would have been quite another if, as the compilers of this volume declare (92), these men had voted that New England should withdraw from the Union, something which Morison nowhere asserts. What these merchants did was to vote that the convention be held, not that New England should secede.

Further confusion results from the authors' inconsistency in regard to naming the birthplaces of shipmasters and merchants. Captain Josiah Cressy, for example, is very properly mentioned as hailing from Marblehead, Captain N. B. Palmer from Stoning-ton, and Captain William Sturgis from Barnstable. The reader is thus led to infer that those whose birthplaces are not mentioned were Bostonians. But in fact, Captain Isaac Freeman was of Eastham, Elijah Cobb of Brewster, Daniel Bacon of Barnstable, Edmund Burke and Henry Atkins of Truro, John Kendrick of South Orleans, and Osborn Howes of Dennis.

The authors are not always accurate, either, in their accounts of the voyages of the clippers. They say, for example (132), that Captain Richardson, of the Stag Hound, beat the Sea Serpent from San Francisco to China in 1851, and was in turn beaten by the Swordfish from China to New York. But the fact is that since, between San Francisco and China, Captain Richardson lay at Manila for three weeks, taking in cargo, he could hardly have been racing anybody. From Canton to New York he raced not the Swordfish but the Sea Serpent, and beat her by six days.

These, however, are small matters, and of little consequence to the general reader. A more serious fault is the absence of any indication of sources, either through footnotes or bibliography, an omission which seriously impairs the historical value of the book. The index, too, is incomplete.

Henry C. Kittredge. St. Paul's School.

Blue Water Men and Other Cape Codders

Review Author: H. C. Kittredge

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Dec, 1946), 545-547.

Blue Water Men and other Cape Codders. By Katharine Crosby. (New York: The Macmillan Company. 1946. Pp. 288. Illustrated. $3.50.)

About twenty years ago, when Miss Crosby was on the staff of The Cape Cod Magazine, she spent considerable time driving up and down the Cape, interviewing such of its citizens as could give her local anecdotes suitable for sketches in the magazine. These have now been collected and expanded, and the present volume is the result.

By and large they give an agreeable and accurate picture of the Cape and its people at the time of Miss Crosby's sojourn. She has drawn an excellent contrast between the upper and the lower Cape — a truthful distinction that will leave both regions happy — and she has differentiated correctly between the north and south sides of the upper Cape. Most of the men with whom she chatted are now dead, a fact which gives an added value to her reports of their conversations. Alfred Crocker told her of his experiences as mail clerk in the early days of the Old Colony Railroad and gave her other entertaining items. Captain Ansel Lothrop talked about his years at sea as master of the ships Conqueror and Agenor; and three other retired shipmasters, Captains C. Howard Allyn, of Hyannis, Thomas Hall of East Dennis, and Samuel Harding of Chatham, were equally accommodating. In Eastham Miss Crosby heard some good whaling stories about Captain Edward Penni-man from his son and recounts them in lively style. These passages comprise by far the most interesting and important parts of the book and it is not Miss Crosby's fault that there were not more captains alive to tell her more stories.

Collectors of Sandwich glass will enjoy the pages on that subject, and those who are interested in architecture will follow Miss Crosby with pleasure as she inspects various old houses from the Canal to Provincetown. She should know better, though, than to suggest that the bowed roofs which are found on a few houses are the result of using ribs from wrecked vessels for rafters (pp. 7, 43). Anyone who has ever tried to extract a rib from a wreck will understand the objection to this theory. However, Miss Crosby holds no brief for it. The reason which she gives for the characteristic reserve which she found in many of the citizens is hardly convincing. She ascribes it to resentment caused by novelists who "have invented a grotesque Cape type" (p. 10). But this reticence toward newcomers existed long before anyone ever wrote a novel about the Cape and is, in fact, a ghost of the old and necessary caution which led to the practice of warning out strangers. Not everyone, by any means, was deemed fit to settle in the Cape towns. Applicants were scanned with the greatest care and unless they passed inspection by the authorities they were officially warned out. Cape men and women, therefore, came honestly by the exclusiveness which Miss Crosby observed. It is a direct descendant of the old precautionary custom.

Miss Crosby takes her history lightly, which is the privilege of so lively a reporter, but the result is occasional inaccuracy. Captain William Burgess, for example, died while in command of the clipper ship Challenger, not the bark Speedwell, and after his death his widow navigated the ship from the Chinchas to Valparaiso, not from Valparaiso to Sagamore Harbor (p. 26), which could not shelter anything bigger than a trap-boat. Wolves did not stray down to the Cape (p. 27); they lived there. And anyone who writes about Blue Water Men should know that Captain John Kendrick of the Columbia (p. 207), pioneer trader in sea-otter fur, was killed by accident in the Pacific. But Miss Crosby has not tried to write a history. She has tried instead to sketch a number of places and a variety of people, and in this she has succeeded. Her book is sprightly and entertaining.


St. Paul's School.

A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod

Review Author: H. C. Kittredge

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Mar., 1947), 130-131.

A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod. By Edward Rowe Snow. (Boston: The Yankee Publishing Company. 1946. Pp. 413. Illustrated. $3.75.)

Mr. Snow is well known as a writer about the New England seaboard. Since 1935 he has published The Romance of Boston Bay; Storms and Shipwrecks of New England; Pirates and Buccaneers of the Atlantic Coast; and Famous New England Lighthouses. In the present volume he gives an account of a seven-week visit to Cape Cod in the spring of 1946, taking the reader with him on foot from Provincetown up the Cape to the Canal.

Like most of the recent books about the Cape, this volume combines sketches of living men and women with flashbacks into history; but unlike the others, it specializes in shipwrecks, a topic which Mr. Snow knows well and which constitutes by far the most significant feature of the book.

Though more accurate than most contemporary writers about Cape Cod, Mr. Snow is sometimes at fault even in his own field. His map (folded loose in the volume) puts the wreck of the Whidaw at Eastham instead of at Wellfleet, and shows beams of light shooting from the Sandy Neck lighthouse, which had been dismantled a number of years before. A moment's reflection would have convinced him, furthermore, that the wreck of the Almira in Dennis had nothing to do with the building of this lighthouse (p. 250); a dozen beacons could not have saved her. Mr. Snow has also fallen into the old error of giving Captain John Kendrick the credit for discovering the Columbia River and circumnavigating the globe (p. 367), neither of which things he did. If our author had stayed on the Cape longer, he would have become aware of the strong feeling between village and village in the same town and would consequently have refrained from arousing the indignation of Cen-terville by naming Barnstable as the home of Captain Josiah Richardson (frontispiece). A glance at the excellent map which Cham-plain made of the Chatham region in 1606 would have saved Mr. Snow from an erroneous conjecture about the shoreline of the town (p. 158). And he would be hard put to it to prove that Captain Ebenezer Sears took the first American vessel around the Cape of Good Hope (p. 206).

But enough of minutiae; the book has many virtues, chief among them being the enormous amount of information that Mr. Snow collected in so brief a sojourn, and which he presents in so lively a fashion. The volume is full of enthusiasm yet free from sentimentality—a combination as rare as it is welcome. It is a buoyant and vigorous chronicle and it will give honest pleasure to many readers.


St. Paul's School.

Mooncussers of Cape Cod

Review Author: Karl Schriftgiesser

The New England Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Dec, 1937), 804-805.

Mooncussers of Cape Cod. By Henry C. Kittredge. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1937. Pp. xii, 227. $2-75.)

Mr. Henry C. Kittredge is the author of a valuable history of Cape Cod, in which he admirably blended the human touch with the recorded facts and dates, thus revealing his deep love for a region which seems to "get" all who know it. Later he extended his knowledge into another valuable book about the lives and times of the ship-masters of the salt-sprayed hook of land. His third book, Mooncussers of Cape Cod is now at hand.

In some ways it is the least valuable of Mr. Kittredge's books; in some ways it is the most readable. In the first place, Mr. Kittredge is forced to lean on a negative note: — the denial that natives of Cape Cod, as many for years have believed, once lighted false beacons to lure hapless but heavily laden vessels within reach of its destroying tides, currents, and sand-bars. There is no basis for this belief, he says, and points to the complete lack of records and documents on this subject to prove it. Furthermore, such ravaging was not in keeping with the Yankee character. It is pleasant to have this legend or myth destroyed. Enough ships have come accidentally on to the sand-bars, with loss of life and cargo, without the Cape Codders having to resort to trickery.

As Mr. Kittredge points out in an amiable chapter, every one who has ever picked up a stray lobster-buoy along a beach knows something of the thrill of wrecking. It is based, probably, in the human love of getting something for nothing and on the well established Yankee principle that the beach is the public domain. What gets there is for the first comer, be it blue and yellow lobster-buoy or an Italian bark. It was only natural, or human, that people living so close to the sea should seize upon whatever came their way in night or storm and, even at considerable risk of life and limb, snatch it from the surf and make what use of it they could, either in their own homes or in the marts of commerce.

With his usual sense of humor and his passion for accuracy even unto the minor details — and the whole book is about a minor but nevertheless important detail of Cape life— Mr. Kittredge tells the full story of Cape Cod wrecking. He goes into the old records, he has consulted many living men, he has prowled and dug, and come forth with a fascinating story. Because he is a Cape Codder, he has been able not only to garner the facts along the ever changing beaches of the Cape, but has been able to get into the minds of the wreckers and beach-combers who, even to this day, still work the sands after storms. He does not spare the wreckers' cupidity and greed any more than he overplays the theme of heroism. There is bound to be both in wrecking.

The reviewer can add a personal word of praise for this book. Several years ago he was sent by the Boston Evening Transcript to Nauset to "cover " the salvaging of the submarine S-19. He had forgotten about it long ago, but Mr. Kittredge tells the story exactly as it was, and his account of Mr. Dan Gould's rig for sweeping the heavy submarine to sea is true in every respect. The reviewer mentions this story because it is, as far as Mr. Kittredge is concerned, recounted from hearsay. If the rest of the book is as accurately put together as this portion, then no fault is to be found with it.

Mr. Kittredge leans a little too much, at times, on whimsy and writing, with the result that occasionally the book sounds as if it had been prepared for the summer trade. Despite this, it is a capable foray into the side-waters of history, and one any Cape Codder, by birth or just by instinct, will enjoy.

New York Times,                                       Karl Schriftgiesser.