Cape Cod – The French Wars – Pt. 1

THE so-called French and Indian Wars, a series of conflicts reflecting the entanglements of England overseas, lasted well on to seventy-five years after the accession of William and Mary in 1689. Political history in Massachusetts was making in the meantime: Andros had reigned and been deposed; the Earl of Bellamont, a good friend of King William and a just man popular with the colonists, had served a brief term, wherein he had captured and shipped to England for trial the notorious Captain Kidd; and Sir William Phips, a native of New England acceptable to the people, was the first Governor under the charter of William and Mary that, in 1692, formally united Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. Plymouth had fought well for her independence as against absorption either by New York or Massachusetts Bay; but when the skill of Increase Mather won her as prize, Governor Hinckley had the good sense to thank him for his work, as Massachusetts was preferable to New York. Maine, Massachusetts, and Plymouth, then, were united under the rule of Governor, Deputy Governor, and Secretary appointed by the king, and twenty-eight Councillors chosen by the people. On .. Cape Cod, at the time of the union, there were about four thousand whites grouped in six towns — Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Eastham, Falmouth, and Mannomoit — which sent nine representatives to the first Provincial Assembly.

It is interesting that at about this time began the advent of men of Irish blood, who, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, have been among the most thrifty and prosperous of the Cape people. Early in the reign of William and Mary laws were put afoot to turn Ireland from manufacturing to agriculture. Swift gibed at the policy of “cultivating cattle and banishing men”; Lord Fitz William protested that a hundred thousand operatives were forced to leave the country. Many, the vanguard of a mighty host, came to the American colonies. Few of these early immigrants, probably, were of pure Celtic blood: they were the Scotch-Irish of the north, the Anglo-Irish and the French of the south, artisans rather than farmers, who were to play an enormous part in the development of our country. Among the early settlers of the Cape were many Irishmen: Higgins, Kelley, Belford, Delap, Estabrook, Wood, and the Reverend Samuel Osborn who succeeded Mr. Treat at Eastham. Mr. Osborn taught his parishioners the use of peat as a fuel and some improvements in farming; but, alas, in that orthodox community, he was suspected of liberalism. Thoreau says: “Ten ministers with their churches sat on him and spoiled his usefulness” –but only for Eastham. In Boston he became a successful schoolmaster, and lived there to be near a hundred years of age.

Life at the Cape flowed on with simple annals to mark its course. In 1687 a mill for grinding corn was set up at Barnstable, to the wonder of the Indians who took it for a monster with arms — the precursor of the winged mills that once dotted the Cape from shoulder to tip and played no small part in the charm of its picture. At Barnstable, too, was the first mill to “full and draw the town’s cloth on reasonable terms,” to the satisfaction, one may suppose, of busy workers at spinning-wheel and loom. And the erection of a mill at Yarmouth was even celebrated in verse:

“The Baxter boys they built a mill, Sometimes it went, sometimes stood still; And when it went, it made no noise, Because ‘t was built by Baxter’s boys.”

In 1694 Harwich was set off from Eastham, and it is said that Patrick Butler walked all the way to Boston to secure the act of incorporation. In 1709 Truro, also, with the usual stipulation that it “procure and settle a learned and godly minister,” was set off from Eastham, which, indeed, as Pamet, it had long ante-dated in settlement. In 1705 there had been an abortive attempt to incorporate this district as Dangerfield, and in 1718 there was a motion to set off the future Wellfleet as Poole; but nothing further was heard of these names. There had always been wrangling over the settlement at Mannomoit, at the elbow of the Cape: first attached to Yarmouth, then to Eastham, in 1688 it was made an independent “constablerick,” and in 1712 was incorporated as Chatham. In 1714 the Province Lands became the Precinct of Cape Cod under the “constablerick” of Truro, and there was a tax of fourpence for the upkeep of a minister there. But evidently Truro had trouble with her ward — the population was a drifting one, for the most part irresponsible fishermen and adventurers — and in 1715 she petitioned the General Court that the new Precinct be “declared either a part of Truro or not a part of Truro, that the town may know how to act in regard to some persons.” From the beginning, with a care to the preservation of crops, householders were required to kill blackbirds and crows, and there was a large bounty on wolves. In 1717 there was even talk of building “a high fence of palisades or boards” across the Cape between Sandwich and Wareham “to keep wolves from coming into the county.” But there were two points of view for that question, and the scheme, opposed by some within on the score of expense and by others without who did not “wish all the wolves to be shut out of the county upon their own limits,” was soon abandoned. In 1721 there was a fearful epidemic of smallpox throughout the State; and Cotton Mather, who favored inoculation, was held by the pious to prefer “the machinations of men to the all-wise providence of God.”

As the Cape became more closely settled, men of the pioneer spirit were again feeling themselves cramped for room; and in 1727 certain lands which the Government had been ready to give as bounty to veterans of King Philip’s War, were, at length, granted to their heirs — a township ten miles square to each one hundred and twenty persons where claims there to were established within four months of the act. Seven townships were taken up. Number Seven, in Maine, assigned to the heirs of men who had served under Captain John Gorham, was named after him, and his grandson, Shubael, ruined himself in promoting the enterprise. Amos Otis writes that “he lost his property in his endeavors to secure to the officers and soldiers in King Philip’s War, or their legal representatives, their just dues. In his strenuous; efforts to do justice to others, he was unjust to himself, and involved himself, for the benefit of others, in liar bilities which he was unable to meet.” Of John Phinney, one of these pioneers of Gorham, a son of one of the conquerors of the Narragansetts, it is recorded that “he disembarked from his canoe on the Presumpscot River, with his axe and a small stock of simple provisions, attended by a son of fourteen years of age, with a design to make a home for himself and family in the then wilderness. Having selected a spot for his future dwelling, that son Edmund, afterwards distinguished as a colonel in the war of the Revolution, felled the first tree for a settlement.” Nearly every town on the Cape sent men to the new country, and here the old Cape Cod names were perpetuated: Bacon, Bangs, Bourne, Freeman, Knowles, Paine, Sturgis.

In 1727 the Precinct of Cape Cod was incorporated as Provincetown, with important reservation of rights to the Government in exchange for which the inhabitants were held exempt from all but local taxes and from military duty. The Province held title to the land; and it was not until 1893, when the State surrendered its holdings in the village that a Provincetown man could be said to own his home, or give more than a quitclaim deed for its transfer. In 1740 Provincetown seems to have added some grazing to her activities by sea, and is presented for so carelessly herding cattle that the “beaches were much broken and damnified, occasioning the moving of the sands into the harbor to the great damage thereof.” The French wars were working havoc in the fortunes of her fishermen and the population melting away until, in 1755, there were not more than three houses in the village and then increasing until the Revolution, when there were twenty. In 1763 that part of Eastham known as Billingsgate — Poole it never was to be — became Wellfleet. And a year earlier the Mashpee Indians, feeling the push for fuller political rights, petitioned for and obtained their Mashpee District, eight miles by five or six, comprising two hundred and thirty-seven souls and “sixty-three wigwams.” To the Yarmouth Indians had been granted the greater part of South. Yarmouth on Bass River. Mr. Freeman records that 1749 was known as the year of the Great Drought which destroyed the early crops of hay and feed; but in July the weather broke, the bare. earth miraculously put forth its green, and there were as many thanksgivings as there had been intercessions for Divine aid.

Martha’s Vineyard had been found particularly adapted to sheep-raising, and wool was ferried over to Falmouth to keep the Cape women busy at their looms. In 1738 a Barnstable man founded Marston’s Mills, and a letter from Newport in a later year speaks of the woollen factory at Barnstable which receives from the spinners it employs sometimes five hundred skeins a day and clears in a year three thousand dollars, ” which is the most profitable of any business now carried on in America according to the stock improved in it”; broadcloth “selling for three dollars a yard in London may be had here for a dollar and a half.” This public industry supplemented the one that a family conducted on its own account : for nearly every farm had its sheep, and homespun was the wear. The moors of Truro were dotted with sheep, and very likely some of its surplus wool was sent to the Barn-stable mills.

That the Cape people, in parsonage or farm, followed the custom of the day and kept slaves is evidenced, among other ways, by many wills. Mr. Bacon, of Barnstable, for instance, directs that in case his negro Dinah be sold, “all she is sold for be improved by my executors in buying Bibles,” which are to be distributed among his grandchildren. Mr. Walley had his slaves; the Reverend Mr. Avery, of Truro, whose farm and forge were near Highland Light, was able to bequeath a considerable estate to his children; and among the assets were his negro “girl named Phillis,” his Indian girl named Sarah, and the negroes Jack and Hope who were never to be sold out of the family. Old Totoo, slave to Mrs. Gorham, of Barnstable, survived her eight years and, dying, begged that he might be buried at his mistress’s feet. In 1678 two Indians of Sandwich, convicted of stealing twenty-five pounds, were sentenced to be sold, for the profit of their victims, somewhere in New England as “perpetual slaves.”

And that apprenticeship in the early days was sometimes practical slavery is shown by the case of Jonathan Hatch, a Yarmouth lad, bound out at the age of fourteen to a Salem man, from whose harsh service he fled only to be caught in Boston, sentenced to be severely whipped, and returned as a slave to his master. Again escaping, he reached Yarmouth where he was arrested, condemned to be whipped, and passed from constable to constable back to Salem. Appeal was made to the Plymouth Court which made an excuse of “doubting its jurisdiction” to evade the is-sue, and the boy was “appointed to dwell with Mr. Stephen Hopkins” at Yarmouth. In due time he married and went to live at South Sea, near the sachem of the Mashpees, with whom he became on very good terms. In 1652 he was had up for furnishing an Indian with gun and ammunition, and later befriended the Indian Repent who was charged with threatening to shoot Governor Prince. From the South Sea, with Isaac Robinson, he became a squatter at Falmouth, but soon was duly granted a plot of eighty acres. He was to act, moreover, as the land agent of the proprietors, and ended the career that had begun as a runaway slave by becoming a respected measurer of metes and bounds.

For these early farmers slavery seems to have been the solution of their problem of trying to tie a laborer to his job. While land was available in practically unlimited amount and money was scarce, any man might find himself a proprietor, a point illustrated by an amusing story of Winthrop’s. A certain man, lacking cash, paid off his farmhand by giving him a pair of oxen. The laborer was willing to continue such service. “But how shall I pay you?” asked the man. “With more oxen.” “And when the oxen are gone?” “Then you can work for me and earn them back again.” But in the North, as time went on, and land was taken up in comparatively small farms that could be profitably worked by owners who could pay for necessary labor, the convenience of slaves was easy to forego, and the public conscience began to work for abolition. As early as 1733 Sandwich voted: “that our representative is instructed to endeavor to have an act passed by the Court to prevent the importation of slaves into this country; and that all children that shall be born of such Africans as are now slaves among us, shall after such act be free at twenty-one years of age.” Five years later selling slaves in the American market was prohibited at Boston. It is at Truro, one may believe, that one of the last slave trades on the Cape was consummated when, in 1726, Benjamin Collins bought from a neighbor Hector, aged three, for thirty pounds, and in due time made a Christian of him, as the parish records show. Hector grew to a great age, and evinced confidence in salvation, among other ways, by praying in loud tones as he went to his labor in the fields of the Truro Highlands where, sure gage of notability, certain expressions to commemorate him crept into the vernacular — “Old Hector,” “black as Hector,” “Hector’s Nook,” “Hector’s Stubble,” “Hector’s Bridge.”

In the later years, preceding the Civil War, it was natural that among a people which had always counted many progressives, there should be Abolitionists. They were kindly folk, it is said, “with strong convictions, never attending church because the sermons did not condemn slavery” — the early racial touch cropping out, it seems, in this later generation. Some of the ships of an Osterville owner even landed run-away slaves on the south shore whence they passed along by “underground railway” to a certain house in Barnstable. One remembers that as a boy he used to go there to teach them their letters; and he also re-members that “they were treated as equals; but sometimes they made their way to `Mary Dunn’s Road’ where they found rum and congenial companions.”

Finance, swinging from stringency to inflation of the currency, was an ever-present problem in the colony during the French and Indian Wars. In the mid-eighteenth century, a land bank was proposed in the hope of using land as the basis for credit in a country where gold and silver were so lacking, with a result disastrous to many farmers on the Cape. In 1748 paper was called in and the “piece of eight,” or Spanish dollar, made the standard; but again the easy issue of paper was too great a temptation, again there was depreciation and instability, again the struggle back to a standard dollar. In 1749, after “King George’s War,” England liquidated the war debt of the Province by paying into the treasury at Boston a fund of some one hundred and eighty thousand pounds that were carted through the streets in seventeen truck-loads of silver and ten of copper. Henceforth it was provided that all debts should be paid in coined silver, which is said to originate the term “lawful money.”