STANDING On the high moors of Truro on a clear day, one may see the circuit of Cape Cod Bay. Low on the horizon are the woodlands that lie back of Barnstable and Sandwich, the cliffs and forest crown of Manomet, the Plymouth shore and the Standish monument rising from Captain’s Hill in Duxbury. Or if one stands on Cole’s Hill above Plymouth Rock, he discerns twenty-five miles eastward, the Pilgrim monument at Provincetown, which, with its dune foundation, rises more than three hundred feet above the surface of the Bay. At night, Highland Light with its fourfold flash will gleam across the water in neighborly fashion. Likewise from Sandy Neck or Yarmouth Port, the Provincetown monument rises in the north as if out of the sea. Thus Cape Cod Bay is not so vast as it seemed to childish eyes, as they searched the atlas map, to answer the questions of location which in the old days were called geography.
Keeping our perch on the highlands of Truro and turning eastwardthere is the out-side of the Capethe Atlantic Ocean; and the imagination, if not the eye, reaches across the waters to the Bay of Biscay, Lisbon, Cadiz, and Gibraltar. The transatlantic voyager does not see the Cape in these days, but for many a traveler in the early time this fore-land was the first to approach and the last to leave, and the coastwise traveler must always pass it within neighborly distance. Cape Cod belongs to the ocean and it belongs to the continent, a kind of hinge on which the new continent swung open to the old, a little wilderness which quite unconsciously became a pivot of modern civilization.
Geologically speaking, New England is old, all but the southeast corner of it, and that is young. Historically however this wave-washed bit of country is old, as the white man counts time in the new world. In its shape and its making here is a unique foreland. The physiographer does not know any annex to any continent that is just like it. Other narrow peninsulas there are, enough of them, Cornwall in England, Kintyre in Scotland, the threadlike Malay peninsula, long promontories in the fiord regions of Alaska and Norwaybut these are all rocky and ruggednowhere else is there a frail, glacial peninsula, standing out seventy miles into an ocean, with bedrock so far down that no sea chiseling and no boring has ever reached a square foot of it. And here Cape Cod has maintained itself, losing on its borders but still surviving, during some thousands, perhaps many thousands of years, against the fierce onset of the unhindered Atlantic.
The shores of Cape Cod Bay, east, south and west, are the lands of the Pilgrims. Duxbury, which has its name from the Dux-borough Hall of the Standish family in England, is almost due west from Province-town and the tip of the Cape. At Province-town, the passengers of the Mayflower landed. At Plymouth, a month later they settled. At Duxbury, some miles north of Plymouth, Miles Standish later chose his home, and here he and the Aldens, John and Priscilla Mullens his wife, lie buried.
The Pilgrim monument on the dunes of Provincetown is the outer sentinel. At Dux-bury, is the Standish monument, the inner landmark of the Bay. At the end of Duxbury Beach, are the Gurnet Lights, answering to Race Point and Highland Light on the outer parts of the Cape. On every side save the north this water was environed with the life of the Pilgrims.
The mainland base from which springs Barnstable County or the Cape, is the south and eastern part of Plymouth County. Like the Cape, it is of recent origin. Geologically, the circuit of the Bay is of one piecesands, gravels, light soils, moraine hills, lakes, marshes, outwash plains and changing strand belts of sandy cliff and migrating dunes. It is a frail, changing and perishable bit of country.
It is not strange that the Mayflower voyagers found the Cape Countrywe might almost say that the Cape found them as it had caught other venturesome voyagers in the first twenty years of the seventeenth century. It is easy to forget that at the time of the Leyden Pilgrims a hundred and twenty-eight years had passed since the first landfall of Columbus, and the New England shores were not quite as mysterious to intelligent Englishmen as we are likely to think. Nor did the Mayflower discover the Plymouth site or even give it its name.
What the Vikings may have done or seen on this coast is not a part of our story, nor need we vex ourselves with historical enigmas concerning the voyager of the sixteenth century. We do know that Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602 anchored in Provincetown Harbor, and gave to the point of land that incloses that haven, the name of Cape Cod. This visit was made when Gosnold was on his way to the attempted settlement on the Elizabeth Islands.
Martin Pring, representing shipping interests in the port of Bristol, came to these waters in 1603, and remained six weeks in Plymouth Harbor. He planted seeds to prove the character of the soil and gathered shiploads of sassafras. He called the place Saint John’s Harbor. Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History has a vivid passage emphasizing this pre-Mayflower familiarity which Englishmen had gained with the Plymouth country. ” Thus two years before Champlain explored Plymouth Harbor, ten years before the Dutch visited the place, calling it Crain Bay, and seventeen years before the arrival of the Ley-den pilgrims, Englishmen had become familiar with the whole region and had loaded their ships with the fragrant products of the neigh-boring woods.”
A few years after Pring’s visit, Champlain, an officer of the DeMonts expedition, impressed by the gleaming sands of the dunes, called the foreland Cape Blanc, and in 1614, Captain John Smith, thinking of his king, named it Cape James. This name did not stick, but New England, a designation first used by Smith, fastened itself to the great regions east of the Hudson and Lake Cham-plain. To have made this contribution to the geographic furnishings of the new continent was honor enough for any explorer. Smith, sailing in a shallop from Monhegan, made a map of the coast, which he took home to his Prince, later Charles the First. It was he, who, using this map, named Plymouth, Charles River and Cape Anne. Other names which he gave did not cling, but these have remained.
It is probable enough that the Mayflower company intended to settle farther south, in the Hudson or Delaware country, and that they were turned back by the dangers of the stormy seas in the neighborhood of the Nantucket Shoals. As this is a problem for historians, we need not rehearse the oft-told discomforts and tragedies of the month in Provincetown Harbor, or the various marchings and discoveries on the lower Cape, of Captain Standish and his small company. Here they found, took and later paid for, those first stores of Indian corn, thus getting the seed for the crops on Plymouth fields, the harvests that saved the colony from extinction. This was a blessing which they could as little imagine as they could forecast the prairies rustling with corn three hundred years later, or the institutions of Ohio, Wisconsin and Nebraska, into which their life and their principles were to enter long generations after the plots on Burial Hill had grown green over their bones. Standish explored the lower Cape as far up as Nauset, the Eastham of to-day, and the next project was that complete round of the Bay, made after the Mayflower carpenters had gotten the shallop ready. A month had passed and December was far advanced before this memorable voyage was begun. We who know the Cape in smiling summer days may imagine if we can, a bleak winter sea, a few unknown savages on the bordering shoreno home, no light, no life guard, no guiding church steeple, and no goal in the distance save wintry fields and ice-sheathed forests. In these fields and out of these forests in mid-winter homes were to be built and the foundations of a new world laid down.
If anybody knows, nobody seems to tell how much or how little this exploring party knew of the Plymouth that had already been so many times visited. Whether accidents can happen in great events that shape destiny, perhaps we cannot know. What stirs us to this observation is the record of a blinding snowstorm that was falling around the May-flower explorers as they passed the opening into Barnstable Harbor. Here between Sandy Neck Light and the present Yarmouth Port, is a wide gateway inviting a mariner with small craft to quiet and well-protected waters behind miles of barrier beach, and leading up where green meadows, laden orchards and gracious homes now mark the ancient settlements of Barnstable. If snow had not been coming down during a particular half-hour in the afternoon of a December day, in this part of Cape Cod Bay, the beginnings of the Old Colony, of the Bay State, of New England, might have been on Cape Cod, and sleepy old Barnstable might have been the theater of retrospect and rejoicing in the festive days of 1920.
At length, in the cold storm and dim light of waning day, with frozen clothing and be-numbed fingers, they drew into the gateway that opened between Pier Head on their left and Saquish Head on their right. Pier Head was the outer end of Plymouth Beach, whose long, narrow belt of sand, then more or less wooded, they could perhaps follow southward toward the point where it springs from the mainland north of the Pilgrim Hotel of to-day. Saquish, on their right, was a glacial hill, an island in those days, not yet tied by its thread of sand to the hill of the Gurnet lights and the long Duxbury Beach. They steered their course northward, past Saquish, and made their landing on Clark’s Island.
Rather too much has been said and written and painted about Plymouth Rock, or at least not enough heed has been paid to Clark’s Island. This was the first landing place of the Pilgrims, if not exactly in Plymouth Harbor, in the adjoining waters of Duxbury. Too many good people jump on the rock, or photograph their friends under its granite canopy, without knowing that there is a Clark’s Island or what happened there. The island, like Saquish or Gurnet, is a glacial hill, barely three fourths of a mile long, around which rise at high tide the shallow waters of Duxbury Bay. There are low cliffs cut by the waters on its shores, a farm home or two and a few trees. On the island is a tablet marking the first landing of Mayflower men on the west side of Cape Cod Bay, and recording their Sunday rest and worship in a spot, cold enough, bleak enough, while securing these tired and hungry, but devout and determined, men from savage attack.
On Monday morning under better skies the advance guard of the Mayflower landed on the site of the real Plymouth, but certainly they were not led by the sturdy maiden tread of Mary Chilton. They had found, and before much time passed, they had definitely chosen the best place around the bay for the Pilgrim home. We shall see what they found there and why they picked the place. What were the things that Plymouth afforded that a group of weary and half-frozen men from over the sea would want?
Not the least boon was a good harbor, and here they found fully protected waters. They set out for a far remove from the old world, but isolation from it was no part of their plan. Relations they would continue to have with it if their king would let them, of fealty, of blood kinship, and of trade. One could not imagine a pioneer American colony planted other than on a tidal water. Most of Plymouth Harbor was and is a clam fiat at low tide but there was a channel, now improved for the larger craft of modern years. There was moreover abundance of fish and of shell-fish. Even at this early time, for a full century, Europeans had known the fishing grounds along the American shores, and while we, conning over school histories, think only of the Cabots and Gosnolds and Gilberts, the Hudsons and John Smiths, troops of fishing ships had loaded their holds there for the markets of Europe. The Mayflower people were hungry; at least they were in grave danger of being hungry, and the conveniences for clam digging and cod fishing and eel catching that here offered themselves were not to be despised.
Better than all else here was a strip of cleared and cultivated land. Nobody knows, or ever can know how many generations of red men had lived and died there on ground that was opened by their ancestors and subject to the not ineffective processes of aboriginal agriculture. What it would have meant, in the grip of winter, with houses to build, the sick to nurse and the dead to bury, to prepare forest ground for spring planting-well, there is no need to imagine, for it would have lain beyond human power.
It is not in some parts of Cape Cod a light matter to secure a supply of fresh water, but this problem needed no resolving at Plymouth, for here was Town Brook, though the newcomers did not then know the large and lovely water from which it flows and perhaps they did not at first see that here was power for a mill. There are several other streams and springs along the Plymouth shore which they did find, and count among the good gifts of Providence.
There were also ample forests at hand as there are to-day. Among the homes and mills of busy Plymouth one may follow the tourist bent, and forget that now a mile back takes one into a shady wilderness of trees and lakes. No doubt there were larger trees than now, for man had not been much abroad with the axe and the gypsy moth had not carried its ravages over eastern New England. Wood was needed for fuel, lumber for homes and timber for ships, and it was standing but a bowshot from their plantation.
Whether the Plymouth company knew it at first or not, they had hit upon a country almost empty of savages. Only a few years before, some pestilence, whose nature no one has discovered, swept away all the ancient Americans of the Old Colony save a few and left their haunts open and comparatively safe for Europeans. The little company from Leyden had burdens enough and dangers enough, but they did not have at first to meet a horde of savage enemies. Finally, a seventh very good feature of Plymouth was the presence of a hill, overlooking the log houses of the first street, commanding the harbor, and best of all, separated by a valley from the higher ground of the forested interior. The advantages of this hill did not escape the eye of Standish, and here they built their fort, planted their cannon, set up their worship, and after the first sorrowful buryings on Cole’s Hill, above the rock, hither they brought their dead. After all the most storied spot in Plymouth is not the rock, it is the fortress, the sanctuary, the place of long restBurial Hill.
It was right that the Pilgrims should settle not on the long and wave-washed Cape, but on the broader mainland, part of the continent, that stretched, how far they did not know, westward. But that being true, Plymouth has always had and has to-day, a curious isolation. One may approach it through Scituate, and Marshfield, and find a linked chain of settlements, but from any other direction he must go throughwith apologies to the dwellers in a few hamletsa wilderness. This is true whether we choose Whitman, or Middleboro, or Sagamore, as our gatewayin any of these we find an entrance upon the Plymouth woods, upon a country of which perhaps one hundredth part is under the plough, and a lake, or a cranberry bog is a more common sight than a gathering of humankind. The environment and background of Plymouth, were not suited to make it a Boston, or a Providence, or a Portlandit is Plymouth, and of more worth to Americans, a deeper fountain of noble sentiment because it is just Plymouth.
Of the soil, Bradford wrote of “a spit’s (spade) depth of excellent black mould and fat in some places.” He names nine sorts of trees and various vines, fruits, herbs and fibers, also sand, gravel and clay, the last like soap and “excellent for pots.” Nearly two hundred acres were finally allotted to individuals, after the colonists had experimented with communistic culture, and come close to starvation. They learned that even the stern principles that brought them over the sea could not fully control their human qualities and that some would be lazy if they did not work with the lure of private ownership.
The lands thus assigned lay in a strip about a quarter of a mile in greatest width and following the shore for nearly two miles. It is believed that the choice of these lands by the Indians was due to the running streams which cross them, streams which afforded herring in plenty to be used as a fertilizer.
Behind Plymouth and Duxbury Beaches are the combined waters of Plymouth Harbor, Kingston Bay and Duxbury Bay, a protected area about eight miles from north to south, bordered by a much curved shoreline. The explorers liked the Jones River whose borders form the site of the old village of Kingston, but they did not settle there because they would be farther from the fishing, “our principal profit,” and because the ground was so thoroughly covered with forest that they would be in danger of Indian attack, “our number being so little and so much ground to clear.” These terse quotations are from Mourt’s Relation.
The villages of Onset and Wareham stand on northern arms of Buzzards Bay, and are sometimes rather loosely thought of as summer places on the Cape. But what is Cape Cod? It is the peninsula from Buzzards Bay to Provincetown. Strictly it should be the Provincetown spit with its dunes and beaches and the name was at one time so used, Province-town Harbor being then the Cape Cod Bay. But the usage of almost three hundred years prevails, the Cape is all of that curved extension of the mainland which is Barnstable County.
The Old Colonywhat is that? It is Cape Cod and a piece of the adjoining mainland from a point on the south shore between Scituate and Cohasset, and following a line running thence to Narragansett Bay, thus taking in parts of eastern Rhode Island. Even Plymouth is sometimes thought to be on the Cape. Untrue as this is, there is close kinship both of the physical and human sort. The same people are there and much of Plymouth County has, like the Cape, a foundation of glacial drift, so deep that the hard rocks beneath the cover have never been found.
Hence the Cape and the adjoining territory form what a modern geographer would call a natural region. It is a unit in its physical evolutionin its drift subsoil, its surface and in climate and flora, and it takes in the vital parts of the Old Colony, Plymouth, Kingston, Duxbury and the whole chain of Pilgrim places from Sandwich and Falmouth to Barnstable, Nauset and Provincetown.
The names Old Colony and Plymouth Colony mean the same thing. The domain included all of Plymouth County except Hingham and Hull and a small part of Brockton. It took in also all of Barnstable County, all of Bristol County and several towns in Rhode Island, but did not include Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. The description of the Old Colony in this volume limits itself to the Cape and the coastal strip of Plymouth, and does not take in the bedrock country lying on the west.
Tourists swarm in Plymouth in summer days. If they come by motor car or on the daily excursion boat from Boston, they see the rock, spend a half-hour among the relics of Pilgrim Hall, go up Leyden Street and look at the headstones of Burial Hill, drive around the Pilgrim monument, and, let us hope, imagine the Mayflower at anchor in the harbor. A few go back to Scrooby and Leyden and the older Plymouth, and try to make their own the first humble homes, the sorrows of the first year and the joy of the first thanksgiving.
But it is better to sleep in Plymouth, many times if it may be, and to live into its shores, its streets, its hills and its ancient homes, to find in its modest public library the shelves in the corner that are full of Plymouth books, and thus to share the loving industry and the long memories that have counted no detail of topography or genealogy or local annals too small to be put into record. One can find in almost any town, especially in any New England town, the right people, those who know and revere their past, who will share their lore with the stranger. They are children of their soil, born of the blood of those men and women who crossed the sea and laid the foundations. Let Americans fill days in Plymouth, and find their Americanism thereafter true and deep. Whatever may happen with the swift changes of the future, the towns of the Old Colony have not lost their past, and it is inscribed deeper than are the writings on memorial tablets ; it is shrined in the harbor, in the outer beach, in Gurnet and Clark’s Island and Town Brook, in the old cornfields where thousands of people live to-day, and in the hills, woods and waters of Billington Sea.
Only two miles from the Pilgrim spring and the homes of the Brewsters and Bradfords at the Leyden Street crossing, the closed waters of the harbor end and the bouldery cliffs and wooded heights of Manomet begin. Directly behind the town a walk of barely more than a mile carries one along the full course of Town Brook. The wonder is that the Plymouth people, fresh from their little England, did not call it a river, for it is a strong and perennial stream, though the factories on its banks have partly outgrown this source of power.
A delightful woodland of moraine hills, surrounds the source of the Brook, which is Billington Sea, and these woods, or parts of them, are the great public park of the enlarging town.
With all its beauty, its restful seclusion, and its wide waters, this playground seems to be little used. It is not easy to reach, and perhaps after all the look of Plymouth is and al-ways will be toward the sea. It is not easy to wean a people from salt water. And it may be, if the Plymouth folk were less conservative, that they would have changed the name of their largest lake, for John Billington was not saintly, living though he did with Brewster and Bradford as his nearest neighbors. The Billington blood seems to have been turbulent, for the elder son of the unhappy pilgrim was the boy that was lost in the wilderness of Nauset and recovered by Standish in a historic excursion down the Cape; and it was Francis Billington, the younger son, who climbed a tall tree, and discovered the inland water which now bears his family name.
From Plymouth before many years had passed, there was a migration northward, but it did not go far, being confined to the borders of Kingston and Duxbury Bays, and the neighboring town of Marshfield. We should look vainly on Burial Hill for the memorials of William Brewster, Miles Standish and of John Alden and Priscilla. These are found in Duxbury, whither these Mayflower families betook themselves to establish their homes.
Here also is the Standish cottage built by the Pilgrim soldier’s son, and here on Captain’s Hill, in a rough open plot at the summit of the pine-clad slopes, is the Standish monument. Duxbury was settled in 1630, and the nearer Kingston, the “North End of Plymouth” dates seven years later. Here lived a descendant of William Bradford, and here was kept the Bradford manuscript of Pilgrim history before it began its mysterious journey to England, and its long repose in British archives.
Farther north in Marshfield lived Governor Josiah Winslow, the first American-born ruler of Plymouth Colony, and here his father, Governor Edward Winslow of the Mayflower, was married to Susannah White. This was the first marriage in the new colony, being celebrated in 1621. Marshfield also holds the grave of Peregrine White, born upon the May-flower during its sojourn across the Bay in Provincetown Harbor, in 162o.
These settlements in the north were little more than local annexes to the parent group at Plymouth, but soon began a movement down the Cape, which did not reach its goal until Provincetown was incorporated in 1727. From its first permanent settlement, however, the whole Cape was a part of Plymouth Coony, until in 1792 the latter was absorbed in the royal province of Massachusetts.
In the years just before 164o movements began in the direction of the Cape. There was discontent with the conditions of living in Plymouth and this led some to think of moving the whole colony to Nauset, the present East-ham. The unwisdom of such a change was discovered in time to avert inevitable failure, “for this place was about fifty miles from hence and at an outside of the country remote from all society, also that it would prove so straight as it would not be competent to receive the whole body, much less be capable of any addition or increase.” Thus in old-style phrase is gathered the whole argument, and it is confirmed by seeing how the map of the Cape narrows between Orleans and Wellfleet.
Still the bare-looking fields of this wind-swept plain were esteemed productive in those days, and in 1644 the more restless spirits migrated to Nauset and received a grant of lands there. But these men did not make the first settlement on the Cape. This, as was natural, was accomplished near the base of the Cape with easy approach from Plymouth, within a couple of miles of the new canal, in the town of Sandwich. This oldest town on Cape Cod was settled in 1637. In going from Plymouth we now first cross the town of Bourne, but this town is young, having been set off from Sandwich during the last century.
Sandwich, however, though it has to this day people of Mayflower blood, was not mainly set up by Plymouth people. Hither came between twenty and thirty settlers from Lynn and Saugus, among them the Freeman family, a name which remains on the Cape both in living representatives and in an honorable fame. Here belongs the author of that great history of Barnstable County which brought the story of the Cape down to the decade following the middle of the last century. Miles Standish and John Alden were the surveyors who established the bounding lines of this old town, whose oldest structure, the Tupper House, is said to go back to the year of the founders, 1637.
The village of Sandwich is about sixteen miles in an air line from the municipality of Plymouth, and if we except the village of Sagamore, which is close to Sandwich, there is not yet a settlement larger than a hamlet in this long stretch of wooded wilderness. But there was time in those days for long walking journeys and a score of miles by a forest trail were not more baffling to the pioneer than is a three-mile tramp to the coddled traveler of today.
The settlement of Barnstable, the county seat of Barnstable County, dates two years from the founding of Sandwich, or 1639. Standish had come into Barnstable Bay, in his search for the lost John Billington in July, 1621, and thus we know that for nearly a score of years, the dunes of Sandy Neck, the green of the great marshes, and the wooded hills that rose to the southward, were familiar to the Plymouth men. Here Standish had met lyanough, the friendly Indian chief whose name appears in the modern Hyannis, which stands on the shore of the sound, as Barnstable village is on the shore of the Bay. As the Cape narrows going eastward, it came about that Barnstable town reaches across from one water to the other.
Yarmouth in like fashion spans across from Bay to Sound and was contemporary with Barnstable in its beginnings; indeed it pre-ceded Barnstable a few months in the year 1639, in being represented in the General Court. It was the parent town from which Harwich, Chatham, Dennis and Brewster were set off.
The earliest of this quartet of towns to be-gin a life of its own was Harwich and it was settled, not by emigrants from Yarmouth, but by removals from Plymouth, Eastham and other places in 1647, Eastham being then known as Nauset. Harwich did not become a separate town until 1694 and it included what is now Brewster for more than one hundred years from the date of its settlement, not of its incorporation, for we find Brewster a town during the American Revolution. An unwelcome reminder of this to Brewster people is said to be the fact that this was’ the only town on the Cape that paid a demand of the British, for a large sum of money, in one day collected and paid over to the foe.
The long-used Indian name of Nauset was in 1651 changed by the General Court to Eastham, and until the settling of Harwich in 1694 this was the only town on the Cape below Yarmouth. In 1762, when Eastham had seen more than a century of development, it was the foremost town in Barnstable County, in population, wealth and general importance. Eastham was the parent town of Orleans on the south and of Wellfleet and Truro in the north. Wellfleet was set off in 1763, and given a corporate life of its own, the boundary line between the two towns being established in 1765.
Thus the white man, having passed in the autumn explorations of the Mayflower company, from Provincetown around the inner shore to Plymouth, was now, as the decades followed each other, creeping down the Cape. Truro, whose Indian name was Pamet, was settled about 1700 and to it in 1705 was given the name of Dangerfield. This designation, appropriate then and as long as sailing ships held the seas, was changed to Truro in 1709.
The first shall be lastmight have been spoken of Provincetown and the rest must be addedthe last shall be first. So late as 1714, it was merely a precinct of Truro, whose lands even now extend beyond High Head, past the old East Harbor to the very gateway of Provincetown. To-day the long crescent of the Cape’s finest harbor has its thousands of people, and Truro has seen her population dwindle to a bare six hundred. The early days did not invite settlement on the sandy tip of the Cape. Whatever the Pilgrims hoped to achieve in the fisheries, their prime desire was to get their living out of the soil. This is the iron rule for a remote and isolated colony. There was no Boston market, no Genesee country, no expanse of prairie, no railway and no highway. Their quest was for soil, water, shelter from storm, and protection from the red man. This they found in Plymouth and then they turned about to see where and how they could use the foreland which lay on this ocean side.
Like all the rest of the Cape, the lower end, with its shifting dunes and beaches and the great curving spit that incloses the harbor, was under the control of the Plymouth colony, until all was joined to Massachusetts. Plymouth ruled the early community and for a consideration granted fishing rights to strangers. The lands of even the village of Provincetown were long held by the Colony and then by the State, and not until 1893, were they conveyed by a special statute to the town. The name indicates the original relation to the Plymouth sovereignty. The incorporation as Province Town occured in 1727. While the Colony and Commonwealth were long to own the land on which the very homes stood, there was a measure of compensation in allowing that the peculiar situation of the people should exempt them from taxation and from military service.
No town in the Pilgrim country has nobler hills, more fertile fields, or greater wealth of lovely shoreline, than Falmouthancient Falmouth it may be truly called; for in 166o, the first settlers, said to be from Barnstable, came along the shore of Vineyard Sound in boats, and landed on the edge of the outwash plain, between Oyster Pond and Fresh Pond. Here they made their first encampment in the edge of flat fields, now dotted with mansions, and luxuriant with the flowers, hedges, lawns and gardens of summer residents. Thus the Falmouth pioneers were quite in the running with the other towns of the upper Cape. If they were a little off the main line of Pilgrim movement, they have well evened the scale today, with the thronged highways of the outer shore, the Port of Woods Hole and the ships that never fail the eye on Vineyard Sound.
Here was a peculiar people, singled out from an ancient environment in the pursuit of an ideal, pushing across the seas to a remote and wintry wilderness, not for gain but to set up homes and live on the order of their conviction. They found a peculiar land, unlike in significant matters even the greater part of New England, having its own qualities of soil, its variant mantle of vegetation, its type of climate and exposed to the sea as no other grounds in New England are exposed, excepting only Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, which are of the same piece and have gone with the Cape in physical unfolding.
The Pilgrim built his house, planted his garden and subdued his field. On this sub-stratum material support, he set up his churches and schools, developed civil government, converted the Indians if he could and fought them if he must. Rarely did he live as much as three miles from the ocean border, his environment was as truly the sea as the land, and he lived, as a distinguished writer of American history has called it, an “amphibious” life.
Gradually the Old Colony man shifted his major activities from the land to the sea, developed fishing and whaling on a large scale and built up, especially on the Cape, many centers of the marine industry, inaugurating a carrying trade that coasted the shores of the Americas, reached across the Atlantic Ocean to the ports of Europe and Africa, and found its remote goals in every great harbor of the antipodes. Truly did a venerable man of Sandwich in the summer that goes before this chronicle tell the writer, that in Singapore, Batavia, Melbourne, and Sidney he found men living that had been bred on Cape Cod.
These sailors and ship’s captains that put forth from Barnstable, Yarmouth, Brewster, Dennis, Falmouth, Chatham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown, learned the wide world, inured themselves to hardship, met the perils of shipwreck and filled the annals of the Cape with a glory all their own. Those who remained at home tilled the small fields, brought in their cargoes of fish from the Bay, watched for the return of whalers and merchantmen, and went down to the shore to harvest the wealth that was thrown on the strand when unhappy mariners lost their ships in the rough waters of the outer sea.
The sand drifted over their fields, they saw the cliffs melt into the hungry waters, they put their gardens in the valleys and kettle-hole basins to fend off the destroying force of Atlantic gales. They saw the sails on the horizon, they read the signs of the sky. When they had finished looking for their brethren who never came back they set up slabs of slate in their burial yards, recording the names of older and younger men whose bodies were swept on alien shores or resting on the bottom of the sea. Their sun rose in the sea and out on the Cape it set in the sea as well. They were on the land but scarcely of it.
The streams of the Old Colony were few and short and the supply of fuel was precarious as the population grew and the scanty forests went down. There was no fuel in the ground save the peat which could be had only with excessive toil, so they set up windmills and ground their grist by the winds that drove their sails on the waters. And when they must salt their fish, they erected vats under the sun and drew these supplies also from the sea.
Thus they breathed the breath of the ocean, found their highway on its surface and their living in its waters or beyond them, pa-id their good ministers with quintals of fish and with stranded whales, filled their corner shelves with shells and corals and sent the men that the sea did not claim to Lexington and Bunker Hill.
The Cape is not like this today. That was the old Cape that Timothy Dwight described more than a hundred years ago, the Cape that Thoreau saw in his fugitive visits of sixty-five and seventy years ago. There was no railway, no wire, no steam service across the Bayonly sand roads and isolation.
Today, the man of the Cape goes by the Old Colony railroad, though he no longer so names it, and its trains are slow enough not wholly to destroy the repose of old time. There are roads of macadam and tar and thousands of motor cars, summer hotels, shore cottages, refrigerating plants, silted harbors, fishing specialized and localized, overseas trade long dead, wheat and flour and steaks and fuel from the continent lying behind, restricted and specialized agriculture, the artist colony and the Portugeesuch the Cape. But the sea is there, the surf, the dunes of the shore, the winter gales, the kaleidoscope colors, the sun-rise from Spain, and in no small measure, left over for the fourth Pilgrim century, the simple life, the frugality, kindness and honor of the first generation, whose descendants in the eighth, ninth and tenth removes, have passed on and paused in New York, the Mississippi Valley and the Pacific West.