Cape Cod – The Towns – Pt. 1

WHETHER just or not, the summary punishment dealt out by Standish all but destroyed the natives’ confidence in the whites; and as such a situation was particularly bad for trade, the whites, too, got their reward. Yet the Indians, when occasion offered, were ready to be kind. In December, 1626, the ship Sparrowhawk, London to Virginia, as far out of her reckoning as the Mayflower had been, bumped over the shoals of Monomoyick and grounded on the flats. Her master was ill, crew and passengers knew not where they were, and being out of “wood, water, and beer,” had run her, head on, for the first land that hove in sight. Night was falling, and as canoes made out from the shore, “the they stood on their guard.” But the Indians gave them a friendly hail, asked if they were “the governor of Plymouth’s men,” offered to carry letters to Plymouth, and supplied their needs of the moment. Plymouth duly notified, the Governor led out a relief expedition, and, it being no season to round the Cape, landed at Namskaket, a creek between Brewster and Orleans, “whence it was not much above two miles across the Cape to the bay where the ship lay. The Indians carried the things we brought overland to the ship.” The Governor bought corn from the natives for the strangers, loaded more for his own use, and returned to Plymouth. But hardly was he there than a second message came that the ship, fitted out to proceed, had been shattered by a great storm; and the upshot was that the travellers, bag and baggage, came to Plymouth and visited there until the spring. The region of the wreck was called “Old Ship Harbor,” men had forgotten why until, two hundred and thirty-seven years later, shifting sands disclosed the hull of the Sparrowhawk. And at another time the natives had opportunity to show their good-will when Richard Garratt and his company from Boston, which was rival of Plymouth for the native corn supply, were cast away on the Cape in a bitter winter storm; and all would have perished there had it not been for the savages who decently buried the dead, though the ground was frozen deep, and, having nursed the survivors back to life, guided them to Plymouth.

Plymouth trade, not only with the mother country, but with other colonies, grew apace. As early as 1627, in order to facilitate communication to the southward with the Indians and with the Dutch settlement on the Hudson, the Pilgrims may be said to have made the first move toward a Cape Cod Canal. “To avoid the compassing of Cape Cod and those dangerous shoals,” wrote Bradford, “and so to make any voyage to the southward in much shorter time and with less danger,” they established a trading post with a farm to support it, and built a pinnace, at Manomet on the river flowing into Buzzard’s Bay. Their route lay by boat from Plymouth to Scusset Harbor, where they landed their goods for a portage overland of three or four miles to the navigable waters of the river and the coasting vessel there. And in September of that same year, Isaac de Rasieres, secretary of the Dutch Government at New Amsterdam, landed at Manomet with sugar, stuffs, and other commodities, and was duly convoyed to Plymouth in a vessel sent out by the Governor for such purpose. De Rasieres entered Plymouth in state, “honorably at-tended by the noise of his trumpeters,” and wrote a fine account of the town which is preserved for our interest.

The colony, by 1637, had grown to comprise the towns of Plymouth, Duxbury, and Scituate; in no long time it included the present counties of Plymouth, Bristol, and Barnstable, and a bit of Rhode Island. Traders, fishermen, an adventurer now and again had visited the Cape, even a few settlers, unauthorized by Plymouth, had broken ground there; but up to 1637 its early history is indissolubly bound up with that of Plymouth. In April of that year the first settlement was organized at Sandwich when certain men of Saugus, who were of a broader mind than their neighbors of Massachusetts Bay, wished to emigrate to the milder rule of Plymouth. Under due restrictions, they were granted the privilege to “view a place to sit down, and have sufficient land for three score families.” They chose Sandwich. And with the first ten of Saugus came fifty others of Saugus and Duxbury and Plymouth. All was duly regulated; and two men who were found clearing ground without permission, and without having fetched their families, were charged with “disorderly keeping house alone.” If the Saugus men expected a free hand in their new home, they were to be undeceived: the chief ordering of their affairs was from Plymouth, and in 1638 certain prominent towns-men were fined as “being deficient in arms” and for not having their swine ringed. It was the law of the colony “that no persons shall be allowed to become housekeepers until they are completely provided with arms and ammunition; nor shall any be allowed to become housekeepers, or to build any cottage or dwelling, without permission from the governor and assistants.” Rightly, no doubt, Plymouth meant to avoid the danger of any such disorderly element as had infested Weymouth.

In March John Alden and Miles Standish were-directed to go to Sandwich, “with all convenient speed, and set forth the bounds of the land granted there.” In October Thomas Prince and again Miles Standish were appointed to pass upon questions affecting land tenure. Complaint, however, seems to have been then not so much in regard to the division of land as to certain members of the community who were deemed “unfit for church society.” And for the adjustment of future dangers, “evils or discords that may happen in the disposal of lands or other occasions within the town,” it was agreed that some one of the Governor’s Council should sit, in an advisory capacity, with the town committee to determine who should be permitted to hold land. John Alden and Miles Standish served many times as such advisers; in 1650 Standish received a tract of some forty acres for his trouble in settling land disputes. It is interesting that Freeman, historian of Cape Cod, claims Priscilla Mullins for Barnstable, and allows us to suppose that the visits there of Alden and Standish led to the acquaintance that ended in the discomfiture of Standish, and to the particular glory of Priscilla, with her thrust: “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” Another love story is told by Amos Otis, in his “Barnstable Families,” of Thomas Hatch, who was among the first landowners in Yarmouth and Barnstable, a widower and rival with another for the hand of a neighbor’s daughter. All three were expert reapers, and Grace agreed to marry the man who should worst her in the field. Three equal portions were set off and the contest began; but when Grace saw that she was likely to come out ahead, with Thomas a bad third, she slyly cut over into his plot; and he, fired by such encouragement, justified her favor.

The system of government and land tenure in the later settlements were patterned after Plymouth : there were individual holdings of land and common lands which from time to time were apportioned to the townsmen, not only in accord with “necessity and ability,” but “estate and quality” : fertile ground, one might guess, for difference of opinion. By 1651, at Sandwich, “the conditions on which the grant of the township was made having been fulfilled, a deed of the plantation was executed by Governor Bradford to Mr. Edmund Freeman, who made conveyance to his associates,” a process which resembled the taking over of Plymouth from the Merchant Adventurers of London.

Within a few years, on the general conditions of settlement granted to Sandwich, the four original townships of the Cape came into being. Scattering colonists had broken the ground. In 1638 “liberty was granted to Stephen Hopkins [one of the Mayflower men’ to erect a house at Mattacheese and cut hay there this year to winter his cattle—provided, however, that it be not to withdraw him from the town of Plymouth.” Two other men were granted a like privilege. The rich salt meadows of the Cape were coveted by Plymouth for cattle, which seem to have been brought over from England first by Edward Winslow in a voyage made in 1624; and it was not uncommon later for cattle to be sent out to the colony as a speculation, for one half the profits of their increase.

In the early winter of 1637-38 an attempt at settlement was made in a portion of Barnstable known as “Old Town,” by one Stephen Batchelor, who for some twenty years was a stormy petrel among the clergy of New England. In 1632, at the age of seventy-one, lured no doubt by the hope of freedom – there were not lacking those who accused him of license — he had arrived in Boston and went on to Lynn, where he was soon in trouble with the authorities. “The cause,” writes Governor Winthrop, “was for that coming out from England with a small body of six or seven persons, and having since received in many more at Saugus” — in short, his flavor of liberalism did not please the elders, and after a long wrangle, upon his “promise to remove out of town within three months he was discharged.” It is said that among the settlers at Sandwich were some relatives of his little flock; and whether for that reason or not, in the bitter cold of an early winter, he led them, on foot, the weary hundred miles from Lynn to Mattacheesett. But the settlement, rashly undertaken, was not a success, and in the spring Batchelor was off to Newbury. Thence he went to Hampton and Exeter, and at eighty was formally excommunicated by the Puritans. His life here had been “one constant scene of turbulence, disappointment, discipline and accusation,” and home again in England, in peace we may hope at the last, he died at the age of ninety.

In 1639 came the formal permission to settle Yarmouth. Stephen Hopkins’s farm was incorporated in the new settlement, and the group of undertakers was headed by Anthony Thacher, who four years previously had been cast away on Thacher’s Island, Cape Ann, in a memorable storm. His children were among those lost; but he and his wife, and, quaintly, a covering of embroidered scarlet broadcloth that is still an heirloom in the family, were saved. Thacher had been a curate of Saint Edmund’s, Salisbury, and after his tragic entry into the country, had settled first at Newbury and then at Marblehead.

In the early part of 1639 lands in Barnstable were granted by Plymouth on the usual terms; and in October of that year some twenty-five families, under the leadership of the Reverend John Lothrop, came there from Scituate that had become “too straite for their accommodation,” a phrase which meant probably that in the growing settlement grazing land was becoming restricted. Lothrop was of notable personality. A man of Christ Church, Cambridge, he had taken Anglican orders and then had gone over to the In-dependents and had become the second pastor of their church in London. After eight years there, he and fifty of his congregation were arrested and imprisoned for two years; but in 1634, in company with some of his former parishioners, he came to New England on the same ship, as it chanced, with the famous Anne Hutchinson, whose chief offence, in the days before persecution swung her mind awry, seems to have been a disconcerting personal charm. It is reasonable to suppose that Mr. Lothrop may not have enjoyed his long voyage the less by reason of such a fellow-traveller. In December, 1639, there was held at Barnstable, the first thanksgiving service, which resembled an earlier celebration of the same congregation at Scituate, when after prayer and praise, so Mr. Lothrop in-forms us, there was “then making merry to the creatures.” At Barnstable, likewise, “the creatures” were enjoyed when the congregation divided into “three companies to feast together, some at Mr. Hull’s, some at Mr. Mayo’s, and some at Brother Lumbard, senior’s.” Lothrop was a man of vigorous mind, with some worldly wisdom as befitted a pioneer, “prudent and discreet”; he was learned, tolerant, kindly, typical of the early leaders in town affairs. It was those of the second and third generation, when the fires of consecration had burned low and the influence of Massachusetts Bay was potent, who baited their heretics; and then men said of old Elder Dimmock of Barnstable that he kept to the teachings of his beloved pastor, John Lothrop, and “if his neighbor was an Anabaptist, or a Quaker, he did not judge him, because he held that to be a prerogative of Deity which man had no right to assume.” Lothrop’s church members needed to sign no creed or confession of faith: they professed belief in God and promised their endeavor to keep His commands, to live a pure life, and to walk in love with their brothers.

Lothrop’s ministry at Barnstable had its smaller difficulties that are not peculiar to his time. Of a jealous, backbiting woman he writes: “Wee had long patience towards her, and used all courteous intreatyes and persuations; but the longer wee waited, the worse she was.” The woman, “as confidently as if she had a spirit of Revelation,” kept to her slanders: “Mrs. Dimmock was proud, and went about telling lies,” so did Mrs. Wells; and Mr. Lothrop and Elder Cobb “did talk of her” when they went to see Mr. Huckins. At their wits’ end to stop her’ slanders, they very likely held counsel regarding her. She was “perremtorye in all her carriages,” the harried parson affirms, and finally, in 1649, milder measures exhausted, she was excommunicated. Another trouble-maker had come with the first settlers from Scituate. He had the training of a gentleman and knew some Latin, we are informed, but was a vulgar creature and obstreperous of manner. He, too, was excommunicated, among the lesser reasons given therefor that he was “much given to Idleness, and too much jearing,” and “observed alsoe by some to bee somewhat proud.” Lothrop, in his record, adds that William Caseley “took it patiently,” which, belike, was but another manifestation of William Caseley’s arrogance.

Lothrop kept in touch with affairs across the water; and on March 4, 1652, appointed a day of “thanks-giving for the Lord’s powerful working for Old England by Oliver Cromwell and his army, against the Scots.” He loved his books, and by his will, in 1653, gave one to each child in the village, and directed that the remainder be sold “to any honest man who could tell how to use it.” His house is still used for a library.

Another bequest of public import was that of Andrew Hallett, of Yarmouth, first of the name, who left a heifer and her progeny, from year to year, to the use of the most needy in the town, no mean loan at a time when a cow was worth a farmstead. Hallett, in the precise classification of the day, was rated among the few “gentlemen.” He speculated in land as did the best of his neighbors, from parson to cobbler, and was no stranger to contests at law. His son Andrew, though a gentleman’s son, did not learn to write until he came to Yarmouth. He bought of Gyles Hopkins a house which without doubt was that built by Stephen in 1638, the first built here by whites — a poor thing, very likely: for it was said hat some of the Indian wigwams were more comfortable than many houses built by the English. But in no long time Hallett was building another house more in keeping with his estate; and of one of his descendants in the mid-eighteen hundreds the gracious memory was preserved that he delighted in keeping “great fires on his hearth.” Andrew Hallett, the younger, unlike-his father, seems to have kept clear of legal entanglements, and though a member of the Yarmouth church, preferred at times to sit under the gentler teaching of Mr. Lothrop of Barnstable.

The Reverend Marmaduke Matthews, first minis-ter of Yarmouth, was a fiery Welshman, witty, but indiscreet in his speech, who kept his parish in hot water for the six years of his tenure. He quarrelled with the constable; again, four of his opponents were haled before the court as “scoffers and jeerers at religion and making disorders at town meeting,” and were acquitted. Some schismatics tried to form a new society under Mr. Hull, who had been supplanted in the Barnstable church by Mr. Lothrop, but was still a member thereof; whereupon, perplexingly, Barn-stable excommunicated him for “wilfully breaking his communion with us, and joining a company in Yarmouth to be their pastor contrary to the counsel and advice of our church.” Hull made an “acknowledgment of sin,” was reinstated, but soon after went to Dover. Lothrop was now supreme at Barnstable, but Yarmouth was not at peace, and under Matthews’s successor, John Miller, another Cambridge man, matters came to the pass of calling a council of conciliation drawn from the distinguished clergy of the two colonies — John Eliot of Roxbury among them — to pass upon these ecclesiastical difficulties.

In 1644 came the settlement of Eastham: indeed, there had been some talk of transferring the seat of government thither. There had been growing dissatisfaction with Plymouth; some said that they “had pitched upon a spot whose soil was poor and barren,” and Nauset had long been known to them as a granary whence they drew many of their supplies. On further reflection the place was judged too cramped and too out of the way for a capital town; but seven families of Plymouth adhering to their wish to remove there, land was purchased from the Indians, and a grant was made to them of “all the tract of land lying between sea and sea, from the purchasers’ bounds at Namskaket to the herring brook at Billingsgate, with the said herring brook and all the meadows on both sides the said brook, with the great bass-pond there, and all the meadows and islands lying within said tract.” Among the men coming to Eastham was Thomas Prince, who had come over in the Fortune, and married for his first wife the daughter of Elder Brewster. Prince took up a farm of two hundred acres, that ran from sea to bay, and later when he was elected Governor a dispensation was made in his case, as the law held that the Governor should be a resident of Plymouth. In 1665, however, public affairs forced him to return to the capital, but he still held his Eastham farm. Those who knew Prince testified that “he was a terror to evil-doers, and he encouraged all that did well.” Among “evil-doers” there is reason to believe he included men of other theological views than his own. But the colony elected him three times its governor, and the Plymouth Church set the seal of its approval on his administration. “He was excellently qualified for the office of Governor. He had a countenance full of majesty.”

Here, then, were the original four townships, extending from Buzzard’s Bay to the Province Lands; and it is particularly fortunate, no doubt, that these settlements sufficiently isolated the Indian communities of the Cape before the great conflagration of King Philip’s War, when any concentration of fire there would have been a troublesome matter for the colonists to handle. In 1685, when the colony was divided into its three counties, four more villages — Falmouth, Harwich, Truro, and Chatham — are mentioned, but not until some years later were they set off and incorporated as towns. Later still Dennis, Brewster, Orleans, and Wellfleet were divided from the mother townships, and in 1727 the Province Lands at the tip of the Cape were incorporated as Provincetown, with certain peculiar rights therein reserved to the Government.

The setting-off of Brewster, previously the North Parish of Harwich, in 1803, led to an amusing complication that illustrates the fine stiff-necked obstinacy of these men of “the bulldog breed.” A battle royal was waged between those who did and those who did not advocate the division; and finally the best possible compromise to be had was that he who would not budge from his old allegiance should be permitted his citizenship there, though his estate should lie in the new. Harwich was divided; in the process the new town was splashed with angry patches of the old, and more than one conservative of the North Parish found his freehold tied to the mother town only by a ribbon of winding road. Such a one looked from his windows across jewelled marshes to the alien waters of the bay; and on election day, turning his back on home, crossed the trig waist of the Cape, and cast his ballot in the town set on the sandy inlets of the sea.