chatham pages from an informal history cape cod (1955)

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Chatham Pages from An Informal History Cape Cod (1955)




Incorporated 1712

SHORELINE ON THE ATLANTIC OCEAN AND NANand contains the following villages: Chatham, Chathamport, North Chatham, West Chatham, and South Chatham.


tucket Sound,

is off by itself. The road loops through the town, but not merely a place you pass en route to another town. You have to go out of your way to see Chatham, and that is part of its charm. The houses and inns along the shore and behind the high bluffs overlooking the Chatham bars are a world unto themselves. Like Provincetown, Chatham is an outpost. Like Provincetown, too, it has its own special look. Similarly, its principal village is a jumble of narrow streets and lanes and close-clustered houses. Chatham is the only town on the Cape which is dominated by a working lighthouse right in its midst. To understand how really treacherous are the shoals that lie off Chatham, just step a few paces from the lighthouse to the Federal cemetery. This is a burial place for sailors whose bodies have come ashore on local beaches. One hundred and six unidentified seamen have been burled there.


this is

Throughout most of



first called,

was a land

early history, Monomoy, as Chatham that seemed to breed contention and


clash on

At Monomoy, a fiery Frenchman caused the first armed Cape Cod between Europeans and Indians. Then a con176



tentious Englishman settled the place. Later, he and his relatives with each other, and all of them quarreled quarreled with the

Court and with adjoining towns. Perhaps the moods of the sea influence people who live beside it, for in few places are the waves more contentious than they are off Chatham. The Mayflower, trying to round the Cape, was turned back when it "fell amongst dangerous shoulds and roring breakers"off








out of the Pilgrims.early days


days. It

were filled with struggle. They were unseemed as if the place would never amount to

To begin with, Champlain had high hopes of founding New France there. Fifteen years before the Pilgrims dropped anchor off Cape Cod, he looked things over on two expeditions. On the second expedition the Frenchmen got in trouble among the Monomoy shoals, smashed their rudder, and had to anchor. Going ashore in a shallop they found an Indian who was able to pilot them into Stage Harbor.Champlain was not in personal command of the expedition. It was headed by Sieur de Poutrincourt, who was rather a troublemaker. At first the numerous Indians in the vicinity were friendly enough, but Poutrincourt liked the harbor and was inclined to wear out his welcome. While the rudder was being repaired, others even built stone parties of the French explored inland, and ovens on the shore in order to make bread. baking When the Indians began to move their women, children, and huts away into the woods, it was rather obvious that they were clearing for action. More Indians, probably curious visitors from neighboring tribes, had appeared until some five or six hundred were on hand, including an ominous number of warriors. But Sieur de Poutrincourt was undaunted. He was spoiling to show off his firearms. So he strutted about the beach blasting awaywith a musket, barely resisting the temptation to demonstrate on a live Indian.






to take

expected Ms antics to awe the savages, but still decided no chances. Knowing that the Indians were most likely

to attack at night or at daybreak, Poutrincourt ordered all hands aboard for the night. However, the men doing the baking were

incredibly nonchalant about the presence of several hundred savor the bakers had ages. Either the ship's discipline was very poor the traditional temperament of French chefs, whom nobody canrule. In any event, when the shallop was sent for them, they refused to obey orders and come aboard. They preferred to stay ashore and eat the cakes they were baking along with the bread.


least five

men remained on

the beach

The next morning Indian

scouts found

tending the about four hundred warriors

man who wasthem such a

them all asleep except for' Then according to Champlain, came tiptoeing over the hill and


volley of arrows that to rise

up was

death. Flee-

ing the best they could towards our bark, shouting 'Help! they are killing us!' a part fell dead in the water; the others were all pierced

with arrows and one died in consequence a short time after. The savages made a desperate noise with roarings which it was terribleto hear."

Sixteen men on the ship immediately rushed to the rescue in the shallop, only to get themselves blocked by a sandbar, so that they had to wade most of the way ashore. By the time they arrived the Indians were gone and there was little to do but bury then-

return to the ship.

which had been set up the day before and then A few hours later the Indians came back and mocked them by breaking down the cross and digging up the dead. Again the French went ashore, with the Indians melting once more into the woods, and again the white men stubbornly buried their dead and set the cross back in place.

dead near a


The next day they set sail, after ironically naming the harbor "Port Fortune" because of the bad luck it had brought them. Theycontinued their explorations along the shore to the west, but twice

bad weather forced them back to Port Fortune. They had no morethan returned to this unlucky place the second time than a promi-


179of their

memberhim one


musket which burst and by this and by their earlier the French worked out a plan for capturing and killing


fired off a

of his hands. Disgruntled

a few Indians byseveral.


of revenge.

They succeeded

in butchering

Having carried out this splendid bit of public relations, they gave up the Cape as a bad job, tossed away a chance of establishing a base for a New World empire for France, and left itto


to gain a foothold there.

Frenchmen from a wrecked fishing vessel were captured by the Indians and used "worse than slaves," being sent from tribe to tribe to be put at hard labor and "made sporte of." It was one of these captives who learned enough of the Indianyears later five


language to make a dire prophecy to his captors. He predicted God's displeasure and the coming of a race which would destroy them. The following year many Indians died in the great plague

which raged among them, and when the Pilgrims presently appeared the Indians remembered the Frenchman's prophecy.For a long timetheafter Poutrincourfsleft to


Indians weresettled,

be have peans might

Cape began

unwelcome visit, however, Even when the itself was undisturbed. EuroMonomoythemselves.

cast covetous eyes in that direction shortly after the first settlements were made on the upper Cape in 1637-39 if

Monomoy had not been included in the great tract of land, lying between Yarmouth and Eastham, which in 1640 was reserved forthe "purchasers or old comers" of Plymouth Colony. A man living in Yarmouth was destined to upset this arrangement. William Nickerson, who had shaken the dust of England

from his feet because of religious persecution, came early to America and settled in Yarmouth soon after it became a town. He lived near Follins Pond in what is now Dennis. Nickerson was constantly involved in lawsuits with someone* First it was over the land disputes that raged in Yarmouth and that finally had to be settled in a high-handed fashion by Miles Standish. Nickerson himself had a ready tongue, and after a num-

180ber ofsuits for slander



Nickerson and others hadit

and defamation by and against William thrown out by the Court, finally been

earnestly desired


to see the evil of "his offensive speeches

against the sundry of the town."real estate there for a while,

Roxbury and dabbled discontentedly in but soon he was back, and brought a barrel of liquor into town shortly thereafter. Actually this was not discreditable or unusual; it was no more than standard practice among our founding fathers. So William took a lusty swig, hoisted up his belt, and started checking up on how many drift whales had been taken along the shores of the town while he had been gone. Every resident was entitled to a share, and by thePresently he



Lord Harry, he wanted his share! Such small bickerings were not enoughson occupied, however.

keep William Nickersomething really big to set his over. Besides, he began to feel the need of more elbow room, jaw not only for himself but also for his numerous family of married sons and daughters and their

He needed

to the east over there in Monomoy looked mighty inand the local sachem was a sucker for boats. Offer him a viting, shallop, a few coats of trucking cloth, some kettles, axes, hoes, knives, a hat, some wampum, and a few shillings in hard cash, and he might be silly enough to sell the whole works and let the

The land

Nickerson tribe move


Tradition says that the chief did not jump at the deal at once, but that the Indians retired to thei