Chatham Pages From an Informal History Cape Cod (1955)

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Chatham Pages from An Informal History Cape Cod (1955)


<p>9.</p> <p>Chatham</p> <p>Incorporated 1712</p> <p>SHORELINE ON THE ATLANTIC OCEAN AND NANand contains the following villages: Chatham, Chathamport, North Chatham, West Chatham, and South Chatham.</p> <p>V^HATHAM HAS</p> <p>tucket Sound,</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Chatham</p> <p>this is</p> <p>Throughout most of</p> <p>its</p> <p>was</p> <p>first called,</p> <p>was a land</p> <p>early history, Monomoy, as Chatham that seemed to breed contention and</p> <p>strife.</p> <p>clash on</p> <p>At Monomoy, a fiery Frenchman caused the first armed Cape Cod between Europeans and Indians. Then a con176</p> <p>CHATHAM</p> <p>177</p> <p>tentious Englishman settled the place. Later, he and his relatives with each other, and all of them quarreled quarreled with the</p> <p>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</p> <p>Monomoy's</p> <p>shores.</p> <p>Monomoy's</p> <p>shoals</p> <p>made</p> <p>Massachusetts</p> <p>men</p> <p>out of the Pilgrims.early days</p> <p>Monomoy'sprosperousanything.</p> <p>days. It</p> <p>were filled with struggle. They were unseemed as if the place would never amount to</p> <p>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.</p> <p>178</p> <p>CAPE COD S</p> <p>?</p> <p>WAY</p> <p>He</p> <p>to take</p> <p>expected Ms antics to awe the savages, but still decided no chances. Knowing that the Indians were most likely</p> <p>to attack at night or at daybreak, Poutrincourt ordered all hands aboard for the night. However, the men doing the baking were</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Atthe</p> <p>least five</p> <p>men remained on</p> <p>the beach</p> <p>The next morning Indian</p> <p>scouts found</p> <p>tending the about four hundred warriors</p> <p>man who wasthem such a</p> <p>them all asleep except for' Then according to Champlain, came tiptoeing over the hill and</p> <p>"sent</p> <p>volley of arrows that to rise</p> <p>up was</p> <p>death. Flee-</p> <p>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</p> <p>with arrows and one died in consequence a short time after. The savages made a desperate noise with roarings which it was terribleto hear."</p> <p>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-</p> <p>return to the ship.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>dead near a</p> <p>cross</p> <p>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</p> <p>bad weather forced them back to Port Fortune. They had no morethan returned to this unlucky place the second time than a promi-</p> <p>CHATHAMnentcost</p> <p>179of their</p> <p>memberhim one</p> <p>troubles,</p> <p>musket which burst and by this and by their earlier the French worked out a plan for capturing and killing</p> <p>company</p> <p>fired off a</p> <p>of his hands. Disgruntled</p> <p>a few Indians byseveral.</p> <p>way</p> <p>of revenge.</p> <p>They succeeded</p> <p>in butchering</p> <p>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</p> <p>Englishmen</p> <p>to gain a foothold there.</p> <p>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</p> <p>Ten</p> <p>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</p> <p>which raged among them, and when the Pilgrims presently appeared the Indians remembered the Frenchman's prophecy.For a long timetheafter Poutrincourfsleft to</p> <p>Monomoyto</p> <p>Indians weresettled,</p> <p>be have peans might</p> <p>Cape began</p> <p>unwelcome visit, however, Even when the itself was undisturbed. EuroMonomoythemselves.</p> <p>cast covetous eyes in that direction shortly after the first settlements were made on the upper Cape in 1637-39 if</p> <p>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</p> <p>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-</p> <p>180ber ofsuits for slander</p> <p>CAPE COD'S</p> <p>WAY</p> <p>Nickerson and others hadit</p> <p>and defamation by and against William thrown out by the Court, finally been</p> <p>earnestly desired</p> <p>him</p> <p>to see the evil of "his offensive speeches</p> <p>against the sundry of the town."real estate there for a while,</p> <p>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</p> <p>moved</p> <p>to</p> <p>Lord Harry, he wanted his share! Such small bickerings were not enoughson occupied, however.</p> <p>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</p> <p>He needed</p> <p>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</p> <p>The land</p> <p>Nickerson tribe move</p> <p>in.</p> <p>Tradition says that the chief did not jump at the deal at once, but that the Indians retired to their wigwams for three days to waitfor a sign. If a bear were to come, it meant trouble. If a deer came, that was a sign of peace, and they would sell the land. Even in</p> <p>those days the Cape must have had a lot more deer than bear, besides which William Nickerson probably spent the three days beating the brush for deer and driving them in the Indians* direction.</p> <p>At any</p> <p>rate, the deal</p> <p>went his boat,</p> <p>The sachem paddled happily away</p> <p>and William</p> <p>Nickerson rubbed his hands and prepared to move to Monomoy, conveniently forgetting that the General Court might feel it had</p> <p>CHATHAM</p> <p>181</p> <p>some say in the transaction. For that matter, the Court had made some fool rule prohibiting the buying of land from the Indianswithouthisits consent, but if any remembrances of this law crossed mind, William did not let it stop his plans for an eastward march. The Court was not slow to react. It let out a roar of rage. Not</p> <p>only was the sale illegal, it was also illegal to give, lend, sell, or otherwise transfer a boat into the possession of an Indian, and</p> <p>Nickerson could jolly well pay a fine on that count, too! William let out an answering roar of outrage, pain, and fury, and a battle of sixteen years' duration was joined. In truth, the Court did not find anything unfair about Nickerson's dealings with the simple savages. It merely refused to let him flout the law. The judges demanded that he let outsiders come</p> <p>in to share his bargain. For this privilege they were to pay him a proportionate share of what he had given the sachem. This waslike telling a carnival operator that</p> <p>you would pay for one quarter of the kewpie-doll prizes in return for one quarter of his profits on the games.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the Court whittled Nickerson down to one hundred acres of his original purchase of some three thousand, awarding the rest to purchasers and old comers. And after sixteen years of wrangling William finally agreed to buy out the others for ninety pounds. Subsequently he bought more land from the Indians, until his holdings totaled about four thousand acres. When Nickerson began his battles, he was already in his sixties. For resisting the constable he had been set in the stocks for three days, along with his sons. For refusing to give sureties for future good behavior he was clapped into jail, and stayed there three days before he relented. Yet in the end he gained full control of the settlement and kept in fighting trim by squabbling with his ownfamily.</p> <p>wanted</p> <p>Nickerson gave fifty acres of land to any of his children who it, but one son-in-law, Tristram Hedges, claimed he had contributed part of the ninety pounds and demanded a larger</p> <p>182share. Nickerson</p> <p>CAPE COD'Swentto court</p> <p>WAY</p> <p>with him and won handily. His become unassailable. But in spite of all the furore, few except Nickerson and his clan got very excited over Monomoy. It was such a feeble and unprosclaim to the land had at lastits</p> <p>perous settlement that as late as 1680 the Court adjudged it "in infancy and therefore not soe able soe to doe as others" and</p> <p>paid for the care of a</p> <p>Monomoy orphan out</p> <p>of the</p> <p>instead of expecting the village'sresponsibility.</p> <p>few inhabitants</p> <p>Colony Treasury to assume that</p> <p>been settled for twenty-five years, it was more than a Nickerson neighborhood. It was a problem child, too. Since it was not yet a town, it should properly be attached to either Yarmouth or Eastham. Yarmouth felt it had the better claim, since the Nickersons were formerly of that town, but when it tried to work up an attachment the response was cold particularly after the Yarmouth rate-collector came around. He was "affronted in the execution of his in short, he nearly had office and offered divers abuses therein'*still little</p> <p>When Monomoy had</p> <p>to</p> <p>run for</p> <p>his life. Eventually the</p> <p>Monomoy</p> <p>Court thought it wiser to put under Eastham's wing. Eastham nervously lifted the</p> <p>wing, but Monomoy paid little attention to its foster mother. In 1693, the first recorded meeting of the inhabitants was held.</p> <p>The</p> <p>and treasurer of the meeting? Ninety-year-old William Nickerson, to be sure. The business of the day had a homey touch about it Lieutenant Nicholas Eldridge was assigned to get the villagers a half bushel, a peck, and a half peck, so that they could have correct measures to use in buying and selling. From then on regular town meetings were judged necessary, andclerk in 1700 the village took another important step forward. In that year it was voted to "bild a meten hous." The voters</p> <p>"made chose of Gorg Godfree and William Nickerson to lok after and see the work be don," and it was agreed that all the men should take turns helping the foreman get the timber. Later it was necessary to get after "those men that had not took ther torn."</p> <p>CHATHAMfar</p> <p>183</p> <p>Such signs o progress notwithstanding, Monomoy was still from being a booming community. The outlook was dark. The population was small, conditions in the church were unsettled, and French privateers were an ever-present threat. If any of her men were impressed, Monomoy would be left defenseless. In 1711 the General Court finally took note of this condition and tried to ease the situation by decreeing that no men from the foot company at Monomoy were to be impressed for duty elsewhere, but this action came too late. The first emigration from Monomoy wasalready taking place. Thirteen families moved inland, mostly to a place in Delaware, now Smyrna, which was then called Duck Creek. A...</p>


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