JARS v44n1 - Come To The Cape At Convention Time In 1990!

Come To The Cape At Convention Time In 1990!
Virginia "Tim" Craig
Duxbury, Massachusetts

The Cape? There are many capes in the United States. On the east coast, for example, there is Cape Ann. It's somewhere up north of Boston, but it's always referred to as Cape Ann. There is Cape May. That's down in New Jersey, spoken of almost as one word, Capemay. There is Cape Hatteras. That's off the coast of North Carolina, alluded to in "cruising off Hatteras". There is Cape Horn. That's down near Antarctica, where ships sail "round the Horn". But if something is "on the Cape" or if one is going "to the Cape", it can only mean one place: Cape Cod, Massachusetts!

There's a good bit of disagreement about where this cape is located, especially as to where it begins: at Plymouth, at the canal, or at the Truro Provincetown line? The sensible choice, to those who don't live in the area and can be objective, seems to be the canal. At that point, between Sagamore Beach and Bourne, the strip of land between Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay is quite narrow. The Cape Cod Canal is the world's widest (550') man-made shipping lane. It is at sea level, and therefore has no locks. It shortens the journey between Boston and New York, and makes it possible for ocean-going vessels to avoid the treacherous waters on the outside of the Cape where so many shipwrecks have occurred in the last four centuries.

This man-made waterway makes the land beyond it an island. Down Cape, the climate is milder in winter, Zone 7 on the hardiness map with minimum temperatures that rarely go below 0° F. Temperatures are also cooler in the heat of summer, rarely above 90° F. The atmosphere is more moist, with fog and mist when there are quick changes in temperature for one reason or another. But when the sun shines, the Cape is glorious, from the two graceful bridges that span the canal 135' above mean sea level to the great sand dunes in Provincetown. There are miles of beautiful sandy beaches. On the north shore, water temperatures can be a bit chilly, but on the south side are the warm waters of Buzzards Bay and Nantucket Sound. The Cape is the favorite vacationland of Massachusetts, and for families from Canada to Florida.

A little more than a hundred years ago, scientists began to accept the modern theory of a great ice sheet moving down from Canada across New England. It is now believed that at least four different periods of glaciation have been involved in the formation of the New England landscape. Many thousands of years ago, Massachusetts was at the southern edge of those glaciers. It is hard to imagine a great river of ice stretching northward for two thousand miles. The edge was not straight or even, but was formed of long scallops or lobes that moved across the land. In some places these were separated by mountains and hills; at other points the tongues of ice met, perhaps traveled along side by side, but always leaving deposits of soil and rock that had been moved many miles from their original locations. Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands, as well as Cape Cod, were formed by these massive forces.

At the southern edge of the glaciers, the ice was melting as fast as new ice moved in from the north. This stopped the forward movement of the glacier over the land, but did not stop the internal flow of the frozen river with its special capacity for carrying rocks and debris along with it. After many more thousands of years, climatic conditions changed, and the glacier eventually melted away.

The Cape Cod National Seashore, with its Visitor's Center in Eastham, is the place to learn to understand the ways in which this happened, and to see examples of the land formations that resulted: moraines, kettle-holes, outwash plains, drumlins. Route 6, traveling down Cape from the canal, goes along the high ridge of the Sandwich Moraine. It gives beautiful vistas over the treetops to sandy beaches at the water's edge. Cape Cod is geologically unique.

The Pilgrims, in 1620, made their first landfall on the Cape. The "Mayflower" had been beset with problems. Its course across the Atlantic brought it far north of its intended destination in Virginia. The many delays in its departure from England brought it here at the beginning of winter. A storm was raging when the little band of settlers first sighted land. They failed to navigate through the shoals of Pollock Rip, and had to tack northward to reach deeper water and avoid running aground on this uncharted coast. They rounded Provincetown and dropped anchor in calmer waters.

A month later, they had found a good supply of fresh water at Plymouth and chose it for their permanent settlement. History books tell the story of their struggle for survival in the harsh winter of this new land. America's hometown, as Plymouth likes to call itself, saw the establishment of rights still important in our democracy. These people came seeking religious liberty, but they also gave us representative government and the concept of free education. Many Americans, with great pride, trace their ancestry back to Plymouth. They are "Mayflower Descendants".

But the history of the Cape dates back many years before the arrival of the Mayflower. Originally the land was the home of the Wampanoag Indians, who had a summer encampment on the Manomet River in Bourne, and a permanent settlement in Mashpee. Legends tell of Viking ships visiting these shores as early as 1007 AD when the son of Leif Ericson was supposed to have been killed by the Indians. There is some evidence to support those tales in the form of rocks with Viking markings carved upon them.

As the population of the Plymouth Colony grew, by natural increase as well as by the arrival of other ships from England, the Pilgrims had to look elsewhere for land to farm. Across the bay from Plymouth, a short distance by boat, was Duxbury. Several of the Plymouth families went there to raise crops in the summer and returned to Plymouth for the winter. Attendance at church on Sundays was required. This was feasible in warm weather, but not in the winter months. As early as possible, the families who went to Duxbury built homes and organized a town government in order to qualify for their own church and minister, thus making the Sunday trip to Plymouth unnecessary.

The soil along the south coast of Massachusetts is not rich land, so these were only subsistence farms at best. Other occupations had to be found if the settlements were to survive and repay their debts in England. During their first years in Plymouth, the Pilgrims had learned about fish. Now they tried to make a living by fishing along the coast. Such ventures did not prove to be profitable, but the colony struggled on, farming, fishing, trading with the Indians, and as more residents came, trading with other settlements south along the New England coast to New York, as well as north to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The life of the area always centered around the sea. The fastest transportation was by boat, and the earliest villages developed along the coast. At first, settlement in the Cape villages was limited to those who came to America in the first three ships: Mayflower, Fortune, and Anne. Farming provided the needs of daily life, but boat yards and shipbuilding gradually became important industries in many of the small towns. As the centuries' passed, men built vessels of all sizes from Cape Cod dories, to Crosby cats, to clipper ships. They sailed their ships all over the world, across the Atlantic to England and France, south through the Caribbean, around the Horn to China and up the Pacific coast in the days of the California Gold Rush. Fortunes were made and lost. Men went to sea, while their wives and children remained at home in the cottages and houses of the Cape towns. Each of these has more than three centuries of history in its background, a story it is eager to tell through its museums and historical societies. Cape Cod is unique historically.

But the Cape Cod you visit in 1990 is a twentieth century place. It has a thriving tourist industry. You may swim, play golf, or tennis. You may go whale watching or fishing. You may sail a boat or go surf boarding. You may just lie upon the beach and soak up the sun. You may spend the day in antique shops or shopping malls. You may visit museums or craft shops. You may take a boat to Nantucket or the Vineyard. You may rent a car and drive to Provincetown or Plymouth. You may ride a bicycle or walk on the trails in the National Seashore. You may visit the Audubon Society's Wildlife Sanctuary at Wellfleet. You may take a dune buggy ride through the sand dunes of Provincetown. You may eat in a wide assortment of restaurants and spend the night in charming village inns. What is your pleasure?