Update on the South Wellfleet Congregational Church

Happily, blog-writing, instead of book-writing, allows the possibility of adding new information and photos. Since I began this project in 2012, I’ve written seventy posts. While I continue researching and exploring from a long list of subjects, I’m pausing here to post a few updates or photos on topics covered earlier.

Since I began, the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum has organized and made available a trove of historical photos. A group of Wellfleet supporters has started a FaceBook site where memories and photos are shared. New sources of information are also available from a growing number of historical newspaper databases. All of these are my sources for these South Wellfleet updates.

My original post is available with this link

The Church’s Organ is stolen, a tale of crime in Wellfleet

In late October and early November, 1872, both The Monitor of Chatham, Mass. and The Barnstable Patriot covered the story of the stolen organ of the South Wellfleet Congregational Church. The story begins with a young man named Charles Brown who had taken the packet boat from Boston to East Dennis. As he left the ship, he told the captain, Orrin Sears, that he had some furniture to bring back, goods that he would be picking-up in South Wellfleet where he worked. The packet boat was due to sail again on October 24th, and, as arranged, he arrived in a dory with the goods: four barrels, he said contained furniture, plus a wrapped ice chest. The items were loaded.

The wind wasn’t favorable, so that the packet boat was delayed in sailing for an extra day. Meanwhile, The Yarmouth Register reported the theft of the South Wellfleet church organ, which aroused the suspicion of Captain Sears, who went to his packet boat to look over the goods. He telegraphed the “authorities” at South Wellfleet, who then came to Dennis and arrested the young man. The goods were found to be cranberries stolen from South Wellfleet’s Isaiah Hatch and the organ, wrapped in cloth—most certainly not an ice chest. Meanwhile, in Dennis, Mr. Brown had stolen fish from the firm of Kelley & Sears.

The report ends with a warning: “It is well known that the good church fathers of South Wellfleet keep the key to their church under a certain brick in the churchyard. For the safety of the organ we would advise them to put said brick elsewhere.”


Now, here are some updated images:

Charles F. Cole tells the story of the movement of the South Wellfleet Church to Wellfleet in his booklet The History of Colonial Hall. The booklet displays this chart of the church pews and their owners:

SW Congregational Church Pews from Charles Cole’s booklet “Colonial Hall”


Finally, here are other images from the late 19th and early 20th Century showing the demise of the church.

from the Wellfleet Historical Society collection

from the Wellfleet Historical Society collection

from the Wellfleet Historical Society collection


Commemorative plaque for the Church

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The 1979 Pot Bust in Blackfish Creek

In this summer of 2018, as town officials figure out where Wellfleet’s now legal marijuana retail outlets will be located, it seems like the perfect time to remember the exciting night nearly forty years ago when the world of pot smuggling sailed into Blackfish Creek.

The summer of 1979 was proceeding as usual with many Wellfleet summer residents ensconced in their cottages. The notable issue of the day was the price of gas with headlines proclaiming “dollar gas is here.” Wellfleet employees were asked to walk or bike to work on Fridays. Chief Olsen of the National Park Service issued an order that the Rangers were not to carry guns during daytime hours. Plans to build a new library were proceeding with an easement sought through the Congregational church parking lot.  The biggest social issue in the town was the young people hanging out on the Town Hall lawn and allegedly harassing everyone. Selectmen were ready to declare the space illegal until a committee was set up to see if a compromise could be arranged.

The Saturday night of July 15, 1979, was one of “pea soup” fog in Wellfleet. On Friday night, a 51 foot ketch* came into Blackfish Creek.  Later, many said they wondered why a vessel of this large size was in the creek.

Its name Shango may have implied that perhaps this venture was one of many planned or already carried out. “Shango” refers to a western Nigerian religious cult, practiced in parts of the Caribbean and, today, is a Portland (OR) brand of marijuana with a medical dispensary in Las Vegas of the same name. Santana also had an album “Shango” in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, over on Cannon Hill’s neighborhood, the neighbors were wondering why two cars had been parked near a summer rental cottage, even though no people seemed to be in residence for two weeks. On Saturday morning, July 14th, a Cannon Hill resident had been awakened very early by a motorboat and people talking near her cottage. She listened through the dawn hours as a boat arrived and departed several times. After 9 AM, she called the Wellfleet police. An officer drove over and took down the plate numbers of the small red camper parked in the empty cottage’s yard where, at high tide, the water was within twenty feet of the structure. Later on Saturday evening, a group of neighbors sitting around on the deck of another Cannon Hill cottage, heard a motorboat and wondered why it was operating on such a foggy night.

The mysterious appearance of the ketch and the empty cottage with vehicles was enough for the Wellfleet PD to dispatch two officers to the Creek in a borrowed boat at around 4 AM on Sunday morning, July 15th. Simultaneously, a patrol car with three officers were sent to Cannon Hill Road. The officers in the boat, Chapman and Brintnall, witnessed a 16-foot Boston Whaler and three Zodiac rafts ferrying 2½ X 3½ foot bales of something from the Shango to the shore. Four men were working on the job. When confronted, three immediately ran and the fourth, a man named Paul Block who turned out to be the owner of the ketch, stayed and was the first arrest.

Mr. Block said he was surprised when the two officers, in civilian clothes, turned out to be local police. Over on Cannon Hill, the officers gave chase to other men who were around the cottage, along with a woman who emerged.  Now there was another camper and a blue truck in the yard.  Eventually, in addition to Mr. Block, seven others were arrested, some after a chase through the South Wellfleet woods as far as the intersection of Route 6 and Pleasant Point Road, near the Candlewood Cottages. The Massachusetts State police picked up one running man on Route 6 near the First National Store.

No guns were fired during the incident and no one was injured except for one officer who suffered a sprained foot later when he slipped while he was in the cabin of the Shango. The Wellfleet Police Department’s morale was described as “sky high” the next day as law enforcement officers from the state and federal agencies gathered in the police station, along with the press.

After all the excitement of the early morning hours, the legal processes took over, and the police counted eight bales of marijuana in the ketch and the rest in the two camper vehicles, for a total of just under two tons. At that time, the street value of a single ton of marijuana was about $1 million.  After many had trooped to the shore to see it, the Shango was brought over to the town pier later on Sunday. It became a bit of a tourist attraction throughout the summer while the legal actions were worked out.

The eight arrested people, none of them from Cape towns, were all arraigned in Barnstable County Second District Court in Orleans, initially charged under state laws. For some, federal indictments were made, and so more serious charges were brought.

Nevertheless, there was to be much more to this story as it unfolded in the Boston and Cape newspapers that July. On the very same night, in Orleans, a similar incident, also with reporting by local residents, occurred near “Snow Shore,” a public landing in one of the points of land in Nauset harbor. There, men on a local lobster boat were unloading bales of marijuana into campers on shore, with a couple in a vehicle with radio equipment standing guard. The couple was caught, but three people escaped in the fog. Four perpetrators were arrested and another load of pot confiscated along with the lobster boat and the campers. The lobster boat was held but eventually not confiscated because the contraband had been removed and less than ten pounds remained. All the campers were “stuffed to the gills.” The police measured the bales by taking the campers to the Cape Cod Ready-Mix Concrete Plant in Orleans, and measuring them with-and-without their cargo to get their weight.

The Orleans and Wellfleet smuggling incidents turned out to be separate operations with the July 15th discoveries just an odd coincidence. This conclusion was based on the fact that the bales were wrapped differently, and the Wellfleet marijuana declared to be of “inferior” quality, although the news account did not report how that was determined. At one point, the Orleans bales were said to be labeled “Industria Colombian” and “Medellin,” a branding that indicated pretty powerful weed.

The Orleans story stayed in the news a bit longer, as law enforcement officials were sure that the lobster boat had been loaded from a “mother ship” off the coast. Indeed, a few days later, similar bales washed up on the shore of Scituate, on Massachusetts Bay. After days of the Coast Guard watching, another 50-foot ketch, Dominique, was found abandoned at the Boston Yacht Club in Marblehead. That ketch was eventually donated to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. All of the marijuana captured on July 15th was destroyed. Other coastal marijuana smuggling stories took over the news.

But in South Wellfleet, some still remember that foggy night of “the marijuana boat” operation around Blackfish Creek.

*Many reports called it a schooner. But this was a ketch, defined by a foremast taller than the mizzen.


The Cape Codder, online at the Snow Library, Orleans

Boston newspapers online at GenealogyBank.com.

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Indian Neck Part 2: From the Indian Neck Inn to Indian Neck Heights

Indian Neck developed much later than the other South Wellfleet neighborhoods surrounding Wellfleet Harbor. Its sandy edges were just waiting for the city people who began vacationing in Wellfleet in the 1890s. Lieutenant’s Island, Old Wharf Point, and Cannon Hill were already prepared with development plans, but it took until 1922 for the “Indian Neck Heights” land plan to be offered.

The Indian Neck development is really the story of two families, the Crowells and the Bakers—not the other prominent Wellfleet Baker, banana importer Lorenzo D. Baker.

But before we get to Luther C. Crowell, who had extensive land holdings on Indian Neck around his mansion and all the way to the sandy beach land overlooking the Bay, another investor assembled land there. Starting in the 1870s, Dr. Henry Hiller who had made his money selling patent medicines, and his wife, Dr. France Hiller, purchased numerous tracts of land from Wellfleet residents. The mackerel fishing was in a downward spiral and many people were leaving the Cape for Boston or its suburbs, selling the “worthless” family land to raise some cash.

Dr. Hiller emigrated to the United States from Bavaria in 1865, and married France Buryace De Sepora Bereford in Detroit in 1868. He became a naturalized citizen in 1870. The couple were living in Wilmington, Massachusetts, in 1880 when the federal census was taken; other records indicate that she was either from Latin America or the West Indies. The Hillers impact on Wellfleet must have been significant; in 1883, a new schooner named “France D. Hiller” was built in Essex, Mass., and launched with plenty of bunting draped on the Central Wharf, the schooner’s owner. She may have paid for it.  In a book about Wellfleet in the 1920s, Mrs. Hiller is noted as the owner of the beautiful home “Morning Glory” overlooking the harbor.

Dr. Henry Hiller died in 1888 of Bright’s disease according to the death certificate issued by the state of Massachusetts. France Hiller continued to buy and sell Wellfleet land, purchasing much of Griffin Island. Her husband “Henry Hiller” mysteriously continued to be named in the deeds.  A review of newspapers reporting her death in 1900 solved this mystery: she had married again, and insisted that her new husband change his name to Henry Hiller. She was 54 at the time of their marriage, and her 28-year-old new husband, Peter Surrette, was an illiterate Nova Scotian who served as her “coachman.” Her behavior—and reported use of morphine and liquor—caused her will to be contested, but the young husband inherited eventually. By the time this happened, however, the Hiller land had been sold: two large tracts of Indian Neck land totaling more than 200 acres in 1895 to Crowell, and the Griffin Island land to Lorenzo D. Baker. The Crowell sale gave him nearly all of the “Neck” with its bay views and proximity to the beach.  (See an additional note on the Hillers at the end of this blog post.)

Luther C. Crowell, from West Dennis, Massachusetts, married Margaret Doane Atwood Howard, in 1864. She was a widow, thirteen years older than he was, who had grown up in Wellfleet.  In 1874, Luther Crowell purchased his first land (and house) in Wellfleet, from John and Hannah Smith, Margaret’s sister and brother-in-law. Eleazer Atwood, named as an abutter in the deed, was Margaret and Hannah’s father. Several additional purchases led to the Crowells assembling a significant amount of land.

Luther Childs Crowell became a resident of Wellfleet in the mid-1890s and lived there until his death in 1903. Margaret Crowell had three children with her first husband, Jeremiah Howard, and subsequently had three children with Luther. A daughter, Elizabeth, died when very young, but their sons Luther F. and Edgar D. Crowell, her son Robert Howard, and her daughter’s son, Mr. Mitchell, all played roles in the development of Wellfleet real estate.

Luther Crowell had become famous before he built his mansion in Wellfleet.  After a few years as a merchant seaman, he moved to Boston and became an inventor. His early work, 1867-1879, produced patents for a square-bottom paper bag, the work he is most famous for and the work that Wellfleet claims as a noteworthy part of its history. His interest in paper folding and production led to patents involving the printing press, in particular the rotary folding machine that produces multiple-page newspapers as a complete product. A company in New York, R. Hoe & Company, developing similar processes, purchased his patents and put Crowell on their payroll for $10,000 a year to supervise their production. He worked there for the rest of his career.

The Barnstable Patriot reported regularly on the Crowell family’s visits to Wellfleet, first as summer visitors and then as permanent residents. The earliest article, in 1888, reports that the Crowells moved the Ebenezer Cole house to “Pilgrim Spring” and used it as a summer residence. The mansion they eventually built was far larger than any other developed by the city people who were beginning to spend leisure time in Wellfleet, often buying an old original house or putting up modest cottages. The Crowell mansion had a windmill for pumping water and a three-level barn. The road off Paine Hollow Road, today’s Baker Road, was the rose-lined driveway to the mansion which looked out over Indian Neck to Wellfleet Harbor. The Crowell’s oldest son, Luther Francis Crowell, was the architect, and John Bettison the contractor.

Crowell Mansion before it became the Indian Neck Inn — photo from the collection of the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum

The earliest mention of bottling the fresh spring water at “Pilgrim Spring” —a feature of the landscape between Route 6 and Indian Neck—was reported in 1882 when The Barnstable Patriot reported that the machinery for bottling the water had been installed and would be up and running under the direction of a Mr. C. Walker, Superintendent. There’s no further report on the company until 1893 when the Patriot announced the partnership of John Smith and Samuel Atwood (Margaret Crowell’s brother and brother-in-law) to manufacture ginger ale and sarsaparilla from the “famous Pilgrim Spring water” during the summer of that year. Soon, a “fine wagon” for the company was seen around the town. In 1901 The Barnstable Patriot reported that the Adams Pharmacy in Provincetown had a display of the “Ye Cape Cod Pilgrim Spring Company” of South Wellfleet.  Luther Crowell’s youngest son, Edgar Doane Crowell, got involved with this venture of bottling the mineral water. One of Luther Crowell’s last patents was for a bottle labeling machine, perhaps invented for the company. One writer notes that the high cost of sugar during the War caused the shut-down of the operation, and it was completely destroyed by fire around 1921. Four bottles are in the collection of the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum.  

Mineral Spring on Indian Neck photo from the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum

Luther C. Crowell died in 1903, followed by Margaret Crowell’s death in 1911. The first mention of M. Burton Baker, the new owner of the Crowell Mansion, was made in The Barnstable Patriot in December 1913 when an announcement in its South Wellfleet column reported that the Bakers would be staying in the mansion for the winter. Baker purchased Edgar Crowell’s interest in the Crowell estate in 1913, and Luther F. Crowell sold some portion of his interest in 1915.  A number of additional sales of Crowell land to Baker followed.

Marcus Burton Baker was from Brockton, Massachusetts, the son of a Civil War soldier. He and his two brothers grew up there—his brother Horace became Mayor in the 1920s. In the 1900 Federal census, M. Burton Baker was working at one of the city’s shoe factories. Mr. Baker and his wife, Ruth Ella Baker, were married in 1895, and had three children: Richard, Kenneth, and Dorothy.  A fourth child, a daughter, died at two years old, in 1908.

Sometime after 1915, the Crowell Mansion became the “Indian Neck Inn” with many mentions in The Barnstable Patriot of guests staying there during the summer seasons. At some point, a dike was built across the marsh separating the property from the sandy Indian Neck beach. There is a postcard image of the Crowell Mansion labeled “Indian Neck Camp for Girls,” but there is no record of such an operation. In a few Barnstable Patriot articles in 1916 the reference is to the Baker’s “Indian Neck Camp.” In that same year, the Chequessett Camp for Girls was also operating closeby, and the postcard-maker may have confused the two.

Advertisement for the Indian Neck Inn

Events at the Indian Neck Inn were regularly reported. In 1927, the year Dorothy Baker graduated from Wellfleet High School, she had an 18th Birthday party where her guests danced to music from the Bakers’ radio, one of the first in Wellfleet, with dance music coming from the strong Davenport, Iowa station. Dorothy went on to study at the Boston Conservatory of Music. The Baker family also regularly purchased new Studebakers, as reported in The Barnstable Patriot. Both Richard and Kenneth Baker lived in Wellfleet with their wives.

A sad event occurred at the Inn in 1930 when a young man, Ernest Meads, shot and killed himself after leaving a note to Dorothy, who appeared to be an unrequited love interest. Dorothy Baker later married John Snow, a police officer. They lived in Wellfleet for a while, but later moved to Marblehead to run his family’s grocery store.

Indian Neck Inn Postcard

Burton Baker died in 1933 of tuberculosis; reports in The Barnstable Patriot announced that he had gone to the sanitarium in Pocasset a few years earlier. The Great Depression was in full swing. It appears that the Indian Neck Inn did not survive those years, and the family lost it to foreclosure. There are two different stories of what happened to the building. One is that it was taken down, and parts became cottages at the corner of Hay Road and Route 6 in Eastham, and another portion became “a house in South Wellfleet.” Another version of its demise is told in a note regarding a painting from Wellfleet resident Edwin Dickinson who had painted “South Wellfleet Inn” in 1955-60. The note indicates that Dickinson had made a sketch of the building in 1939 “before it burned down.” However, no other indication of any such fire has been found.

Image of drawing of the Indian Neck Inn by Edwin Dickinson


South Wellfleet Inn by Edwin Dickinson


The twenty acres of Crowell estate property that was lost reverted to other owners who acquired it for $250 at a foreclosure sale.


Burton Baker became a Selectman of Wellfleet and expanded his real estate interests while he ran the Inn. In the early 1920s he hired George F. Clements to develop a plan for the northernmost part of Indian Neck, calling it “Indian Neck Heights.” Baker had acquired this part of Indian Neck from the Crowells. In honor of his role in developing this Wellfleet neighborhood, the public beach to the north of the Heights was named for him in 1961 when Dorothy Baker Snow donated the land.

George F. Clements was a Civil Engineer based in Hyannis with projects involving “high grade land development” in Yarmouth, Centerville, and Dennis on the Cape and in several Boston suburbs. By 1926, according to The Barnstable Patriot, he had developed over 2,000 acres of land.

The mapped streets of Indian Neck Heights were each named for “famous Indians,” not all of them with any relationship to Cape tribes and native people. There was also a Crowell Road.  However, Tecumseh, Ione, Hiawatha, Pocahontas, and Cheyenne were surely out-of-place with King Phillip, Nauset, Massasoit, and Samoset. There were restrictions in the deeds of the lots sold: any structure put up had to cost at least $1500 (later changed to $3,000); structures had to be fifteen feet back from the edge of the sand bank overlooking the bay, and toilet facilities had to be part of the cottage or garage—no outhouses were allowed.

In 1927, a Trust organization purchased the southern portion of Indian Neck from Luther F. Crowell and M. Burton Baker. Mr. Clements designed another Indian Neck neighborhood south of Indian Neck Heights.  Given the timing so close to the beginning of the Great Depression, it’s not clear if any sales took place, and the history of the Trust is difficult to discern.

In a multi-part article in The Cape Codder in the 1970s, Holman Spence wrote about the development of Indian Neck Heights’ first cottages and his boyhood summers there.. The Holmberg family built the first cottage, and the Spence family the second one.

Carl and Greta Holmberg purchased their lots of Indian Neck Heights in 1924, and acquired additional lots later. The next Holmberg generation appears to have made this their permanent home, and the original cottage appears to be there still.  A family tragedy occurred in 1971, when the Holmberg children were playing on an ice floe that moved away from shore, causing the 10-year-old son to drown.

Holman Spence’s parents traveled to Wellfleet from Springfield in 1922 to look at land on the ocean, but found the raw landscape not to their liking. They spent the night at the Indian Neck Inn, meeting Mr. Baker, who showed them the Indian Neck Heights location the following day and made the sale. Since the Spence parents were teachers and a writer, they were able to spend the summer, making a 14-hour trip on their 1922 Buick touring car with “isinglass side curtains.” Spence captures the feel of the family’s arrival after dark with Mrs. Spence lighting the oil lamps, and Mr. Spence hiking back to Pilgrim Spring to get fresh water to prime the pump.  Spence also mentions the pastime of collecting “arrowheads and other Indian artifacts” along the beach, further evidence that there had been other inhabitants there before.

The third family to build at Indian Neck Heights was Harold and Jennie Stevens, who later sold to a family that is still there.  A fourth cottage built by the Buckman family is also still standing.

By 1940, there were ten structures on Indian Neck, as shown by the dots on the topographical map of Wellfleet of that year. The next wave of development came in the 1950s when there were numerous sales of land by Dorothy Baker Snow.  The next four decades saw an ever-increasing intensive building throughout the Indian Neck area. Thankfully, in the 1980s, the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT) was established and a way to preserve open space for the enjoyment of all. From 1998 to 2008, the WCT was able to acquire contiguous parcels, resulting in the largest public conservation property on the Outer Cape—the Fox Island Marsh and Pilgrim Spring Woodlands Conservation Area and Trails. See more information about this area here:


Fox Island Marsh


In 1889 France Hiller put on public display in Boston two mammoth coffins that were elaborately carved and trimmed in gold, a project she and her husband had initiated but not yet finished when he died. Even at a time when Victorian society paid extraordinary attention to death, her display was over the top, and widely reported.  You can read more about the Hillers here: http://homenewshere.com/wilmington_town_crier/news/article_6c0cace8-1ad5-11e2-913b-0019bb2963f4.html


The Cape Codder available online at the Snow Library, Orleans

Federal Census collection at www.ancestry.com

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive: www.sturgislibrary.org

Barnstable County Deeds available at www.barnstablecountydeeds.org

Newspapers available online at www.genealogybank.com

Rickmers Ruth Wellfleet Remembered Volume 1, 1981

Ward, John L. Edwin Dickinson: A Critical History of His Painting Newark, University of Delaware Press, 2003.






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Indian Neck: Part 1, When the Native People Lived There


Indian Neck in South Wellfleet has one of the best “origin” stories of the South Wellfleet neighborhoods covered in this blog. While other locations around Wellfleet Harbor were seemingly uninhabited until tourism developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Indian Neck has a long history, stretching way back to a prehistoric time when native people inhabited this spit of land. There is no extant archive about this era. Later history can yet be understood by studying the following period when the Europeans moved in, took over the lives of the natives, and established a new order.

There are few references to the Indian Neck settlement in South Wellfleet during the 17th and early 18th centuries, so we must be content with simply understanding how the English from Plymouth Colony interacted with the native people. To understand how the native people of the Outer Cape lived, we have had to wait until modern archaeologists discovered them. Fortunately for our understanding of this history, one of the most astounding discoveries was on Indian Neck.

This page on the site for the Cape Cod National Seashore links numerous documents that detail the archaeological work occurring since the Park was established:   https://www.nps.gov/caco/learn/historyculture/the-archaeology-of-outer-cape-cod.htm

Before the Park Service archaeologists began their work in the 1970s, the Outer Cape had a rich history of vacationing gentlemen and local amateurs hunting for Indian artifacts. Many of their finds are at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History and at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, now a part of Harvard University. Since much of this material was simply dug up without specifying a location, it is of little use. Today  contractors digging for new homes makes them the effective excavators of ancient artifacts. Human bones were found recently in Chatham where a contractor digging a new swimming pool, and there were more discoveries recently in Eastham where the temporary trailer for the Library was set-up in the Town Hall parking lot. Massachusetts now has a process for handling such discoveries which both allows their study and then proper re-internment.

Indian Artifacts


When Indian Neck was Tuttomnest

As told in a previous blog post the Pilgrim men who came from Plymouth in 1645 to expand their settlement on the Cape, purchased the native Nausets’ land from Sachem George, encompassing today’s Orleans and Eastham, to the current Indian Brook (today’s Hatche’s Creek) that marks the borderline of Eastham and Wellfleet. When the “Purchasers” inquired about the land beyond the creek, today’s towns of Wellfleet and Truro, they were told that “no one” claimed ownership, so they just added the land to their holdings.

Later, in 1666, Lieutenant Anthony—the Sachem of the Billingsgate Indians who were also known as the Punonakanits—appeared and claimed ownership. The Punonakanits were one of the Wampanoag federation of tribes. It’s estimated that there were about one hundred living around Wellfleet Harbor in 1620, survivors of the 1615 epidemic that had wiped out so many of the natives just before the Mayflower arrived. A number of these same native people may have been those who met the Pilgrims exploring the area December 7-10, 1620, when they had their “First Encounter.”

The Eastham Pilgrims purchased the Billingsgate land again, with the exception of land the Lieutenant held for his tribe’s use, on James’ Neck, so named by the English, but named Tuttomnest by the natives. The area once held by Lieutenant Anthony is today the peninsula in Wellfleet Bay is known as Indian Neck.

Various maps of Indian Neck show this north/south spit of land surrounded by salt marsh with just a narrow causeway linking it to the South Wellfleet mainland. On the southern portion of Indian Neck, there is an inlet punched into the land called Sewall’s Gutter. On the northern side, the beach wraps around what is called Chipman’s Cove. Near today’s road to the Indian Neck shore there is a fresh spring in the marsh known as Pilgrim Spring, which became a special Wellfleet feature early in the 20th century.

“Sewall’s Gutter” has been so-named for a long time; there is no known Sewall family owning nearby property — so why this name? Justice Sewall who was the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Superior Court might possibly be the source, as he supported a number of native men who became “Praying Indians” and represented their people. Although not a minister, he was a commissioner of the Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent (1699-1730). But nothing definitive was found for this place-name on Indian Neck.

INDIAN NECK on 1944 topographical map of Wellfleet

The Outer Cape native people interact with Europeans

The first written account of Outer Cape natives is Champlain’s 1605 description of the Nausets, along with a sketch map of their homes. Champlain’s account in 1606 reported around 150 native people around Nauset Harbor and 500-600 around Stage Harbor in today’s Chatham. No record exists for the settlement on Indian Neck. Another early record is the Pilgrims written account of their “First Encounter” in North Eastham as they explored the Outer Cape December 7-10, 1620.

The Plymouth Colony records of the seventeenth century tell the story of the Cape Indians, the Nausets, helping rescue a Plymouth boy, John Billington, who had wandered away, in 1621. We also know that the Nausets helped save the starving English colonists in 1622 by selling them crop surpluses.

The Eastham Town records document the Town’s dealings with the native people who lived there.  The Town paid both the English and the native people to kill wolves, giving particular encouragement to the natives. This was an urgent need, since the colonists needed to eradicate this predator of their growing herds of cows, horses, sheep and pigs. The Town notes in 1655 that four wolves were killed and mentions wolves’ heads again in 1686, when they set the rate paid to both “Indians and Englishmen” 20 shillings for adult wolf heads and 5 shillings for a young wolf, although paying half in cash and half in “Indian corn.”

We also know from early writing that the Cape natives showed the Europeans how to catch and slaughter the drift whales that were brought to shore and harvested for their blubber. Later, when the Europeans began pursuing the drift whales, the native people were paid to take positions in the whaleboat, giving them a means of participating in the “new economic order” of the Outer Cape.

The Reverend Samuel Treat, the Eastham minister who arrived in the 1670s, learned the native language and preached to the converted known as “Praying Indians” while also serving the European congregation. Treat referenced four distinct “villages” within his purview. One was Potanumicut, in today’s south Orleans, around a pond by the same name, but known as Arey’s Pond today. The second area was Meeshawn, the home of Truro’s Pamets, where the Wellfleet Punonakamits also worshipped. The third was Monomoyick in today’s Chatham, and the fourth the Satucket in today’s Brewster. There are Plymouth Colony records of censuses of the “Praying Indians” during the seventeenth century; in 1674, Truro and Wellfleet congregations numbered 72 people.

Treat trained native men to preach, meeting with them to dictate what to say in their sermons and overseeing their civil life as well. This relationship is held up today as one of great affection, so much so that when Treat died in the winter of 1717, the native people asked for the honor of taking his body to his church for the burial service, although held up some days due to the blizzard that had enveloped Eastham at that time.

The Cape Cod tribes did not engage in the bloody King Phillip’s War of 1675-76, but instead pledged their support to the Plymouth Colony, and sometimes worked as scouts for the English. At this time, the tribes of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut were not united as one group, having had a history of disputes between each other that may have been the reason the Cape Cod natives did not join the War. The Eastham Town records of 1671 mention an oath of fidelity signed by the Nausets and the Pamets, not naming the Billingsgate group, which may be an indication of their diminished number.

Other rules in the Eastham records give orders that deal with the diminishment of native rights. In 1665, the Town ordered that no one was to buy “quarters” of whales (drift whales that arrived on shore) from any Indians, as any such whale belonged to the Town. There were other references to restricting use of common land — which was also diminishing, as the English moved to a landscape of private property. In 1680, there was a law passed to “stop Indians from setting down their dwellings on the Town’s commons.” Other laws of the Town mandated severe penalties for selling intoxicants to the native people.  In 1691, Eastham decided to build a Meeting house at Potanumicut for the Praying Indians, another indication that the diminishing number of native people now needed only one place of worship.

Indian Neck history in the Early Eighteenth Century

In 1715, when much of the Eastham common land was undergoing assignment to private owners, the Eastham Town recorded a document that set out lands for the “use and benefit of such Indians as are the proper natives of said Town to set their houses on and for firewood to burn in.” One of the places the document names is the land at “Jameses Neck” at little Billingsgate and gives a topographical description as commonly given at that time, starting the description as many deeds do with “a certain pine tree.” The upland of the peninsula was included, but not the meadow and marshland between the neck and the mainland, as that was most likely already in use by the English for making salt hay and grazing. The native people had freshwater at Sewall’s Gutter, and access to the rich shellfish beds in Chipman’s Cove. Still another two small parcels, about twenty acres south of Fresh Brook in South Wellfleet were reserved for the natives.  At an Eastham town meeting in 1716 the nominal grantees for the James Neck land were designated: Pepas Frances; Frances Frances, James Mark, Sam Tripp alias Tuis, and Nacan Jones, alias Abram Jones. These were leaders who represented their groups, although no records show how many native people were living on James Neck.

Later, in 1734, the Town traded some portion of this land with Samuel Smith, and this was probably the end of the designation of Indian Neck as a set-aside area for native use. There is no record of the inhabitants at this time. Samuel Smith also owned tracts of Great Island where his tavern was located.

In the National Park Services’ Cultural Landscape Report for the Atwood Higgins House , “The Provincial Census of 1765” reported 928 inhabitants of Wellfleet, including 14 African Americans and 11 Native Americans. By 1792 the Punanokanits numbered less than half a dozen. Numerous local histories name Delilah Sampson Gibbs, who died after 1838, the “last Wellfleet Indian.”

 The Indian Neck Ossuary

The connection of the Billingsgate natives to Indian Neck was reinforced in September 1979 when a contractor, digging for a new septic tank at a modest summer cottage on Indian Neck Road, unearthed a collection of bones.  At this time, National Park Service archaeologists were working in the area on a survey of prehistoric remains on the land of the Cape Cod National Seashore. They were able to get to the site quickly and determined that the bones were historic. While the contractor destroyed as much as half of the site, the remainder then was carefully excavated. After the material was taken to a laboratory for study and analysis, the unexpected discovery came to be known as the “Indian Neck Ossuary,” a technical term for such a deposit of bones.

Today, this ossuary site is known as one of the best-documented outside of northern New York and adjacent parts of Ontario, and around Chesapeake Bay. It has added to the knowledge of New England’s native people by providing evidence that the coastal natives were more settled than previously thought. Until this discovery, Cape Cod natives were thought to be seasonal visitors, much as many of us are today, enjoying the bounty of the land during the warmer weather. However, the ossuary indicated permanent habitation.

The deposit on Indian Neck turned out to be a multi-layered find. Under a few inches of topsoil, archaeologists found a “midden,” an ancient rubbish dump of animal bones, shells, and broken stone tools. A piece of metal indicated that the midden had been in use after the Europeans arrived. The stone tools were dated to the “late Woodland” period which began about AD 900 and ended with the arrival of the Europeans. Carbon-14 analysis of the cremated bones gave an estimate of 900 years plus or minus 200 years.  Thus, we have Indian Neck firmly established as a site of human habitation in the late 10th or early 11th century A.D.


“The Indian Neck Ossuary” Scientific American Volume 258, Number 5, pp 98-105. May 5, 1988

“Decades Later, Questions Remain Over Indian Neck Ossuary” The Cape Codder, September 29, 1989

Dolores Bird Carpenter Early Encounters-Native Americans and Europeans in New England, Michigan state University Press, 1995

The Cape Codder online at the Snow Library in Orleans

Durand Echevierra, A History of Billingsgate, Wellfleet Historical Society, 1991

Jeremy Dupertus Bangs, editor, The Town Records of Eastham During the Time of Plymouth Colony 1620-      1692 (Publication of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, 2012)

Cape Cod National Seashore website: http://www.nps.gov/caco.


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Changing Wellfleet: Constructing Route 6 in 1948

When Route 6 became a modern highway after World War II, its change from a winding two-lane country road to a wide modern highway made a major impact on the Wellfleet landscape. The road was widened from 18 to 36 feet, and its surface modernized with bituminous concrete. The new road brought cultural and economic change as well, bringing more and more seasonal tourists to the little Cape town. Leisure-time vacationing had started at the turn of the century, but now Wellfleet blossomed into a town that was part of the Cape’s important tourist economy.

These two photos from Ruth Rickmers’ book Wellfleet Remembered (Volume 2, 1982) show the visual and spatial impact. The previous rustic two lanes with prim white fencing is now an expanse of asphalt. 

Route 6 before and after

In 1938, Route 6 in Eastham grew to four lanes “…of hard bituminous macadam and its course north of the center straightened.”  Edward Hopper’s painting “Route Six, Eastham”, painted in 1941, shows only two lanes, but in an article about Hopper’s use of images of the road, Nicholas Robbins reviewed sketches that Hopper made, and which show that there were four lanes.  Together with his painting “Gas” in Truro, and “Orleans” with its Esso Station sign, Hopper makes the highway part of the Cape landscape. Robbins notes that Hopper came to Truro initially in 1930, acquiring his house in 1934, and thus “saw the beginnings of Cape Cod’s shift from a semi-remote outpost to the commercial landscape that accommodated an increasing number of automobile tourists.”

“Route 6” by Edward Hopper

“Gas” by Edward Hopper

“Orleans” by Edward Hopper

Route 6 continues to demand our attention today with its tragic accidents, the worrisome state of its drivers, and the high-traffic months when even the simplest errand demands detailed planning. But in 1948, this was the future of these small Cape Cod towns: the development of a strong tourism economy, with everyone arriving in a car as quickly as possible.

Dorothea Lange photo of an American family on the highway

The world was fast-changing in 1948. The Cape Codder reported the new plans to dredge Wellfleet harbor that year, the rebuilding of the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank next to the Catholic church on Main Street, and that a Boston station was working on sending a television signal to the Cape. Discussions began to take place at the annual Town Meeting about zoning regulations and creating a town planning board, with both topics meeting with resistance. Residents worried about “preserving the character” of the town, a concern that still exists.

Route 6, a part of the nation’s highway system since the 1920s, was renamed the “Grand Army of the Republic Highway” in 1937 to memorialize the Union Army forces of the Civil War.

GAR Road sign, Route 6

Route 6 was created from an earlier County Road which wasn’t even fully paved, as described in this earlier blog post.  More and more “autoists” traveled to the Cape as the automobile became a favorite form of recreational touring. Tourism rescued towns like Wellfleet from years of economic depression that had started in the 19th century when the fishing industry diminished.

The outer Cape’s representatives urged the continuation of the Route 6 rebuilding, continuing the work completed in Eastham. But starting in 1940, road-building to accommodate the Army became the state’s priority, particularly around Camp Edwards on the upper Cape. World War II put the continued redevelopment of Route 6 on hold.  Finally, on January 31, 1946, on the first page of the first edition of the newspaper, The Cape Codder, announced the highway project would start again.

Charles Frazier, head of the Selectmen of Wellfleet, recently returned from Navy service in the Pacific, had been fighting for the Route 6 project since 1940. When the decision to rebuild past Eastham came in 1946, Mr. Frazier was given great credit for pushing the Massachusetts Highway Commission. The state and federal governments shared the costs of the roadbuilding at that point, before the Eisenhower-era federal interstate highway program.

The towns from Wellfleet to Provincetown felt like second-class citizens of Barnstable County, with their bumpy pot-holed road holding them back from full participation in the tourism economy. Even the Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Bradford, had complained about the roadway on a recent trip. Bradford was elected governor in 1947, serving one term until 1949, and oversaw a part of the rebuilding project.

Memories of the old road and the rebuilding project remain. In my family, there was always a summer trip to Provincetown. We had to hope that we would not get stuck behind a smelly fish truck—passing safely was extremely difficult on the curvy two lanes.

My childhood friend, David Sexton, remembers the excitement of taking a trip during construction when one of the lanes would be closed. The flag-men, who worked without communication, had a clever system: the flag would be given to the last car allowed through, as a signal to the next flag-man that the lane could be opened for cars going in the other direction. His summer of 1948 memories as a five-year-old are of fervently wishing that his family car would be the one to carry the flag. My brother, an older boy, remembers collecting the empty soda bottles the workmen tossed aside along the highway, and turning them in for cash from the General Store proprietor, Mr. Davis, no doubt causing his scowl at these bothersome transactions.

The road-building announcement in January 1946 was overly optimistic.  Mr. Lawrence Gardinier of the Wellfleet Board of Selectmen made the estimates. He said the work would begin in July of that year, and that the planned cutoffs would take about six months’ work, guessing that it would be completed the next year. The engineering drawings appear to have been completed. The new road was expected to follow the current road from the Eastham/Wellfleet town line to Mr. Davis’ General Store in South Wellfleet, where it would “branch off and rejoin the current highway near the fire tower.”

This 1946 description also notes that the new highway would bypass the town centers in both Wellfleet and Truro. In Wellfleet, the road would “veer off” almost opposite Mr. Holbrook’s (gas) station and “pass in back of the Holiday House” (named “The Wagner at Duck Creek” today). The wetland behind the Inn was to be partially filled in. There would be an underpass at Long Pond Road, thus protecting the children on their way to Wellfleet School. It would reconnect with the old road “this side of Gull Pond Road,” where today’s Briar Lane meets the highway.

In an interview reported later, Charles Frazier said that bypassing the Wellfleet town center would help preserve the character of the town. Widening the two lanes into Wellfleet, lined with some of the town’s oldest structures, would have been impossible.

Despite the 1946 optimism, the rebuilding of Route 6 did not begin until the spring and summer of 1948. That year, four miles were competed from the town line to Daniel Mandeville’s house, near the fire tower. The legal work of taking portions of many property holders through eminent domain proceedings is recorded in detail on the Barnstable County deeds database. The delay may also have been the need to move both Mabel Doane’s house and Earle and Sadie Atwood’s house.

Mabel Doane’s house had to be moved across the road, and is now located at the corner of Cemetery Road in South Wellfleet. Mabel was Ikey Paine’s sister, a Wellfleet resident discussed in an earlier post. The current owners told me the story of the move. Mabel Doane loved sitting in her window and watching for the traffic on the old two-lane road. When the house was moved, it had to be turned around so her road-watching could continue.

Earle and Sadie Atwood’s house may have been near the area where today’s Way 112 (a part of the old road) emerges back onto the highway.

The end of the road work in 1948 was at Daniel Mandeville’s house. Mr. Mandeville moved to Wellfleet in the 1920s, buying an old house and some land. The history revealed in the deeds shows that this house is still in existence, and near a new road “Designer’s Way” off Route 6. Mr. Mandeville is mentioned a few times in The Cape Codder newspapers as having a “clam tree” in his front yard: a tree that he decorated with clamshells.

An article in the Provincetown Advocate described the new highway as 36 feet wide, with three lanes, that were eventually shifted to the two lanes with wide shoulders we have today. There were no sidewalks and curbs “as were included in some sections in Eastham,” but there would be “curbs where there are traffic islands.” The article describes “… four inches of hardening clay or loam will first be laid, and on top of this, three inches of crushed stone penetrated with asphalt … a surface of bituminous concrete will finish the road.”

The Cape Codder reported in August 1948 that the new highway was completed over a long stretch starting at the Eastham line, and it was “smooth as velvet.” The workmen kept the traffic moving efficiently and created lots of goodwill by chatting with the visitors “from all parts of the nation.”

In South Wellfleet the Route 6 roadwork seems to have been pretty routine. Many trees were cut down on both sides of the roadway, and the distinctive white fence (as pictured above) taken down.  However, when the road workers got to the curve at Blackfish Creek, there was news about the excavation over the creek.  On May 13, 1948, The Cape Codder reported a conversation with the crane operator who had to dig thirty feet down to get to a solid bottom. Tractors were pushing “tons of sand” into the excavated parts. The supervisor of the crew reported that he had discovered “the keel of some old hulk farther on in Blackfish Creek.”

Newly built Route 6 crossing Blackfish Creek and separating from the old road

By September 1948, the Governor announced that the 1949 work on the highway, to extend another three miles, would be put out to bid. The 1949 season would see the road finished to a point near the Truro line. The diversion around the Wellfleet town center would require “some filling in of the pond behind Holiday House” and that the curve beyond Gull Pond Road would be eliminated. An October column noted that “townsfolk can drive to Orleans in twenty minutes now.”

There were new concerns raised as the highway project moved along. The raw landscape alongside the road raised concerns about plantings to improve the appearance of the roadway. Frank Sargent, then the Director of the State Division of Marine Fisheries, was sent to inspect the culvert over the Herring River and found there was “no serious obstruction” to the anadromous fish. Further, when the state erected the “Welcome to Wellfleet” sign, they got the wrong date on the town’s founding, and created a flurry of comments.

By 1950, the work on the highway moved to Truro. In 1951, bids were sought to build out three miles, “spanning the Pamet River, going behind the Truro Memorial Library and rejoining the present highway near the cemetery in North Truro.”

In the early 1950s, the highway building reached Provincetown, and a lengthy debate on how to get to the end of the Cape ensued.  Initially, the plan was to follow the railroad tracks. An esplanade on the bayside was also considered. Finally, the decision was made to build “via the sand dunes” with great concern about the construction. A group that had a shack for iceboating on nearby Pilgrim Lake (East Harbor) noted that the moving sand covered their building within a short time of its erection, burying it under the moving dunes. This did become a problem for the roadway, with the state of Massachusetts spending thousands of dollars each year to keep the road clear, using snowplows and road gangs. The double-barreled roadway was finished in 1954/55, ending at what was called New Beach, later renamed Herring Cove Beach.  In 1957, the state gave Provincetown permission to name the new Route 6 the “MacMillan Highway” in honor of the town’s famous Arctic explorer, Rear Admiral Donald MacMillan.

Here is the famous “beginning of Route 6” sign, noting the mileage first to Long Beach, California, and now to Bishop, after California relocated the road.

Route 6 sign in Provincetown


A second road project that has changed the Cape is the Mid-Cape Highway, a new four-lane freeway, with the first section built 1950-1953, taking traffic from Sagamore to Exit 6 (Route 132). It was labeled “Route 6” when it opened, and the old County Road renamed “Route 6A” causing great consternation from the businesses and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce who felt pushed aside. In 1966-1971, the road was extended from Exit 6 to Exit 9 in Dennis, and then a “Super 2” built from Dennis to Orleans. After 36 people were killed (over several years) on the Dennis-Orleans two-lane portion, the berm and reflectors were put in place and all passing prohibited. Adding the parallel roadway was abandoned in the 1970s due to environmental and land-use concerns.



Thanks to the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum’s recent project to digitize all the photographs in their collection, we now have access to many postcards and other work that documented how Wellfleet looked in the earl years of the 20th century. One popular topic was photographs of the “improved” State Road that was created in the 1920s. Here are a few of them.



The Cape Codder online at the Snow Library in Orleans

The Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum, Main Street, Wellfleet – photo collection

Provincetown Advocate online at http://advocate.provincetown-ma.gov

Barnstable Deeds database online at https://enthusiasts.ciachef.edu/cold-carrot-bisque-soup-recipe/

Robbins, Nicholas “The Road” in Hopper Drawing ed. Carter E. Foster. New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 2013

Rickmers, R. E. Wellfleet Remembered, Volume 2, Wellfleet, Blue Butterfly Publication, 1986.





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The Sign of the Pine in South Wellfleet

Starting in 1914, and lasting through the 1920s, South Wellfleet had a tea room, The Sign of the Pine, a business that had all sorts of social implications.  Tea rooms were a popular seasonal business for the growing recreational area that was developing on Cape Cod. Hyannis had the Pink Geranium Tea Room and The Windmill Tea Room and Gift Shop; Barnstable had the Gray Shingles Tea Room; and West Yarmouth had the Bayberry Lodge Tea Room. One newspaper reference in 1917 mentions another one in Wellfleet: the Martha Washington, operated by two Boston women, but there’s no record of its location.

Tea rooms developed during the first two decades of the twentieth century when women were becoming less shackled to home, and to Victorian rules that limited their movements outside the home. Tea rooms were an acceptable place for single women or a group of women without a male escortto visit. There was no liquor served, making these restaurants a “safe place” for women.  Many operated during Prohibition, so of course there was no need to even think about serving liquor. In the city, they offered a place for women to eat while shopping or taking a work break. In New York’s Greenwich Village, they became part of the bohemian environment.

Tea rooms also developed along the new roadways where Americans were driving their cars for recreational touring, particularly in the nineteen teens. This leisure-time pursuit coincided with the development of tourism on the Cape, where newly paved roads encouraged  the “autoists” to travel. In addition, tea rooms were an acceptable business for a woman to own and manage. Many had gift shops attached.

The owner of The Sign of the Pine was Anne Wells Munger, an artist from Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1910, Mrs. Munger purchased an old home on what is today’s Old County Road. The deed shows that Edward Paine sold it; it had been purchased by Winslow Paine from Ebenezer Cole in 1852. There is a record of the Greek Revival style house available at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum, indicating that one earlier wing was built in 1808, and the main house in 1850. The record also indicates that the house may have been an early “coach stop” since it was on the main road to Wellfleet, and that there was a bus stop there in the 1930s. Today Old County Road has lost its importance as a route to Wellfleet.

The only evidence of the house’s use as a tea room, as noted in the historical record, was a “peephole” in one of the doors that may have divided the kitchen from the serving area.  However, we also have advertisements that the Mungers placed in The Barnstable Patriot, along with a 1914 Patriot story:

At South Wellfleet, on the right, are to be seen the towers of the Marconi Wireless Station, about one mile off the State road, on the shore of the ocean. Not far from this place on the corner of the road is a sign directing one minute in to the Sign of the Pine, one of the most fascinating places on the Cape, where all sorts of unusual and interesting arts and crafts work are to be found. There are odd things from Russia, the Philippine Islands and Japan, hand made pottery, metal work and baskets, beautiful printed, dyed and hand-woven textiles, a novel and varied collection where one can always find a dainty gift for a friend, or souvenirs of Cape Cod which are worth while. At this place also are made the Dame Standish novelties. In the tea room delicious tea is served with a delicate lunch.                    


Advertisements for The Sign of the Pine appeared in The Barnstable Patriot in 1914 and 1915, and in the Cape Cod Magazine in 1915. There are no advertisements after this time, but there were news stories about the shop and tea room.


from Barnstable Patriot

In the 1920s, Mrs. Munger posted a newspaper notice seeking to get back her “studio” sign that had disappeared from the corner of her road and Route 6. From this, we know that she was notifying motorists that there was an artist working there, something that would surely have been of interest to Wellfleet visitors as they motored through to Provincetown’s artists’ colony.

In the advertisements for the shop, “Dame Standish” products are mentioned. There was no connection found for this article to a company making products under this name — the only other reference is to the Dame Standish Candle Shop on Wellfleet’s Commercial Street in the 1940s and 1950s. A newspaper mention in 1929, however, describes Mr. Munger’s manufacturing his “remarkable satin cream” made with bayberry wax.  This may be the same product called Dame Standish Satin Cream ($1.00) in 1915; there was also offered “Dame Standish Bayberry Balm for 50 cents.*

Anne Wells Munger owned other properties in Wellfleet. She bought the house on Cannon Hill known as “the Ark” in 1912, owning it until 1923. That property was the mainstay of the guest houses clustered on Cannon Hill covered in an earlier post.  Jennie Hamblett would come to Wellfleet each season to open the “Cannon Hill House” and accommodate many visitors in this guest house environment. There is no record of Mrs. Munger’s role in this business. Mrs. Munger also purchased a cottage in the Pleasant Point neighborhood, and may have rented it during this same period. She sold this property in 1927.

There is some evidence that the Mungers were friendly with another South Wellfleet couple, Lillian Burk Meeser and her husband, the Revered Spenser Meeser. The Meesers bought their home on the State Road near Old Wharf Road in 1913; Mrs. Meeser was also an artist and created a studio there. Lillian Burk Meeser and Anne Wells Munger had been part of the Worcester art community in the late 1890s,  according to news articles. The Meesers will be covered in a separate post.

Anne Wells and Willard C. Munger married in 1882 in Worcester, when she was 20 and he was 26 years old. By the 1890s, Anne Wells Munger was presented as an artist, according to the listings in the various editions of the Worcester City Directories. There are a couple of brief newspaper mentions of her in the 1890s, as participating in the Worcester Art Student Club.  These reflect a more Victorian-influenced time, as she was opening her studio, and serving tea to visitors. The couple is listed in the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses. Mr. Munger is employed as a bookkeeper; in his obituary, he was given the title of Treasurer of National Ware Goods Company.

Anne Wells Munger photo from the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum collection

In the 1913 Worcester Directory, both Mungers are listed as “removed” Anne to Boston, and Willard to South Wellfleet. Perhaps this was the time she studied at the Museum of Fine Arts School, as mentioned below. By the time of the 1920 federal census, both are living in South Wellfleet, and engaged in ”novelty manufacture.”

One of Anne Wells Munger’s biographies mentions her studies with Philip Leslie Hale at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He was an American Impressionist, and had studied in Paris with summers in Giverny where he was influenced by Claude Monet. Hale taught in Boston after 1893. She also studied with George DeForest Brush at the Art Students League in New York City; his interest in pottery may have influenced her also, since she also sold pottery in her shop. The Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum has one or more pieces of her pottery.

Anne Wells Munger painting of Provincetown fishing pier

In the 1920s, the social column of The Barnstable Patriot mentions the Mungers leaving the Cape in the winter months to settle first in New Orleans, and then in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Pass Christian was a small town on the Gulf Coast that had served wealthy New Orleans residents as a resort for many years. The Mungers purchased a home there, and shuttled between their two seaside towns for many years. According to an article in the Provincetown Advocate, Mrs. Munger even established an “information bureau” in her southern home and studio with brochures on the Cape supplied by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.

Willard C. Munger died in 1940 and Anne Wells Munger in 1945. Both are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Gulfport, Mississippi.


In the process of researching Mrs. Munger’s bayberry products, I found a company located in North Truro, called “Cape Cod Products, Inc.” A 1912 article in The Barnstable Patriot noted with delight the opportunities for children and adults to gather buckets of bayberries “for quite a good deal of cash.” In the poor outer Cape economy, this must have been a bonus. The article continues, “The little berries, of which it takes hundreds of thousands to make a bushel, are boiled and steamed, then made into bayberry candles, ironing wax and other products for the holiday trade.” Another article mentions a fire at the company’s location in Fairhaven in 1913.  A Massachusetts record shows the corporation dissolving in 1917, but another article notes that its products were at the 1922 Barnstable County Fair. I did not find the bayberry candles branded as “Dame Standish.” In an ad in Cape Cod Magazine, the company offered canned goods: kippered herring, cranberries, or spiced mackerel.


Whitaker, Jan. Tea At the Blue Lantern Inn, A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America. New York. St. Martin’s Press, 2002 U.S.

Historic house forms and photographs available at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum

Federal Census collection at www.ancestry.com

David Kew’s Cape Cod history site: www.capecodhistory.us

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive: www.sturgislibrary.org

Barnstable County Deeds available at www.barnstablecountydeeds.org

Newspapers available online at www.genealogybank.com

Provincetown Advocate available at http://advocate.provincetown-ma.gov.

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When Cyprian Southack Came to South Wellfleet to recover the Whydah

For the past thirty years, the South Wellfleet wreck of the Whydah, a pirate ship under the command of Captain Sam Bellamy, has provided a steady stream of news. In 1984, the wreck was discovered 500 feet offshore, material was brought to the surface for identification and preservation, and their concretions removed. A small museum was established in Provincetown and, in 2016, a more permanent Whydah Museum in West Yarmouth.

The story of the Whydah running aground on the night of April 26, 1717, during an intense storm, is a Wellfleet legend, often mentioned in early writings about the town. In 1794, the Reverend Levi Whitman said, “At times to this day, there are King William and Queen Mary coppers picked up and pieces of silver called cob money.”   When Henry David Thoreau walked the back shore in the mid-nineteenth century, he wrote about the wreck, although the coin he picked up was a French one, dated 1741.

This article focuses on the visit of Captain Cyprian Southack to South Wellfleet, then part of Eastham, as the representative of the Massachusetts Colony’s Governor, determined to recover the wreck. This imperial representative and the rule of law ran up against stubborn Cape Codders, certain that they had rights to the remains of the wreck. Southack’s visit gives us a glimpse into the life of the area in 1717.

The Whydah (also written as Whida, Widdo, and other names) was a large 1715 London-built galley, designed to serve as a slave ship, with a compartment to hold six hundred captives.  It was named for the West African slave trading port of Ouiday (pronounced WHY-dah), in today’s Benin.  The early eighteenth century was the height of the ”Triangular Trade,” connecting England, the west coast of Africa, and North America. The captain of the Whydah, Lawrence Prince, had surrendered the ship near the Bahamas with the customary little resistance, as those who did so were treated well by the pirates. The slaves had already been traded and the Whydah was on its way back to England with a sizeable load of treasure, pieces of eight, pouches of gold dust, gold doubloons, and jewels. Descriptions of the captured cargo also included sugar, indigo, Jesuit’s bark (a remedy for malaria), and elephant’s teeth, or ivory. After the ship was recovered, one if its treasures was West African “Akan Gold,” the pieces local people made for the slave traders.

In 1717, Wellfleet wasn’t “Wellfleet” yet. Separation from Eastham had been discussed, as the people of Billingsgate, or the North Precinct of Eastham, considered having their own minister, but it wasn’t until the next year, 1718, that the Reverend Josiah Oakes came to Billingsgate under the patronage of John Doane. He began preaching in a small meetinghouse located at the corner of a burying ground on Chequessett Neck, where Doane had buried his son Joshua, who had drowned in 1716, and Joshua’s wife, Mary, who had died in 1715.

Meanwhile, in Eastham, the long-time Reverend Samuel Treat had just died in the midst of a heavy snowstorm in March 1717. Eastham town-fathers were working on a plan to create two new parishes, and to build two new meetinghouses, one for the south part of town called Pochet (today’s Orleans) and one “a little to the northward of Herring Pond” replacing the old meeting house near Town Cove.  But it wasn’t until 1718 that they were able to attract a replacement for Reverend Treat. Furthermore, it was in that year that the inhabitants of Billingsgate petitioned the General Court to separate politically from Eastham, initiating the local battle that lasted for the next forty years, ranging from the morality of their ministers, to the fishing and shellfishing rights of the towns.

In the spring of 1717, the people of Eastham were in the first 25 years of being part of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, combining their old Plymouth Colony with the wealthier Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Province of Maine, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into British North America’s crown colony.   Plymouth Colony had never achieved the economic status of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and perhaps there was a lingering resentment as they had been joined together by King William and Queen Mary in 1692.

The Governor in 1717 was Samuel Shute who was determined to recover the Whydah’s treasure for the Crown, as the law determined.  Citizens who found any wreck were supposed to report it to the Town Clerk, and then assist in getting it returned to the owner. But the locals in coastal towns everywhere considered the salvage washing ashore from a wreck as theirs to keep.

On Sunday, April 28, Shute had received a note from Colonel William Basset of Sandwich telling him that the “pyrate” ship had gone aground at the shore at Eastham, “man’d with about 130 men, 28 guns, who had not any commission from any Prince or Potentate.” Basset noted that only two men had been saved. This information had come to Basset from Justice Doane of Eastham who had arrested the pirates from the Mary Anne, the ship accompanying the Whydah that went ashore near Pochet.*

This was the atmosphere in which the Massachusetts Bay Governor attempted to rescue what was sure to be a valuable prize for the Crown.  Soon, he dispatched Captain Cyprian Southack to the site to recover anything of value, and to recover from the local townsfolk anything they may have already taken. Fortunately for us, Southack left a journal of his days spent on the outer Cape, a document available today at the Massachusetts State Archives. The letters he wrote to the Governor are also there, providing us with fairly extensive documentation. Barry Clifford consulted these documents when he did his research more than 250 years later, to pinpoint the spot where he would search for the wreck.

Cyprian Southack (1662-1745), the son of a British naval lieutenant, came to Boston in 1685. In 1696, he was appointed the commander of the first Province Galley, a small vessel of ten guns built by order of the Massachusetts General Court and used against the French and Indians in skirmishes in Maine and Nova Scotia. He commanded a second and larger Province Galley until 1714. Later, he commanded ships that guarded the coast against privateers and pirates.

However, Cyprian Southack had another role in the Massachusetts Colony: he was a mapmaker, preparing more than twenty maps charting the ocean waters, and the Saint John and the St. Lawrence Rivers, to diminish navigation dangers. In 1694, he prepared The New England Coasting Pilot and traveled to London to present a copy to King William, whereupon he was awarded a sum of fifty pounds “to be paid to him for the Buying a Gold Chain and Medal, as a Mark of his Majesty’s Royal Favour.”  Later the book was published, and served mariners for many years. His appointment to oversee the recovery of the Whydah showed his importance to the colony. He lived on Tremont Row, in a house once owned by Governor John Endicott. (This area became Boston’s Scollay Square in the 1920s, and today is the Government Center area.)

While the Whydah occupied Southack, there were two additional stories playing out nearby. While sailing northward, the Whydah had captured another ship, the pink Mary Anne, off Nantucket. (In the Atlantic, the word pink was used to describe any small ship with a narrow stern, having derived from the Dutch word pincke.) An Irish ship, the Mary Anne was on its way to New York with a cargo of Madeira wine. The pirates on board, as the story goes, enjoyed the wine as they ran aground off Pochet (Orleans) and managed to come ashore. Word got out that they were there, and Justice Doane arrested the six men, who were eventually brought to Boston where they were hanged after a trial—with plenty of opportunity for Reverend Cotton Mather to preach against their wicked ways. The Madeira wine not consumed ended up in a number of Eastham homes. A second story line from the wreck of the Whydah involves the much-written-about romance between a local Eastham girl, Maria “Goody” Hallett, and Captain Bellamy who, it was surmised, was headed in the direction of the Cape Cod coast to see her again.

There were two men who survived the Whydah wreck, Thomas Davis, a Welsh carpenter who had been forced to work for the pirates, and John Julian, a Moskito Indian from Nicaragua or Belize, who had served as a pilot for Bellamy. They managed to get from the beach to Samuel Harding’s house in South Wellfleet, giving Harding the first word of the wreck. At the November trial in Boston, Davis was acquitted, and Julian was sold into slavery. When Barry Clifford was researching the recovery of the wreck later, Wellfleet’s Slade Associates helped him by determining the location of Samuel Harding’s house as “A mile from Whitecrest Beach or one quarter mile southwest of Duck Pond.” Earlier writers had placed Harding’s house in “Freshbrook Village,” the small settlement south of Marconi Beach that has now disappeared.

Samuel Harding shared the news of the wreck with his brother, Abiah, and his neighbors Edward Knowles and Jonathan Cole.  Others included by Southack in his reports were Joseph Collins and Samuel Horton. The Harding family had come to Plymouth from England; Samuel and Abiah’s father was a “ward” of Deacon Doane. An older brother, Amaziah Harding, gained some fame when he murdered his wife of many years, Hannah, in 1734.

On May 2, 1717, Captain Southack arrived from Boston aboard the sloop Nathaniel at “Cape Cod Harbor” as Provincetown was then called. He had hoped to round the tip of the Cape and find the wreck, but the weather was still rough, so he stayed in the harbor. He quickly learned that the wreck was well known and that many of the local Cape Codders had already been to the site. The ability of the locals to strip a ship was well known, and Southack knew that he had to get to the site as soon as possible. He dispatched two men, Cutler and Little, to the site to protect it from further looting. They went to Truro, hired a horse and wagon, and went to the site.

Another horse was not made available to Southack, perhaps intentionally, causing great irritation. Instead, he hired a whaleboat and a crew, and decided to cross the Cape at a “canal” that he knew from his mapmaking—the passage called “Jeremiah’s Gutter”—that runs along today’s Eastham/Orleans border, from Boatmeadow Creek to Nauset Harbor/Town Cove. Luckily for him, the high spring tides allowed him to pass, and he duly noted the passage on his now-famous map.

Southack's Map of his search for the Whydah wreck on the outer Cape

Southack’s Map of his search for the Whydah wreck on the outer Cape

After fourteen hours of rowing, Southack and his crew reached the wreck and found that, while there were bodies (“54 white men and 5 negroes”) on the beach and some wreckage, the ship itself was still breaking up in the heavy surf offshore, impossible to reach. He reported (his spelling shown here) to the Governor:

“May 2 at 2 After noon I sent Mr. Little and Mr. Cuttler to the Rack. They got their that night and Capt watch till I came the next morning. At my coming their I found the Rack all to Pices, north and South, Distance from one a Nother 4 miles. Sir, whear shee strock forst I se one anchor at low water, sea being so Great Ever sence I have ben here, Can not come to se what maye be their for Riches, nor aney of her Guns. She is a ship about Three hundred tuns, she was a very fine ship.”

The crew of the whaleboat picked up what little was left, and took it by cart to Billingsgate where it would be taken later to Boston; the whaleboat returned to Provincetown, carrying Southack’s letters to the Governor.

It appears that Captain Southack stayed at Justice Doane’s home during his stay, as he wrote about Doane’s wife giving him a “plum Posset” to soothe his “soar throte,” and the Justice loaned him an “Indie-kachoo bandanie” (West Indian bandana) for his sneezing. The raw wet Spring weather kept him from the work he had hoped to do to bring the treasure in from the wreck.

“All that I Can find saved Out of her is her cables and som of her sailes, Cut all to Pices by the Inhabitants here. Their has been at this Rack Two hundred men at least Plundering of her, sum saye they got Riches out of the sand but I can not find them as yet.

The Governor and Captain Southack had the Crown law behind them as they not only took over what was left of the Whydah wreck on the beach, but could also demand that anyone who had removed material must turn it over. Southack issued the following “advertisement” on May 4 which was posted all around the area:

Whereas there is lately Stranded on the back of Cape Cod a Pirate Ship & His Excellency the Governor hath Authorized and impower’d me the Subscriber, to discover & take care of s. wreck & to Impress men & whatsoever Else necessary to discover & Secure what may be part of her, …with orders to go into any house, Shop, Cellar, Warehouse, room or other place, & in case of resistance to break open any doors, chests, trunks& other package there to Seize & from thence to bring away any of the goods. … And all of his Mjoesty’s officers and other his loving Subjects are Hereby Commanded to be aiding and assisting me, my Deputy or Deputys In the Due Execution of S. warrant or they will answer if Contrary at their utmost peril. These are therefore to notify all persons that have found or taken up any thing of S. Wreck on what was belonging to or taken out of S. Wreck vessel that they make discovery thereof & bring in the same to me at Mr. William Browns In Eastham or where else I shal order Or they will answer the Same at their Utmost peril, and then all officers and other persons will give information of any thing of S. Wreck taken up by any persons of Suspicion thereof, that they may be proceeded with and a Discovery made pursuant to my powers & Instructions. Eastham, May 4th 1717. Cyprian Southack

On May 6, Governor Shute published a similar notice in The Boston News-Letter that citizens who took items from the wreck of the Whydah did so at their own peril. The Cape Codders who kept and hid their Whydah wreckage were demonstrating quite a strong independence in an era of authoritarian rule.

Captain Southack had the power to conduct house-to-house searches, and commanded all those upright Puritans of the outer Cape to reveal their fellow wreckers. The records of the event show that a few people did in fact bring their “treasure” to the Captain or to Mr. William Brown. (We know from earlier research that Mr. Brown had received 16 acres of land in 1672 near Silver Spring in what became South Wellfleet.) In general, though, the locals pretended that they had not heard of the wreck and must have worked hard to cover-up.

Samuel Harding had a special excuse. He told Southack that he taken items from the wreck, but had promised to hold it for Thomas Davis until after his trial in Boston, and could not renege on his promise. Southack was furious, and wrote to Governor Shute “I find the said Harding is as Gilty (sic) as the Pirate Saved.”

All that week, the cold, windy weather kept Southack from getting off shore to the Whydah to see if he could attempt a dive to bring up the treasure. The bodies continued to come ashore, and part of this legendary tale is that the local citizens would have stripped them of their clothing and anything in their pockets while they still had access to the beach. During this week, Southack reported that there were 79 bodies. The overall number of men on board was 102, plus the two who were alive, so bodies must have continued to wash ashore for some time, a phenomenon that is reported in other accounts of shipwrecks.

Samuel Freeman was the local coroner. He had a pit dug (we do not know where) to bury the many pirate bodies, and billed the Southack for eighty-three pounds. What Southack had gathered was worth about eighty-two pounds, so Freeman had the “Coroners Jury” put a stop upon it for the expenses of the burial. This only increased Southack’s frustration and anger at the locals. He wanted to arrest the entire population, but realized that was impossible.

By May 13, Captain Southack gave up his search and returned to Boston. Stories circulated later that he had made a secret fortune, taken a Creole mistress, and returned to England, but historians have never found any evidence that he did. Shortly after he returned to Boston, he ran an advertisement in the Boston News-Letter describing “two Anchors, two Great Guns and some Jonk that came from the Wreck Whido” that would be sold at Public Auction by the Admiralty Marshal. The rest would wait more than 250 years to be recovered.


*In researching this article I was happy to find the definition of an area near Pochet called Slut’s Bush, a place-name I’d wondered about. This for a swampy area off Nauset had been named in 1626 when the Sparrow Hawk ran aground. One of the passengers, a Mr. Fells, had brought a woman with him to the New World, described as his maid or housekeeper. But when it became obvious she was pregnant, the couple was ostracized and forced to camp out in this section of Nauset, forever called Slut’s Bush.



Martha J. Ehrlich: “Early Akan Gold from the Wreck of the Whydah”

African Arts, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Aug., 1989), pp. 52-57+87-88

Southack’s biography in http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/southack_cyprian_3E.html

Reynaud, Elizabeth. This Narrow Land Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962

Clifford, Barry with Peter Turchi. Discovering the Priceless Treasures of the Sunken Ship Whydah New York: Simon & Schuster 1993

Clifford, Barry with Paul Perry. Expedition Whydah New York: Harper Collins 1999

Vanderbilt II, Arthur T.  The Fortunes and Fate of the Pirate Ship Whydah Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1986

Levi Whitman quote from “A Topographical Description of Wellfleet in the County of Barnstable” in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society for the Year 1794, Volume 13,  page 117

Echevierra, Durand. A History of Billingsgate, Wellfleet: Wellfleet Historical Society 1991.















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