Making Salt in South Wellfleet

This summer, the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum presented an exhibit on Wellfleet’s waterfront, about the many ways that waterfront land, structures, and businesses supported the economic life of the town.  One of the operations was the manufacture of salt by evaporating salt water, a growth industry in the early years of the nineteenth century in Barnstable County. The exhibit included a model of a typical saltworks, showing details of the wooden structures that dotted the bayside shoreline until they disappeared by the 1850s.

These cobbled-together structures sprouted up all over town, using wind and water to produce bushels of salt. I found three owners in South Wellfleet.  The 1937 brochure of the South Wellfleet Neighborhood Association provided the only written reference to South Wellfleet’s role in salt production:

Arey’s at the foot of Cannon Hill on Blackfish Creek, known as the Mill Ditch and used today by the Summer people as a bathing beach. Townsend’s was at the foot of Paine Hollow, and Lewis’s was East of the Highway.

Saltworks were located close to the homes of owners, since the family provided the labor. That may explain why there were no saltworks located on Lieutenant’s Island shores since no one lived there until much later.

Various reports of salt-making in Barnstable County cover Wellfleet’s participation; these annual numbers for Wellfleet show the growth and demise of the industry:


Year Number of saltworks
1802 2
1831 35
1837 39
1845 28
1855 13


The number of bushels in the most productive year in Wellfleet, noted in several accounts, is 10,000. Wellfleet’s fishing industry was also growing during this time, creating a strong demand for salt in the era before refrigeration, although bushels would have been shipped over to Boston as well, helped by the packet boats that began regular operations after the War of 1812.

William Quinn’s excellent book, The Saltworks of Historic Cape Cod, explores the history and town-by-town description of this early-American “manufactory” as operations were called then. These two photos in the Cummings collection at the Snow Library in Orleans show the ruins of a saltworks in Dennis.

Cummings photo of saltworks in East Dennis


Another photo from an old book shows the saltworks in operation on Billingsgate, although here located erroneously in the town of Eastham.

Saltworks at Billingsgate


Long wooden vats were nailed together for the three-part evaporation process. They were covered with wooden or canvas superstructures or roofs on moveable rollers used to cover the vats when it rained. Windmills pumped the water into a first vat where, depending on the weather, the saltwater would evaporate in four to six weeks. The concentrated brine then went into a “pickling” vat where evaporation continued. Once crystals started forming, they would be skimmed in the salt vat (or “salt room”) for final production. Glauber salts or Epsom salts could be made from the by-product of the process. Records for Brewster and Dennis show production of these salt products, but Wellfleet appears not to have produced them, according to reports in an 1835 Massachusetts Business Directory.

The wood for these saltworks structures had to be brought in from Maine.  South Wellfleet’s Cedar Swamp, some portion or all of which was owned by the Arey family, probably provided the hollowed-out logs that moved the evaporating water from one vat to another. Those without cedar logs used pine.

The Revolutionary War played a role in developing saltworks in Barnstable County and other locations in southeastern Massachusetts. During the war, when imported salt was halted, there were some efforts to make salt by boiling seawater in large vats. On the Cape where trees had been substantially removed by the early 18th century, firewood was scarce.  Captain John Sears of Dennis, the inventor of the evaporation process used on the Cape, started work on his process by 1776. When the British man-of-war Somerset was wrecked on the outer Cape in 1778, Captain Sears had obtained one of its bilge pumps in the process of stripping the wreck. He used this to pump the water into his saltworks, and continued perfecting his process.

When the President of Yale University, Timothy Dwight, made his excursion to the Cape in the early years of the 19th century he got quite excited about the possibilities of “salt manufactories” as he observed the Cape landscape. The Cape was viewed by him as a place of “gloom and solitude” and “everlasting desolation.”  He hoped that the saltworks to come would provide “a mighty change” for the towns and villages of the Cape.

Saltworks were relatively easy to build, requiring a relatively small investment. Retiring sea captains who had capital to invest often chose this home-business. Labor costs were minimal and could often be operated by family members.

The chief reason given by most writers for the demise of the saltworks in the 1840s and 1850s was the competition from salt manufacturing in New York state, around the town of Syracuse, where brine springs were developed into an industry in the late 1700s.  In a 2013 article, William B. Meyer cites another reason: the change in tariffs that the U.S. government imposed on imported salt from the early days of the country through the 1840s. He makes the point that the collection of tariffs early on was done to raise money for the new U.S. government, but had the consequence of protesting the nascent salt manufacturing. When tariffs might have been removed after the turn of the century, they were kept in place because of uncertain situations on relations with England, and then the War of 1812 cut-off all imports. In fact, the saltworks of various Cape towns were threated during that war with destruction by British ships that sought to collect a ransom from the town to save the salt-making structures.

Tariffs played a role in national politics, sometimes creating a crisis as states’ rights were asserted over national tariff policies, particularly in the agricultural southern states where they depended upon imported manufactured items. Meyer argues that it was the removal of tariffs in the 1840s that pushed the Barnstable County salt manufacturing into its final throes.

The placement of saltworks in South Wellfleet is shown on two maps. The 1831 Hales map, written about HERE recently showing three places on Blackfish Creek where there are saltworks. On this map, Drummers Pond is referred to a “Cohog Pond.”

As discussed .below, I believe that the saltworks near Cohog Pond were owned by the Lewis family, and the Arey family owned the two on the south and north side of the end of the Creek.

The 1849 topographical map of Wellfleet, with its South Wellfleet section shown here, has two saltworks marked by the long rectangles with hatch-marks, one near today’s Pleasant Point, and the other in the location north of Drummer’s Cove. Two other locations near the eastern end of Blackfish Crook are noted (circled) showing long rectangles with no markings. These are probably saltworks that are no longer in operation, an informed guess provided by Chet Lay, Wellfleet civil engineer and a friend to this writer. I would suppose that these are the Arey saltworks, no longer in operation.


1849 Topo map of Wellfleet, Blackfish Creek detail with saltworks


Using the 1858 Walling map of Wellfleet which shows property owners in Wellfleet, and various federal censuses, along with deeds and family records, I’ve determined that the John Lewis family were the owners of the salt works north of Drummer’s Cove. In 1850, both John Lewis Senior and John Junior headed households in that area, just to the east of Moses Hinckley. Deeds show they owned property upland from Blackfish Creek, on the north side.

The same type of search determined that James Townsend (1808-1884) owned the salt works near his home at the end of (today’s) Paine Hollow Road. His home had been built by his father, Dr. James Townsend (1780-1812), when he married Hannah Doane. In his handwritten will, Dr. Townsend left all of his property to his wife when he died in 1812. If Hannah remarried, the property would go to his two children, James Junior and Nancy Beals. It appears that the children did indeed get their inheritance, and James Junior, married in 1831 to Desiah Smith, is listed as a carpenter on various censuses that cover the period of his life, a useful occupation to have when building a saltworks. The appearance of the saltworks on the 1849 map fits with James Townsend Junior’s lifespan.  The Townsend house, today located at 290 Paine Hollow Road, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Arey family’s ownership of saltworks can be more definitively determined, since the saltworks are mentioned in Reuben Arey’s will of 1839. He left “one-half of a string of saltworks” to each of four of his heirs, which may imply two such structures, perhaps the ones on the south and north sides of Blackfish Creek at its eastern end.  Perhaps the saltworks were already not in operation, since they appear to have less value than other pieces of property left to his children. The four heirs receiving the saltworks were Charles Arey, his youngest child, born in 1822, who left the Cape and became a minister; Miranda Davis and Ruth Dodge, two married daughters; and Sally Chapman, a granddaughter whose mother had died. None of these children seemed to be in a position to take over a manufacturing operation, so perhaps all that was left might have been the wood, always recycled on Cape Cod.

In the past ten years or so, a few small business ventures have sprung up on the Cape, to produce boutique salt made from salt water evaporation, including the Wellfleet Sea Salt Company



Quinn, William P. The Saltworks of Historic Cape Cod Orleans, Massachusetts,  Parnassus Imprints 1993

Holmes, Richard, Carolyn D. Hertz, and Mitchell Mullholland Historic Cultural Land Use Study of Lower Cape Cod University of Massachusetts, Amherst, accessed on August 2019.

Meyer, William B. “The Making and Unmaking of a Natural Resource: The Salt Industry of Coastal Southeastern Massachusetts” Massachusetts Historical Review, Vol 15 (2013), pp.123-150

“Saltworks Ruins-East Dennis (circa 1880)” Snow Library H.K. Cummings collection, accessed August 1, 2019,

Reuben Arey will, 1839

Walling, Henry F. The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket On Cape Publications, 2009

Hales map:


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Three Maps of Wellfleet: 1795, 1831, 1847

After a recent restoration of my e-card at the Boston Public Library, I visited their “Digital Commonwealth” pages again, searching “Wellfleet.” There I found three maps of Wellfleet: one that I’d heard of but not seen, one that I’d discovered some years ago but did not know its context, and one new to me.  Finding a new historical map is always a delight—but three in one afternoon were heaven!

A Plan of the Town of Wellfleet taken in May 1795

This was the earliest of the three. I recall reading about this map, part of a post-Revolutionary War effort to map every town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  The notes explaining the creation of the map are here:

For the compilation of a state map, each town in Massachusetts (including those in the five eastern counties now part of Maine) was required by Resolves 1794, … to make a town plan based on a survey no more than seven years old, to be submitted to the state secretary’s office. Rivers, county roads, bridges, courthouses, places of public worship, and distances of the town center to the county shire town and to Boston were to be included, drawn on a scale of 200 rods to the inch. A map of Massachusetts proper and one of the District of Maine were compiled by Osgood Carleton from these plans and printed in 1802.

The signature on the map is difficult to read: possibly Gunter or Gunten Teale or Seale. Sam Waterman and Lewis Hamblin also signed it as a “Committee for the Town of Wellfleet.”  Waterman and Hamblin are listed in the 1790 Federal census for Wellfleet, but there is nothing matching the mapmaker’s name   he may have been hired to do the work.

Surprisingly, Lieutenant’s Island is labeled with its modern name, not as “Horse Island” as other early maps designated it. Loagy Bay is labeled “Logea” and the water mill (or tide mill) is noted. That mill is not the only one in Wellfleet noted on the map. This tide mill is memorialized today in Loagy Bay’s “Mill Hill Island,” a stone’s throw from today’s shore.  Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to find written information about this early mill and its owner.

Near the Atlantic shoreline, there is a note on the map: “Barren Lands 100 Rods from Shore,” seeming to display the unimportance of the ocean side of the town.

The one road through town is represented by a series of dots marking the “Publick Road,” circling around the farthest end of Blackfish Creek. This was the King’s Highway, a term the citizens stopped using following the Revolutionary War. This roadway was the only one running through the town, long before the County Road was built with its bridge or causeway over Blackfish Creek.

There is no church in South Wellfleet on this map. The Society organizing the new local church was not formed until 1833, and the church built shortly after.  The Wellfleet “Meeting House” is at the head of Duck Creek, which is why we find the graveyard there today that was part of the church.

Indian Neck is simply labeled as “covered with sand.”

Drummer Cove off Blackfish Creek is labeled “Mill Pond,” a feature of South Wellfleet discussed in this earlier post about the fulling mill that was there:

The town’s western islands are labeled: Bound Brook, Griffin’s, Great Island, Beach Hill and Billingsgate Point.

One other point of interest is the label “Silver Spring Harbor” in South Wellfleet, at the point where Silver Spring empties into the bay. This designation was on a 1755 map at the Library of Congress, made by the British called “A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England.”

Here’s the link to the 1795 map, part of a collection at the Massachusetts Archives:

Plan of Wellfleet Made by John G. Hales dated 1831

The notes accompanying this map:

For the compilation of a more accurate state map, each town in Massachusetts (and the city of Boston) was required by Resolves 1829 … to make a town plan based on a survey no more than five years old, to be submitted to the state secretary’s office. Plans, to be drawn on a scale of one hundred rods to the inch, were to include the following information: rivers, waterways, public and private roads, places of public worship, courthouses, other public buildings, distance from town center to county shire town and to Boston, bridges and ferries, falls, ponds, shores, harbors, islands, mountains and hills, mills and manufactories, mines, iron works, meadows, and woodlands.

John Groves Hales (1785-1832) is the cartographer of this Wellfleet map. Hales was also a surveyor and civil engineer, and considered one of the most influential and important cartographers of the early 19th century. Born in England, he immigrated to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, producing an 1812 map of that town. He used advanced trigonometric methods for his work, a method that had been standard practice among European surveyors for a century. This method gave his maps much greater accuracy than the metes and bounds surveys the Americans used, requiring little instrumentation or training, but liable to inaccuracies. Hales moved to Boston and, in 1814, issued his large-scale, detailed map of the Greater Boston area, noting both natural and human geography. When the Massachusetts legislature required the new state map in 1829-30, at least 45 towns and cities commissioned surveys from him. Hales died of apoplexy in 1832, the year after he produced his Wellfleet map. A full biography can be seen here:

On the Hales map, South Wellfleet’s marshy eastern side and only two of its three streams are labeled, but there are more roadways mapped, in addition to the main road through town. Silver Spring and its harbor have disappeared. Today’s “Fresh Brook” is labeled “Fresh Stream.” Lieutenant’s Island has reverted back to an earlier name, “Horse Island.” Drummer Cove is now called Cahoon Pond.  Correction, thanks to Chuck Cole! I read this wrong: the name is Cohog Pond. One of the most interesting features on this map is the many Salt Works, indicated by a clustered set of small boxes. There is one on the south side of Blackfish Creek, one on the northern side, and yet another on the north side of Cohog Pond.

This map must have been helpful in the 1840s when the topographical engineers began their work on the U. S. Coast Survey and the town was measured again using the most up-to-date surveying methods which Hales had brought to his work.  Indeed the copy of the map is stamped “1847” when the Coast Survey was underway. An earlier post on this topic is here:

There is a note on the upper right side of the Hales map: The line between Wellfleet and Truro is not admitted on the part of Wellfleet as being straight from shore to shore as it is here laid down. They claim a line a  little more northerly which includes a dwelling house belonging to Eb. Freeman that stands about 2 ½ rods north of the straight line and which is more fully elicited by the annexed Preambulation (sic) dated 15th September 1825.

Here is the link to Mr. Hales’ map:

Plan of Wellfleet made by Oliver Arey dated 1841

The same note given for the Hales map is posted here as well, so it is hard to discern what the reason was for Oliver Arey to make his Wellfleet map. Mr. Arey was the son of the second Reuben Arey whose home still stands near the intersection of Old Wharf Road and Route 6. Born in 1817, Oliver Arey at first “farmed and helped in the manufacture of salt by solar evaporation,” both standard Wellfleet occupations.  Oliver pursued an education, first at Phillips’ Academy, and then Union College. He became a teacher and then a principal, holding posts in Buffalo, New York and Cleveland, Ohio. He was the first President of the Normal School at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, where one of today’s dorms is named for him.

Arey’s map is interesting for the many Wellfleet schools that he notes. Starting at the southern end of town, there is a school between Spring Brook and Fresh Brook, one east of Lieutenant’s Island, and another one north of Drummer Cove, and yet another on the road to Wellfleet. There are four more schools in the more northern section of town, for a total of eight. Prior to the Civil War, Wellfleet was in its heyday, with a population that required these numerous schools.

Also of interest in South Wellfleet is a designation of two churches. One was the South Wellfleet Congregational Church, and the other, nearby, the short-lived Methodist Church. These two new churches reflect the relatively high and growing population of the town. These churches were discussed in these two posts:

On Arey’s map, Lieutenant’s Island is labeled “Horse Island.” The South Wharf is noted on the point we now call the “Old Wharf.” There’s still only one main road through the townit still circles past the end of Blackfish Creek. The “causeway” that shortened that route wasn’t built until 1846-47.

A new feature is on this map: two lighthouses, one at Billingsgate, and the other in the harbor near the wharf, today’s Mayo Beach Light.

Here is Mr. Arey’s map:


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South Wellfleet’s Mayflower Family

As the 400th celebration of the Pilgrims’ landing at Provincetown approaches, it’s a good time to look back at the Pilgrims and their families who settled in the Plymouth Colony offshoot called Nauset, and later named Eastham.  This 1644 settlement of what was originally seven families, called “the Proprietors” encompassed what is today the towns of Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet.

Recently, a group called the Descendants of Cape Cod and the Islands made a trip to the outer Cape towns to explore the places where their ancestors walked in the first few weeks in their new colony. That history is preserved in the earliest accounts of the Colony, particularly Mourt’s Relation, a book written by Edward Winslow and Governor William Bradford in 1622. Today, we can comb through the early records of Eastham and the genealogical records of the Mayflower families, to get a glimpse of how these early Cape settlers lived their lives. This blog post goes beyond our South Wellfleet history to share the history of one particular line of a Mayflower family, whose history illuminates the daily lives of early outer-Cape settlers.

Constance Hopkins and Nicholas Snow started this Mayflower family. Constance was the Mayflower traveler, arriving in Plymouth when she was a teenager.  One of her descendants, Sylvanus Snow, settled in South Wellfleet, along with a brother named Samuel. We know they were in South Wellfleet because, in 1734, they petitioned the organizers of Wellfleet’s first church, the beginning of the town’s separation from Eastham, to remain a member of the Eastham Church that was located much closer to their homes.  Sylvanus was the main petitioner for himself, his brother, and a few others.

Although we do not know the precise location of Sylvanus Snow’s house, we do know that there were also some Snows living in the area that became “Fresh Brook Village,” the cluster of eleven or more houses along the eastern end of Fresh Brook. At that time, the Brook was flowing strongly enough to bring small boats up from the bay where it still empties today. This was long before the County Road and later the railroad culvert and then modern Route 6 narrowed the Brook’s flow.

Sylvanus Snow’s connection to the Mayflower was through his great grandmother, Constance Hopkins. Constance was the daughter of Stephen Hopkins, one of the “Strangers” who were taken aboard the Mayflower by the “Saints,” or Pilgrims, in order to pay for the voyage. Hopkins had already had an adventurous life when he ventured to North America with his daughter and son from a previous marriage, Constance and Giles, his second wife, Elizabeth, and a young child, Damaris, and then another child, Oceanus, born during the Atlantic crossing.

Born in 1581, Hopkins left his wife and children when he was 28 years old to sail to Virginia aboard the Sea Venture, to bring supplies and new colonists, including a new Governor, to the Jamestown colony. Hopkins had been guaranteed thirty acres in the Colony after three years of living there. His ship, one of a group of seven, was caught in a hurricane and ran aground at Bermuda. With plenty of food, but without a ship, the castaways built themselves a boat and planned to head for Virginia. Hopkins had a different idea: that they should stay and colonize Bermuda, since they were no longer obligated to the Virginia Company that financed them. This idea was taken as dissent, and Hopkins was sentenced to death but then saved when his pleas included his young family in England. There were accounts written later about this Bermuda adventure, documents that are considered sources for Shakespeare’s The Tempest, first performed in 1613. Hopkins did not stay in Virginia where the hardships were considerable, but returned to England to find his wife dead and his children under the care of the Church of England.

Hopkins set out again for North America on the Mayflower, this time with his new wife and children. He signed the Mayflower Compact, written on board the ship in Provincetown Harbor. Hopkins’ occupations are “tanner and merchant” and the records show that he was considered an expert on Native American matters, a reputation gained through his earlier travels. Hopkins is noted as one of the Pilgrims in the exploration party, today on a plaque at First Encounter Beach in Eastham.

First Encounter Marker as updated this century


When Samoset came to Plymouth and welcomed the English, he stayed at Hopkins’ home. Hopkins served as Assistant to Governor Bradford through 1636. He died in 1644. A recent Op Ed piece in The New York Times gives credit to Hopkins for his role in the Plymouth Colony:

Hopkins’ daughter, Constance, born in 1601, survived the first brutal winter in Plymouth, grew up and married Nicholas Snow. Snow had arrived on the Anne in 1623. Amazingly, the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth displays a beaver hat belonging to Constance, made in England (1615-1640). The steep-crowned hats were popular for both men and women in the early 17th Century. The beaver fur was exported to England and processed into felt for these hats.

Woman in a Beaver Hat

Constance is also noted in Governor Bradford’s written history in 1651 where he mentions her marriage to Nicholas Snow, calling her “Constanta”, and noting that she has twelve children, all living, and all married. This notation has bothered genealogists who have only names and birth dates for just nine of their children beginning with Mark in 1625, and ending with Ruth in 1644.  Certainly not all of those children would have been married by 1651!

Nicholas Snow was one of the original settlers of Nauset in 1644, re-named “Eastham” in 1651. Nicholas was a cooper and a carpenter, a fact we know from the inventory of his estate made in 1676 when he died. He also owned books, a sign that he was literate. Nicholas served in various roles in the Eastham government, including selectman, surveyor, and constable.  Deyo’s history of Eastham notes that Nicholas Snow’s homestead was in Skaket, on the Bay, now part of Orleans. Each of the seven original settlers took 200 acres.

Nicholas’ will and inventory (available at is a classic document giving us a view of the life in Eastham in the 17th Century. Besides his tools, divided into cooper’s and carpenter’s, all the kitchen itemsmany made of pewterare listed along with a spinning wheel, milking pails, earthen jugs, linens, clothing, lamps, chests, chairs, feather beds, cloth, deerskins and wool. The animals are all counted: sheep, swine, cattle, horses, and bees.

Snow owned extensive land and meadow, from Harwich to Truro, enough to leave his sons various holdings. His fifth son and eighth child, Jabez Snow, is the Snow son whose grandchild, Sylvanus, ended up in South Wellfleet. His father left Jabez “that part of my house he lives in as long as my wife and I do live,” a house that then would revert wholly to his ownership. He also received “seven acres at the basse pond lying between Daniel Cole and William Browne.” The Browne family were early settlers in what is now South Wellfleet. Jabez also got meadow land at Silver Spring, north of William Walker, another known South Wellfleet resident, along with other land in Billingsgate, the general term for Wellfleet. Additional land at Billingsgate went to Constance, and later to Jabez.

Jabez was married to Elizabeth Smith, daughter of Eastham settler Ralph Smith. Jabez may have been living as a single man in his parents’ home in 1666 since his first child, also named Jabez, wasn’t born until 1670.  One record puts the house “near Governor Prence.”  This photo taken pre-1880s names this worn-down dwelling as Governor Prence’s home, although as a later structure. It shows the type of structure these early settlers lived in.

Prence house photographed pre-1880

Nicholas and Constance Snow were buried in the cemetery near the first Eastham church, a structure on Town Cove that disappeared long ago. Today that cemetery, on Route 6, is a National Landmark called the “Cove Burying Ground.” Technically, Nicholas’ gravesite is only presumed because his marker has worn away, but Constance’s grave location is known. In 1966, both were marked with a memorial plaque.  (Nicholas Snow is commemorated in a plaque at Eastham Town Hall.)

Snow grave site at Cove Burying Ground

The Cove Burying Ground also includes another Pilgrim, Constance’s brother Giles Hopkins. He lived on the Cape, first in Yarmouth when his father was still alive, taking care of the family cattle kept there. Later he moved to Eastham and established a farm on the Town Cove, a part of today’s Orleans. He died in 1690.

Jabez Snow, son of Nicholas and Constance, also served in Eastham town government in a variety of roles from highway surveyor to selectman.  Jabez Snow, along with his brother Mark, was appointed in 1675, and again in 1681, as one of three men to collect the backbird heads when every householder was ordered to kill twelve backbirds before the middle of May. In 1684, Jabez Snow, Captain Sparrow, and John Doane were appointed to handle the remains of a whale at the head of Blackfish Creek that three other men had illegally found and carved up. At that time these beached creatures were declared to be the property of the Town, and it was illegal for individuals to take the oil and the blubber.

In 1680 and 1682 the Town appointed Deacon Freeman and Jabez Snow to supervise the maintenance of the Reverend Samuel Treat and report annually to the Town.  Freeman’s history of Eastham mentions a record of a fine of ten shillings levied against Jabez Snow’s wife, Elizabeth, in 1685, for “railing expressions on the Lord’s Day used toward the Reverent Samuel Treat.”  One wonders if her husband’s job caused her some distress.

Snow’s death records name him Lieutenant Jabez Snow because he went off to war in what was called the “Canadian Expedition” when New France was pitted against New England in a series of military events known as the French and Indian War.  The 1690 expedition to take the city of Quebec, also known as the Sir William Phip’s Expedition, named for the Massachusetts Governor, was conceived by Phip as a way of showing support for the new monarchs, William and Mary, who had come to the throne in 1689. The Massachusetts and the Plymouth Colonies wanted to show support for the new monarchs, since both colonies were close to re-negotiating their charters as colonies. However, the Canadian venture was ill-conceived and a failure.

The New Englanders, some seven hundred strong in seven ships, sailed from Boston to Quebec in August 1690. In October, they reached Quebec, but were unable to scale the cliffs of the city and capture it, in a battle that took place on October 24th.  While only thirty men were killed in battle, many in the expedition died of smallpox, dysentery, and frostbite.

Plymouth Colony ceased to exist in 1691 when the new charter for the Massachusetts Bay Colony was negotiated. Some historians say that the unfortunate expedition of 1690 caused the Crown to combine the two colonies into one.

Lt. Jabez Snow’s death in Eastham at age 48 in December,1690, may have been as a result of this military venture, but the records at that time do not show the cause of death.

Lt. Jabez Snow did not leave a will, as most men did at that time, also suggesting that he died suddenly. Later, in April 1691, delayed by the renegotiation of the colonies’ government, his estate was officially inventoried. Lt. Snow’s possessions show the change in his generation’s occupations, moving from the farming the land to extracting from the water. In addition to his real estate, he owned a whaleboat and a portion of another, and a portion of a sloop for “going to Plymouth.” He also left twenty-one pounds, eighteen shillings for “going to warfare to Canada.” Later, the other men from Plymouth Colony in the expedition, recruited by Shuabel Gorham from Barnstable, would petition Massachusetts Bay Colony for land in payment for their service, a more typical payment for military service.

Lt. Jabez Snow and his wife, Elizabeth Smith, daughter of Ralph Smith, had had nine children: three sons and six daughters. Snow left his land holdings to his sons (110 acres in various locations, beautifully detailed by Robert Carlson and posted on the Eastham Public Library’s site), and fourteen pounds, four shillings to each of his daughters. His eldest son, also named Jabez Snow, received the dwelling house and barn, seven acres of upland and one acre of meadow, and parcels at “Little Billingsgate.”  We do not know if he kept the Snow dwelling house. This second Jabez Snow was sometimes referred to as “Captain” Snow, although we do not know if that was related to military responsibilities, or because of maritime interests.

Captain Jabez Snow was married to Elizabeth Treat, the daughter of Eastham’s famous minister, the Reverend Samuel Treat. He died in 1750, at age 82, at a time when there was still room in the family plot in the Cove Burying Ground.  His will of 1743 refers to him as “Captain Snow, Gentleman, of Eastham.” His wife died in 1755, in her 79th year, and was buried in the cemetery near the second Eastham church, today called “the Bridge Road Cemetery.”

Captain and Mrs. Snow had eight children. Their fourth child, Sylvanus (sometimes spelled Silvanus), settled in North Eastham in the area that would become South Wellfleet. Sylvanus was born in 1704/05 (those years are tricky due to the adjustment of the Gregorian calendar). Sylvanus was married three times, not uncommon in the early 18th Century: Hannah Cole, Mehitable Walker, and Deborah Cooke. His children were born to his first and second wives. He married Hannah Cole in 1733, Mehitable Walker in 1751, and Deborah Cooke in 1761. The family were members of the second church built in Eastham in 1720. When the Wellfleet, or North Precinct, church was organized and built in 1734, Sylvanus and his brother Samuel, the two Atwood brothers, Eldad and Ebenezer, and the Brown brothers, Jesse and Joseph, all sought and were granted permission to continue to attend the Eastham church and to make their payments there. This document making the arrangement has given Sylvanus a place in local history. He is known also for an incident in the 1750s when he attempted to forbid Cape native people from Harwich the right to use the beach at the tip of Billingsgate Island. The natives, however, claimed that they were veterans of the French and Indian War (possibly the incident mentioned here) and that they had fishing rights. This event is noted in the 1951 history of Eastham when that town celebrated its 300th anniversary.

When he died in 1772, Deborah was Sylvanus’ widow.  His oldest son Edward was the administrator of the estate. Since three of the children were still minors, Edward Snow and Barnabas Freeman were appointed guardians. When Deborah died in 1786, and her portion of the estate divided by the remaining children, Collier Snow, another son, was appointed administrator because Edward had left the state, having moved to Penobscot in Maine.

Collier Snow was noted as also in Penobscot in a later document. His son Sylvanus had died also in 1786, leaving Heman as the surviving Snow son on the Cape in this family line that runs from Nicholas to Sylvanus Snow. Tabitha married three times to Wellfleet men: Perez Chipman, Isaiah Holbrook, and George Hatch; Mary was married to William Doane, and Hannah was the wife of Elisha Rich. A later 1786 document asserted that the children had embezzled the estate from “relict” Deborah Snow.

Since Samuel Snow, Sylvanus Snow’s brother, was also listed in the 1734 document requesting that Wellfleet allow him to continue attending the Eastham church, it is assumed that he lived in South Wellfleet too. He was married to Elizabeth Freeman and also had numerous children. His son, also Samuel, died in 1774, in Boston, although the record does not state where he lived.

Samuel’s son, Joseph, is buried in the Cove Burying Ground, so he may have lived in South Wellfleet when he died. Sparrow Snow, another son of Samuel and Elizabeth Snow, served in the Revolutionary War in Isaiah Higgins Company, and then moved to Sandisfield, Massachusetts where he is buried. There are two additional Snow sons in this family line but their genealogical stories are not as searchable.

By the time we are in the eighteenth century, the Snow family members, many with the same name, are more difficult to trace, as the early New Englanders moved west. However, it appears that this line of the Pilgrim family was no longer in South Wellfleet. There was, however, a Solomon Snow family, both father and son with the same name, and the son buried in the South Wellfleet cemetery in 1870.  While further research hasn’t linked this line back to Nicholas Snow, specifically, it’s probably safe to do so, as all the Cape Cod Snows can claim the Mayflower link.

SOURCES   This site has an online data base, Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880.  Accessed November, 2018.  Society of Colonial Wars text.

Freeman, Frederick The History of Cape Cod: The Annals of Barnstable County, 1858 (online version at the Eastham Public Library).


Morgan, William The Cape Cod Cottage (Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2006) contains the photo, made pre-1880, of the original Prence homestead of 1646.


The New England Historic and Genealogical Society site

On the site, “Mayflower Deeds and Probates 1600-1850.”





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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

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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:


The Cape Codder available online at the Snow Library, Orleans

Federal Census collection at

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspapers available online at

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:

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:


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