Gunning in Wellfleet and Eastham


Just after Labor Day this year (2019), the Wellfleet Conservation Trust Annual Walk took participants to two “gunning camps” near Great Pond. Men with their rifles and fishing gear began coming to Wellfleet in the early spring and late fall, even as summer tourism developed, when the whole family came to enjoy the seaside. This blog post will concentrate on the coastal sport of shooting migratory birds.

Wellfleet visitors began building “gunning camps” as a place of very simple accommodation for those who came to shoot birds, hunt deer, and pursue both salt- and freshwater fishing. Local Wellfleet reports about visitors who came to the gunning camps never mention females, although there are photographs in other regions of the country of female hunters dressed in deerskin outfits.

Hunting as sport developed early in the 19th Century as a way to counteract the expectations of men as the country industrialized and more men were in cities working in factories and at desks.  Hunting, shooting, and fishing became respectable activities of the new “leisure class.” Cultural crusaders in the mid-to-late 19th Century promoted male physical fitness, competitive sports and outdoor activity. These activities were antidotes to a somewhat-feared “feminization” of American culture where women became the rulers of the home and also found more roles outside the home, including pursuing the vote.

In the late 19th Century “market hunting” became necessary as the increase in immigration put demands on the country’s food supply. The menus of fine-dining restaurants reflected the popularity of game birds: snipe, woodcock, plover, and partridge, along with several varieties of ducks: teal, mallard, canvasback, and ruddy. Further, the plumage of the coastal birds was much sought-after for women’s hats. Sometimes a whole bird appeared on top of a woman’s head!

Bird Hats Library of Congress photo

Hat with Birds, 19th Century


On the Cape, market-hunting provided work for many men. Numerous references in the 1940s issues of The Cape Codder newspaper often refer to men who served as guides to sport shooters as “a former market hunter.” In an article describing a local Wellfleet duck hunter in the 1920s, the writer refers to the man as a former “market hunter” who “in the days before licenses and bag limits had sent four or five barrels of shore birds a week to the Boston market”. In his book, I Remember Cape Cod, E.C. Janes writes about fishing trips to Gull Pond during his summers in Wellfleet in the early 20th Century. “Local gunners then in the spring and the fall with their live decoys, bagged hundreds of geese, many of which found their way to the Boston market where they brought twenty-five cents apiece.” By the time he wrote his book, market gunning had been banned.  Janes’ description of how live decoys worked is described later in this post.

Still Life with game and vegetables, Van Utrecht

After live decoys were banned, wooden carved decoys served duck hunters. Elmer Crowell of Harwich, a prolific carver, produced them in his work as a hunting guide further up the Cape. When he died in 1952, his estate was valued at $200; today, his carvings bring in many thousands of dollars at auctions. In 2007, two pieces were auctioned at more than a million dollars.

The popularity of shooting is also found in the history of the Goose Hummock store in Orleans. Founded after World War II, it got its name from a hummock on the Nauset Marsh. In a piece quoted in The Cape Codder many years later, Frank Sargent, one of the founders of the store, writes, “It was at the Goose Hummock that the market hunter crouched shivering behind cakes of ice, waiting for a sight of these great water fowl, outlined before a bright full moon. Goose Hummock has seen teams of young geese, reared in captivity and trained as live decoys, released as flyers to lure the flights of wild geese within range of the hunter’s gun.” Eventually, the Goose Hummock was destroyed by high seas during a winter storm.

This commercially-sanctioned slaughter of birds by market hunters eventually led to recognition of the need for regulations in order to preserve various species.  The first was the weak 1900 Lacey Act; after which a stronger 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act was signed by the United States and Canada. Conservation organizations, including the newly organized Massachusetts and National Audubon Societies, helped lobby for passage of the Act. By the 1920s most states had game regulations that preserved wildlife, and certain areas were to be set aside for recreational use.

Grover Cleveland Shoots and Fishes in Wellfleet

President Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland was U.S. President for two terms, the first from 1885-1889 and the second from 1893-1897. He established a Cape presence in 1891 when he bought Grey Gables, a large cottage on Monument Point near the village of Buzzards Bay. Between his two terms as President, he worked as an attorney in New York. He would take the train to Boston, then switch to the Old Colony line for the rest of his journey to the Cape, then travel the four more miles through the woods to his summer home. Eventually, the railroad set up a flag stop near his property. Grey Gables became the “summer White House” during his second term as he continued his fishing and sailing ventures.

Cleveland didn’t visit Wellfleet until after he left the Presidency. In 1901, the Barnstable Patriot reported that he was in Wellfleet for a “fishing and gunning” trip hosted by Solomon Atwood. On the 1910 map of Wellfleet, “S. Atwood” is noted on the southern part of Lieutenant’s Island—perhaps this was his gunning camp.

In September, 1902, the Boston Herald reported that the ex-President and friends “visited the blind” in Wellfleet but in two days shooting only “succeeded in getting down six birds,” but remained enthusiastic about shooting “good snipe and yellow legs later.” Gunning trips were also made in 1903 and 1904.

After 1904, the Cleveland family gave up Grey Gables when their eldest daughter died of diphtheria there. In 1906, Cleveland published a book on hunting and fishery, remembering his days shooting on Cape Cod and his heightened awareness of wind and weather needed to be a successful gunner. President Cleveland died in 1908.

When Mr. Atwood’s home in Paine Hollow partially burned in the 1940s, the news reported that he was a good friend to President Cleveland, and that a poem and a set of decoys given to him by the President were lost.

Solomon Atwood’s son, Alton Atwood, continued hosting gunning parties for several years. The 1938 booklet of the South Wellfleet Neighborhood Association notes Alton Atwood’s prized possession: a fishing rod given to him by President Cleveland.  Although not related to gunning, the South Wellfleet Arey family also connected to the President.  When he was serving as a pastor in Buffalo, the Reverend Doctor Charles Arey, who was well-acquainted with Cleveland, defended him during his first campaign from the scandalous statements about his supposed out-of-wedlock child.

Wellfleet Hosts Hunters, Gunners and Fishermen

The Cape’s newspapers regularly reported on the arrival of sports hunters, gunners and sometimes fishermen, although the latter reporting was minimal. One of the first mentions of sport hunters came in 1857 when one of the Selectmen, Benjamin Oliver, ordered two hunters off his property, and the ensuing altercation found the three men in court. In 1882, William G. Townsend “opened a gunners camp” in South Wellfleet, in a spot north of Blackfish Creek.

There were gunning camps built on Lieutenant Island as the land there was developed in the 1890s. In one of his Cape Codder columns from the 1970s, local historian Earle G. Rich wrote about his father and a local carpenter erecting a gunning camp for a group of Boston men in 1908 on Beach Hill, the last island on Wellfleet’s western shore before Billingsgate.   He called the camp “Steel Shanty” since corrugated steel sheeting covered the structure. Mr. Holbrook, who operated Wellfleet’s livery stable, built another camp nearby.  The Barnstable Patriot’s local column mentioned two other camps: Dr. Paul Haley’s on Lieutenant Island and another in South Wellfleet at Mrs. Boynton’s.

Gunning in Wellfleet, Boston Public Library

In his “Only Yesterday” columns in The Cape Codder in the 1970s, Holman Spence provided a detailed description of duck hunting on Indian Neck in the 1920s, an experience with a Wellfleet man he calls “the Walrus,” someone who had been a market hunter in earlier days.  The Walrus set up his blind near the Spence cottage, on a certain sandy beach on Chipman’s Cove:

This consisted only of a gray blanket and a piece of drift timber at the high tide line to sit upon. He would bunch up a few pieces of seaweed and algae at the water’s edge for decoys and then go up to the drift timber, sit down with his shotgun and pull the gray, rock-colored blanket over himself. He would peer out at his decoys through a hole in the blanket and when some ducks came in he would thrust the gun out through another hole and shoot. It was a pretty good system and he always got himself a number of ducks each time he went there. … He explained how a duck resting on the water exposes only its head and back … the pellets from a shotgun, therefore, would not hit the meaty area of the bird. … The old Walrus would take his dead birds, pick the feathers and down from their breasts, slit the skin and peel it back and with his fingers remove the two slabs of breast meat. He would wrap the meat in waxed paper and pocket it to take home.

The South Wellfleet Fishing Camp

When summer visitors started coming to the Cape, fishing trips with a retired sea captain would often be a part of their summer experience. As Mr. Janes writes in his book, his father and local Mr. Hopkins often spent a day at the northern Wellfleet ponds fishing for pickerel and perch. But in 1900 a much bigger fishing operation was established.  Richard Freeman, the son of a prominent Wellfleet family, established a private, membership-only 84-acre fishing camp around Fresh Brook in South Wellfleet. He stocked the stream with brook trout to supplement the native salters. In the 1910 map of Wellfleet, the Brook’s name was changed to “Trout Brook.” No contemporary news reports of Mr. Freeman’s organization were found, nor is there any evidence of buildings erected to serve the fishing club members.  Recent research by a group seeking to bring back the anadromous, sea-run or salter trout that once provided fishing in the Brook opened a new line of inquiry for this writer.

Frank W. Benson was an American Impressionist artist who also became known for his black and white wash sketches of duck hunting made around the turn of the 20th Century displaying the Nauset marshes, where he shared property with his brother-in-law, Dr. Maurice Richardson. In a 2000 book, “The Sporting Art of Frank W. Benson,” author Faith Andrews Benson quotes from a logbook of his Eastham farm: “All drove to Fresh Brook, South Wellfleet, to try for trout. Tied the horse and fished downstream from the Railroad [bridge]. In the pool above the track F.W.B. caught a half-pounder, then another half-pounder, then a one pounder. The others arrived and we caught from the pool 13 more fine trout. The 15 fish weighed 17 pounds after then were brought home and weighed.”

Dr. Maurice Richardson

My research turned to the Benson/Richardson relationship and found that the two men, plus “Uncle Ned” who was Benson’s brother, purchased an old Doane farmhouse (on the “Nauset Road”) in 1892. This is the same house that gained fame in the 1950s when Richardson’s son, Dr. Wyman Richardson, published memory pieces about the house and its surroundings in a series of articles in The Atlantic Monthly. Later, these pieces were published in a 1955 book “The House on Nauset Marsh” which became one of the most iconic books on the outer Cape, often named with Thoreau’s work, “Cape Cod,” and Beston’s “Outermost House” as our best regional writing.

Dr. Maurice Richardson was a wealthy Boston surgeon, a professor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School, and an expert on the human body that made him the first chief of surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. His land purchases in Eastham and the “Great Pond Camp” that he established there are an important part of North Eastham’s history. Eastham had six such hunting camps before 1910, located there to access the seasonal bird migration on the great Nauset Marsh and the various other water locations in the town.

Richardson originally established just a warming hut near Eastham’s Great Pond while his guests stayed in the “farmhouse” on Nauset Road. Richardson also bought some land on Nauset Beach. The Eastham Camp grew when friends bought abutting property, and structures were added by Dwight Blaney, also an American artist, and Matthew Luce.  The Barnstable Patriot covered the Richardson family’s arrivals and departures, along with the other property owners, referring to the place as a “camp” or the “gunning cottage.” A scene from the English countryside unfolded there in December, 1905, when twenty members of the Norfolk Hunt Club of Dedham rode in, “the horses and dogs with men in their red coats a handsome sight.”

E.G. Janes, in his book mentioned earlier, describes a fishing trip to Eastham’s Great Pond when he explored the shore of the pond, finding Richardson’s “Once-elaborate goose-hunting set-up … a lattice wall about sixty feet long, painted green and thatched with pine boughs and pierced with loopholes spaced six feet apart. At either end of the wall were located pens for the live decoys – the callers, the fliers, and the runners. A camouflaged trench ran from the wall to a large, squat, gunning camp on the bluff above the shore.” Janes describes the work of a guide who would watch for a flight of geese over the Pond, the release of the flier geese who were trained to circle the pond, calling loudly, and then return to the blind where corn awaited them.

Meanwhile the guide pressed a button alerting the gunners, perhaps relaxing and playing cards, who hurried to the trench to take their positions. If the wild geese did not come in close enough, the trained runner geese went out and mingled, bringing them closer to shore. Mr. Janes later became the editor of Outdoor Life, which may have been why he provided such a detailed account of the gunning camp. Of course, by the time he was an adult, the use of live decoys was banned.

Richardson also played a role in Wellfleet history. In 1897 he bought Billingsgate Island from the Smith children for $350 and $435 for two lots, a place that measured around 15 acres at that point. Richardson owned whatever structure was there. One description of the site refers to the building having a cupola. The Lighthouse Board owned another part of the island, six acres they purchased for the second light in 1857, although we do not know how much was left when Richardson became their neighbor. There were news reports in 1898 and 1900 that the Richardsons—father and sons—were at Billingsgate Island.

Dr. Richardson died in 1912 while in his early sixties. His sons, two doctors and one attorney, kept portions of the property in Eastham, but sold the Billingsgate camp to Robert Barlow. The Lighthouse was abandoned in 1913 with the bricks —it is said—going to many homes, including my family’s where they lined an area under our cottage that kept dairy products cool.  For a while Billingsgate was a bird sanctuary, helped by Dr. Austin of the sanctuary he had founded in South Wellfleet, today’s Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary.

While Dr. Richardson was still alive, John Southward became the superintendent of all of the Richardson property. No photograph has been found (yet) of the Richardson property at Billingsgate, but Southward’s 1908 log provides a sense of the place at that time. (This is copied from a 1930 article from The Springfield Republican.)

The article quotes from various notes in the log:

One of the accompanying photographs shows one of Dr. Richardson’s houses beginning to careen, its foundation yielding to the ceaseless gnawing, and, in due course, the structure tumbles into the waves and vanishes.

Further: On reaching the house we saw quite a lot of beetleheads and other large birds on the flats, although the tide was too far out for shooting. Heard them whistle before light next morning.

The mosquitos visited us in force one hot still night and we had to turn out at 5 am to smudge them out. The next night we were ready for them with nets around the beds and slept in peace.

July 30, 1901: This shanty was nearly washed away last winter and the winter before. The tide took out the foundations as far as the chimney. The original frontier was W/S/W of this on the edge of the bank. The view was glorious and the frontier every way superior to this. The N/W. angle of the island has changed tremendously and is steadily growing.

We went fishing in the morning. Filled the car and left for home at noon after having a fine time. No telephone messages, and the best tautog in the world. 45 birds. Oodles of tautog. Saw many horse mackerel chasing sand eels.

One last day is here! And that day has been a day! We are leaving at 11 this morning for Wellfleet; we have had very good luck. There have been lots of birds and if we had shot better our score would have been more than doubled. Our total score of birds: 29 beetleheads, 65 chicken plovers, 2 winter yellowlegs, one summer yellowleg, 2 greybacks, 20 sanderlings — total 119 birds and 16 flounders.

Billingsgate on the sea

Our hearts all turn to thee

               On sporting days

And when your owner’s nigh

May plover hover by

Darkening the western sky

               In southward flight – and now

Farewell – goodbye.


Southward’s 1908 log:

Been here most two months and have had the most enjoyable time, and leave with some regrets, for certainly old Billingsgate is a lovely place to stay during the summer months. Every year makes some serious changes to the island by way of washing the banks away. Mostly done in the winter months by high tides and N.W. gales and ice. In 12 years there has been a most astonishing change made, but we, the lovers of the place, hope that the island will endure while we last if not longer. The island has quite a fishing history in the past century, for the people that made fishing their business. Some 30 to 40 came on the island from east to west and remained during the fishing season. They had a school teacher that used to teach during the week and preach on Sundays. Theirs must have been a happy life – in those days all kinds of fish could be taken from the waters around the island. I sincerely hope that I may be spared to come here again and that our owner, Dr. Richardson, may live many years to enjoy the island and to eat of the many products of the place. A fine display of northern lights during the evening.


E.C. Janes I Remember Cape Cod,”  Brattleboro, Vermont, The Stephen Greene Press, 1974

South Wellfleet Neighborhood Association booklet downloaded in 2012 from David Kew’s Cape Cod History site, now defunct.

The Cape Codder available at the Snow Library, Orleans

The Barnstable Patriot available at the Sturgis Library

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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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