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.
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: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/21/opinion/thanksgiving-pilgrims-puritans-democracy-.html.
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.
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 http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/pdf/Nicholas_Snow_Will_Inventory.pdf) 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 items—many made of pewter—are 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.
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.)
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.
https://www.americanancestors.org/DB2728/i/48707/303/69634465 This site has an online data base, Mayflower Families Fifth Generation Descendants, 1700-1880. Accessed November, 2018.
https://archive.org/stream/cihm_25428/cihm_25428_djvu.txt 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 www.americanancestors.org
On the www.ancestry.com site, “Mayflower Deeds and Probates 1600-1850.”