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A History of Chatham, Massachusetts (1909)

A History of Chatham, Massachusetts (1909)

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Published by teamnickerson
A History of Chatham, Massachusetts (1909)
A History of Chatham, Massachusetts (1909)

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Published by: teamnickerson on May 29, 2012
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town. At all events, the claim made by the late Amos

Otis, Esq., based upon some vague expressions in the

accounts of Grosnold's voyage, that Monomoy Beach must

have extended east from the town at this time, and that the

whole locality has seen great changes since this period, must

fall to the ground.


There have been many minor changes since Champlain's

time. lie could then sail or row from Stage Harbor directly

up to Old Harbor, or North Chatham, through a passage

between Morris Island and the mainland long since closed,

though, I believe, partially opened again in recent years.22

Arriving there he found an island of about thirteen acres,

now obliterated, lying between the beach and the mainland.

It was covered with trees. Its Indian name was Cotchpini-

ci|t or Scotchpenacot, and it was later called by the English

Ram Island. It is shown on his map.23

Monomoy Beach

extends now some distance further south than it did then,

and there was more of a harbor along its westerly side than

there is now. There was a good harbor, protected by the

beach, along the easterly side of the town. Farther north

there was an entrance through the beach directly into

Pleasant Bay which has since been closed,-4

while other

entrances have been opened in the beach farther south.

21. N. E. Hist, and Gen. Register,XVUT, 37. Mr. Otis does not once mention Cham-

plain's narrative or mail 1" liis article in the Register just cited, and as Champlain's

writings were not then accessible in English, I doubt whether he knew of them at the

time he wrote the article. It is my intention to treat this subject more fully in a subse-

quent chanter, dealing with the changes wrought by the ocean along the shore of the


22. This passage was closed between 1752 and 1772. The tradition Is that the last

vessel which attempted the passage was a "pinky." Mass. Harbor Commissioners'

Report (1878), 103.

23. There was a small pond or swamp in the center of the Island, which was of oblong

shape, Its greatest length being north and south, When surveyed in 1847 it had a house

upon it. The beach in front of this island was broken through in 1851 in the great

storm which destroyed MInot's Light. Thereafter it was gradually washed away by the

ocean waves. Parts ol it remained tor as much as ten years after. Mass. Harbor Com-

missioners' Report (1873).

24. This entrance was about east of Strong Island. It was closed about 1730. See
map of J. F. W. Des Barres (1764) in the Atlantic Neptune.



Several miles southeast from Stage Harbor was an island,

later called Webb's Island, now obliterated by the waves,24

and north of the town, off what is now Orleans, was another

small island called Slut's Bush by the English, which has

met the same fate.-" Early maps also show two or three

small islands lying off east of the town and called "Seale

Isles," which do not now exist, hut whose sites are danger-

ous shoals to-day.1'


The mainland is described by Champlain as very hilly.

It was well wooded, although in places the natives had made

considerable clearings, where they cultivated corn and other

cereals. There were many walnut trees,28

oaks and cedars,

but few pines. Wild grape vines were common,21


beach plum bushes furnished an abundance of fruit. "All

the harbors, bays and coasts," writes Champlain, ''are tilled

with every variety of fish. There are also many shellfish of

various sorts, principally oysters. Game birds are very


According to Lescarbot, the French did not fail to take

advantage of the abundance around them. As they were

not supplied with fishing tackle, they confined their efforts

25. "When the English first settled upon the Cape, there was an island off Chatham,

three leagues distant, called Webh's Island, containing twenty acres, covered with red

cedar or savin. The inhabitants of Nantucket used to carry wood from ii .

This island

has been wholly washed away for almost a century. A large rock that was upon the island

and which settled as the earth washed away, now marks the place; it rises as much

above the bottom of the sea as it used to rise above the surface of the ground. The

water Is six fathoms deep on this spot." Mass. Magazine, Dec. 1790. The existence of

this island is also established by well defined local tradition.

20. Traces of this island, which was called the Isle of Nauset by Capt. John Smith,

the famous navigator, remained as late as 1810. See further note Chapter III, note 4.

27. See map in English Coast Pilot (1707).

28. That there were walnut trees scattered through the forest which formerly cov-

ered Chatham Is well established, In a deed dated April, 1077, from William NlCkersoD

to Nathaniel Covell, of a parcel of woodland on the east side of Ureat Hill, one of the

corner bounds is described as a "

walnutt tree that is marked on four sydes. -


I believe

that such trees may now be found on Morris Island. They are now usually called


29. Sieur de Poutrlncourt intended to take away some of these vines with him, but

his orders were forgotten.

30. Voyages of Samuel de Champlain (Prince Soc. Ed.) II, 125.

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