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History of Cape Cod

Cape Cod, as you might guess, was named after the cod fish. Englishman Bartholomew Gosnold sailed the New England coast in 1602. He named the sandy, 65-mile-long peninsula that juts eastward from mainland Massachusetts into the Atlantic "Cape Cod," because of the "great stoars of fish" he saw in the waters. He is also responsible for naming the majority of the original towns - all but one (Orleans) are named after their namesakes in England.

Cape Cod is very prominent in the earliest history of the United States. The Pilgrims dropped anchor in Provincetown's natural harbor in 1620. This is where they drew up the New World's first document of self-governance, the Mayflower Compact, sowing the seeds of self-determination and radical thought that still characterize the people of Cape Cod. Myles Standish and company did not find the tip of Cape Cod conducive to settlement and next put in at Eastham, where they met up with the Nauset Indians. Although this was a relatively peaceful meeting, the Pilgrims still decided to go on their way, it is believed in search of a site with more plentiful fresh water, and eventually settled in Plymouth. The Pilgrims' brief visit to Cape Cod is commemorated by Provincetown's Pilgrims Monument and the name of the sandy shore in Eastham where they first encountered Indians, First Encounter Beach.

Later settlers from England stayed on the Cape, founding fishing villages along the coasts. The fishing industry drew boat builders and salt makers. Soon there were farmers cultivating the cranberry bogs, and whaling ships brought home rich cargoes of oil and whalebone.

In the mid-19th century, Henry David Thoreau took a walking tour of Cape Cod, reporting on the peninsula just before it became a popular summer vacation destination for wealthy families from Boston and Providence. Early in the next century, Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) set up a wireless telegraph station on the beach in South Wellfleet to communicate with Great Britain. President Theodore Roosevelt was on this side of the Atlantic during the first communication.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the US government financed construction of the Cape Cod Canal (1909-14), which joined Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod Bay, cutting long hours off voyages between Boston and Providence or New York. It also cut off Cape Cod from the mainland, making Cape Cod an island.