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.