The Target Ship in Cape Cod Bay

The SS James Longstreet, known as the “Target Ship,” was anchored off the coast of Eastham in 1945. Bombing raids conducted by the U.S. Navy became part of the scene in all the nearby towns, including South Wellfleet. Just as the guns of Camp Wellfleet echoed in the background of many of our childhoods, so too were the flashes of the nighttime bombings in Cape Cod Bay that lit up the sky.

In April 1945, the ship was run aground on “New Found Shoal” and anchored in place, loaded with scrap metal and steel drums. The United States Navy needed to use the ship to practice bombing over water. For 30 years or more, planes bombed the ship in both day and nighttime raids.

This naval military action on the bay side was matched by the Army’s military actions on the ocean side at Camp Wellfleet, as citizens of this relatively isolated area adjusted to military maneuvers during and following World War II.

Fishermen used the ship to locate fishing grounds, and as a site marking their way home. Numerous fishing columns in the Cape Codder indicate that the stripers were biting off the target ship. Phil Schwind, the writer of a popular fishing column, told stories of fishermen tying up on the target ship and climbing aboard to have lunch. During one such lunch break, bombing ensued and the fishermen had to duck below deck to avoid being hit!

The SS James Longstreet was constructed in 1942 by the Todd Houston Shipbuilding Corporation at the Houston Ship Canal between the City of Houston and Galveston Bay, Texas. She was one of many such Liberty ships built from a standardized model under conditions that allowed quick and inexpensive production during the early years of World War II. She was the 25th of 208 ships produced at this facility.

Major General James Longstreet was a Confederate General, with successes at a number of Civil War battles. He argued with General Lee over strategy at Gettysburg, and came to be blamed for losses there. After the Civil War, he had a career with the U.S. Government as a diplomat and civil servant, becoming friendly with President Grant, and a member of the Republican Party. This did not make him popular in the South, but may be the reason the U.S. Navy named a ship for him. His second wife, who married him when she was 26 and he was 76, worked hard during her lifetime to revive his reputation. She lived until 1962, so she may have been present at the launch of the SS James Longstreet in October, 1942.

The ship made three trips, to Australia, India and Ceylon, to Liverpool, England, and to Southampton, England, in 1943, but late that year was blown aground off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, in a severe nor’easter. She was pulled free, her hull repaired, but remained quarantined, and then assigned to the graveyard.

In 1944, the U. S. Navy was looking for “target ships” for secret experiments involving early air-to-surface guided missile systems. The Longstreet was painted chrome yellow and delivered for duty to a secret location in the summer of 1944. She ended up in Norfolk, Virginia, for repairs, and sent back to the target area where she broke free of her mooring during a November gale, and drifted 80 miles out to sea. After recovery, she was next sent to Cape Cod Bay.

In early 1945, the James Longstreet was chosen again for target practice, this time for new air-to-surface guided-missile experiments involving a heat-seeking system known as the Dove. By the middle of 1946, the ship was no longer required for this program, but continued to be used periodically by the Navy and the Air Force for live ammunition target practice until 1971.

Starting in the 1950s, the residents of Eastham with homes on the bayside would complain from time to time about the “errant bombs” landing near their Camp Ground cottages, as pilots mistakenly released their load too soon. Hard to believe in today’s world that the Navy could apologize, promise not to do it again, and keep up the bombing program near homes with children playing outside.

The Target Ship in Cape Cod Bay

The Target Ship in Cape Cod Bay

The bombings were suspended in the early 1970s as they were useless for modern weaponry. With so many more people on the Cape, there were safety considerations as well. So it sat for more than twenty years, a rotting hulk in the bay, good for sunset photos, and a spot to snag a lobster.

Over the next few years, there were numerous news reports about the Target Ship. It was a spot to grow marijuana, an idea that developed as other wind-born seeds settled onto the ship and plants thrived. Then there was the winter of 1977 when four young people decided to walk across the iced-in bay, to see the ship up close, but then had to be rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter before they fell through the ice.

By the 1990s, the Longstreet hulk was nearly in two pieces, with only a small portion of its structure above water. It completely disappeared in a storm in the early 2000s, and now is submerged at high tide. Sometimes its bones can be seen during very low tides under the right conditions. The Coast Guard has put a lighted buoy near it.

Some want to lop off its high points to provide clearance between the highest point of the wreck and the water surface at low tide, but spending money on making changes now to the Longstreet appears to be a low priority. The State Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources recommends that it be left alone.


Noel W. Beyle, The Target Ship In Cape Cod Bay The Longstreet Preservation Society, Orleans, 1992

Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum, Spring 2014 newsletter

Cape Codder online at Snow Library, Orleans

Another blog post about the Target Ship:

The Cape Cod Times.

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The Guest Houses of South Wellfleet’s Cannon Hill

South Wellfleet’s Cannon Hill stands near the head of Blackfish Creek, overlooking Drummer Pond where a fulling mill once stood. Cannon Hill is yet another Cape Cod Bay Land Company development. Robert W. Howard and Edward Reed acquired the land in 1889, just as they did for their developments at Pleasant Point, Lieutenant’s Island, and the Old Wharf.

Through most of the nineteenth century, Captain Isaiah Hatch owned Cannon Hill, although it wasn’t named as such until much later. Captain Hatch and his son Isaiah captured a degree of local fame, as I’ve written about previously. Captain Hatch — aged, widowed, and with his son to look after — sold his property to George and Susan Rogers of Orleans in 1879, keeping only the income from a cranberry bog “located near the railroad station at the head of Blackfish Creek.”

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers kept the Captain and his son at the family homestead, as the 1880 federal census shows both families in the same dwelling. Captain Hatch died at age 94 in 1893, and his son died at age 63 in 1894. That family homestead still stands today as one of South Wellfleet’s oldest homes.

Robert Howard moved quickly on developing the twelve acres Mrs. Rogers sold to him in March 1889. By the following month, according to the deeds, people were buying lots according to a plan developed by Tully Crosby in April 1889. The lots that sold first were on the top of Cannon Hill. Two can be traced to the side of the hill that heads down to the Creek, although, without today’s trees obscuring them, all sites had Blackfish Creek and Drummer Cove views. This early photograph shows the treeless hill.

Treeless Cannon Hill

Treeless Cannon Hill

Later, in the 1890s, Susan Rogers sold additional land to Howard, and another plan — this one labeled “Cannon Hill” — was created that incorporated the first plan.

The name of the hill derives from the oral history of South Wellfleet about the rivalry between the South Wellfleet and Wellfleet boys in the nineteenth century, played out as each group “stole” the Fourth of July cannon from each other. Charles Cole, in his memory piece of mid-to-late nineteenth century history, tells us that Captain Hatch loaned his wagon to the South Wellfleet boys so they could drag the cannon to South Wellfleet. Wellfleet’s Cannon Hill is at the southern end of what is today Uncle Tim’s Bridge which takes you over the Duck Creek marsh to the hill.

We do not know exactly when the theft of the cannon came to give today’s name to the land. In the early 1970s the cannon was dug up, in time for the Bicentennial, and put on display near Town Hall. Myra Hicks, daughter of Clarence Hicks, whose family owned the Hatch/Rogers homestead after 1906, learned of the location of the cannon before her father died. It appears that the secret of the buried cannon was a significant part of the property in South Wellfleet, and came then to bestow the name to the hill.

One of the differences between the development of Cannon Hill and the other bayside developments in South Wellfleet — perhaps because of its proximity to the railroad station — was the development of guest houses in the early structures. Even Mrs. Rogers saw this potential, as she turned her homestead into a guest house named “The Willows.”

We know about the guest houses on Cannon Hill thanks to researchers’ notes from the early 1980s documenting historic houses in Wellfleet, and available at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum. The collection of 1890s homes on (now named) Cannon Hill Road, at the top of the hill, all still standing, appears to have served as “Cannon Hill Camp,” as articles in the Barnstable Patriot noted.

The Hambletts and the Sawyers bought lots on Cannon Hill in 1891. The Barnstable Patriot noted in May, 1891, that Mr. Hambletts and Mr. Sawyer were both looking forward to putting up their cottages that summer.

Joshua and Hannah Sawyer lived in Boston, where they had established a boarding house with nineteen lodgers, as shown in the 1900 federal census. Mr. Sawyer was a carpenter. Their plan was to have a summer boarding house in South Wellfleet — which must have happened immediately after construction, because one of the Boston papers mentions Fred Dallinger staying at Cannon Hill House in August 1891, a few years before he became an elected official. Senator Dallinger later stayed in South Wellfleet on the ocean where Cook’s Camps is located today.

In 1899, Joshua Sawyer advertised in a Boston paper that his summer boarding house was available to rent for the season. Although Mr. Sawyer died in 1901, his widow seems to have carried on with the “Cannon Hill House” until she sold it in 1910. Based on advertisements in 1901–1904, a Mrs. Adie, along with Mrs. Hamblett, were the Cannon Hill House operators. In 1903, an ad noted the proximity of the Marconi Telegraphy station, taking advantage of the publicity of Marconi’s first wireless transmission earlier that year.

The Sawyer’s house came to be known as “Cannon Hill House.” The two cottages next door, belonging to the Hambletts, expanded the number of guests, and meals were served at Cannon Hill House. Another house nearby, owned by two sisters, served the same purpose.



There were two Hamblett brothers, Albert and Arthur. Albert acquired his property through his own purchase, plus a lot transferred to him through his wife’s mother, Mary Thissell. The Hamblett family of Dracut, Massachusetts, had a long history in Lowell/Dracut; today many members are buried in an old family cemetery that bears their name. Albert and Arthur were stonemasons, as their father had been. Albert and Henrietta had a son Charles, who married Jennie Hilton in 1890, and had one child, Alta Hamblett, born in 1893.

Sometime after 1900, Charles and Jennie divorced. Since there was a stigma to divorce, Jennie Hamblett is often referred to as a “widow” in the census and in news articles. Charles Hamblett married again and spent the rest of his life in Los Angeles. Jennie Hamblett’s in-laws appear to have kept their relationship with her, and she appears regularly in the Barnstable Patriot as arriving in South Wellfleet each summer to open “Cannon Hill Camp,” the two Hamblett cottages next to Cannon Hill House.

Jennie Hamblett and Hannah Sawyer kept their relationship through the merging of the Hamblett and Sawyer houses into a single summer operation. The Barnstable Patriot has regular coverage of Jennie through the second decade of the 1900s. Hannah Sawyer sold her property in 1910.

An artist named Anne Wells Munger of Worcester, Massachusetts. purchased Cannon Hill House in 1912. She subsequently bought other property in South Wellfleet, but kept Cannon Hill House through 1923 when she sold it to Annie Gardner. Perhaps she allowed Jennie Hamblett to manage the guest house through those summers. In Barnstable Patriot articles in the 1920s, Annie Gardner is mentioned as welcoming guests to Cannon Hill House, so the tradition lived on for a few more years.

In 1913, Jennie Hamblett advertised in the Springfield Republican:

South Wellfleet, Mass. Cannon Hill Camp opens June 15th, country and seashore combined; excellence of table board well known. $9 per week. Mrs. J. Hamblett

Jennie Hamblett’s daughter, Alta, married Wellfleet’s Simeon Atwood, Jr., in October 1914, with the wedding taking place at her aunt’s home in Maine. Soon the Barnstable Patriot was reporting her visits to her mother’s in South Wellfleet.

Simeon Atwood’s father had relocated to the Boston area where he had a fish business, and the younger man was born in Dorchester. He was educated at Groton and Phillips Exeter, according to his 1949 obituary. Simeon Atwood, Jr. was helped by his father to have his own fish company. He got into legal trouble during World War I when he was convicted, along with many others, of price-fixing during wartime. It wasn’t until the 1920s that he actually served some prison time, and then resettled with Alta and their son (Simeon Atwood III) in Orleans.

The Hamblett in-laws died in the early 1920s, and the Cannon Hill property was sold. Simeon Atwood, Jr. had a real estate business in Orleans and became a well-respected member of that community. The son, Simeon Hilton Atwood, died in a plane crash in Texas in 1943, where he was in training for the Army Air Corps.

The Wellfleet historic house researchers noted that Cannon Hill House came to be called “The Ark,” perhaps at a later date, and provide details as to how it was managed as a guest house. Visitors and their trunks were taken to the houses from the railroad station by Charlie Paine, famous for not hurrying his horse from the Marconi Station the night of the famous first wireless transmission.

Food was supplied by wagon from the Wellfleet Market. A fish wagon came twice a week and ice came daily. Mr. Hicks (now in the former Rogers/Hatch house) supplied milk. Isaac “Ikey” Paine, who owned the South Wellfleet General Store at that time, also supplied fresh vegetables from his garden, and eggs. All water was pumped, and all the cooking was on an old black stove. There was a two-hole privy in the shed behind the house.

Another early house on Cannon Hill, originally built by the Cliffords, also became a guesthouse which used Cannon Hill House for meals. Two sisters divided the house, making it available to two families at one time. According to deeds, Abbie Clifford of Lowell purchased the property, and then either sold or financed it with Ann Haseltine. Abbie Clifford’s marriage record reveals that her maiden name was Haseltine, so presumably these are the two sisters who owned the house. This Dickerman postcard shows the house somewhat separate from the three on top of Cannon Hill. (Dickerman postcards, printed in either black-and-white or color from 1907 to 1936, dominated the Cape Cod market.)

Cannon Hill Camp postcard from the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum collection

Cannon Hill Camp
postcard from the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum collection

Later, the sisters’ house was sold to Alice Stacy, and while her arrivals and departures were reported regularly in the Barnstable Patriot, the house ceased operation as a guesthouse.

Not every early settler on Cannon Hill took in boarders. Jabez Stanley of Lowell built another of the cottages researched in the 1980s, down the hill toward Blackfish Creek. Born in England, he and his wife Ada, and their daughter Bertha, enjoyed summers there until one August day in 1903, when Captain Stanley died of a heart attack while walking up the hill to Cannon Hill House. Wellfleet’s doctor, Edward Perry, also the Medical Examiner, signed the death certificate. Captain Stanley’s body was removed to Lowell on the next day’s morning train. Bertha Stanley continued spending her vacations at the cottage for several years.

George Stedman and his wife built their “Bayview Cottage” in 1891, and it still stands today overlooking Drummer Pond.

Another Cannon Hill house is one that I’ve been looking at my whole life, across Blackfish Creek. It sits on the bluff of Cannon Hill, as shown in this view in the 1940s from our family album.

House on Cannon Hill across Blackfish Creek

House on Cannon Hill across Blackfish Creek

In 1889, Charles W. and Mary French of Milford, New Hampshire, purchased the lots of land on the bluff. At the same time, they also purchased a couple of lots on Lieutenant’s Island. By 1900, according to the federal census that year, Charles and Mary French were living in Wellfleet. That census reported their offspring: the five French children at their farm in 1880 only two were now living, a son and a daughter. A June 1891 article in the Boston Globe notes that Mr. French was using the cottage he built on the bluff to enjoy Wellfleet’s gunning and fishing. When they moved to Wellfleet they lived in a more substantial home; one article referred to their home as the “Harding House.” Mary French died in 1915 from a broken leg that never healed properly. Mr. French sold his property later that year and went to live with his daughter back in New Hampshire.

The Cannon Hill bluff property was sold by the Frenchs in 1907 to John E. Hopkinson. When it was sold, there were buildings on the property. The researchers of the Cannon Hill historic houses indicate that the owner worked for the Old Colony Railroad; indeed, Mr. Hopkinson is listed in various census documents as railroad brakeman, and then a conductor.

According to the researchers, this cottage was used by employees of the railroad for fall gunning parties, a popular Wellfleet activity, when groups of men would gather to shoot birds. Railroad employees also used the cottage in the summer when they could bring their families.

Mr. Hopkinson only owned the bluff cottage for two years, and then resold it. He moved to Wellfleet and had numerous real estate dealings, including establishing his own home overlooking Drummer Cove, property that his daughter and great-granddaughter enjoyed. This house is one of three historic South Wellfleet homes located between Route Six and Drummer Cove which I hope to cover in another post.

By the 1930s, it seems that the houses on Cannon Hill ceased serving as guesthouses for various boarders, and were owned by families staying for their summer vacations.


Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum: Massachusetts Historical Commission historic house listings, known as Form B

U.S. Federal Census collection at

New England Historical and Genealogical Society, online publication of Mass. Vital Statistics

Newspaper archive online at

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at


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The Goodspeeds and Cheevers of Old Wharf Road

When I was young, my family would usually spend a Memorial Day weekend opening our Prospect Hill cottage for the season. As we left for home and followed Old Wharf Road to Route 6, my mother — who had spent part of her childhood there — would ask my father to pull over so she could clip a bunch of lilacs from a cellar hole alongside the road. She explained to us that there “used to be a house here.”

The old cellar hole with lilacs on Old Wharf Road.

The old cellar hole with lilacs on Old Wharf Road.


Today, that cellar hole is less evident, but it’s still there, and the lilacs were blooming again last spring! I remembered this location when I began my South Wellfleet research, seeing the name “Goodspeed” on the 1858 Walling Map, on Old Wharf Road. When I cited it for Chet Lay on the Prospect Hill Development Map, he confirmed that this had been the Goodspeed property.

With not much more information, I’ve explored the Goodspeed family using public land records, census documents, and Massachusetts Vital Records of births, marriages and deaths, along with newspaper accounts. There’s no diary to fill in the drama of these lives, but there’s enough information from extant records to reconstruct a 19th century life.

As I’ve written previously, the Wiley farm was nearby the Old Wharf Road cellar hole where Mrs. Goodspeed’s home was noted on the 1858 map. On the 1910 map, which also includes property-owners’ names, the same location is labeled “Cheever,” which I’ll soon explain. The South Wharf, built in 1831, was nearby, along with the Barker homestead where Isaiah Barker, who’d married an Arey widow, was a cooper, making the barrels for the fish brought into the wharf.

Lydia Wiley was the second child of David and Ruth (Arey) Wiley. Lydia married Ezra Goodspeed, a mariner, who came from a long line of Goodspeeds, one of the founding families of Barnstable. Lydia and Ezra married in April 1817, when Lydia was 17 years old and Ezra was 24.

Ezra Goodspeed served in the War of 1812 as a Private in Captain Crocker’s Company of the Massachusetts Militia. He served a total of five days between January 28 and October 5, 1814, and saw action in the Battle of Falmouth. That designation led me to research that battle – which occurred on January 28, 1814, when the British ship HMS Nimrod shelled the town of Falmouth for 24 hours in an attempt to force the town to give up their cannons. After evacuating the women and children, the town fought back, a point of pride in Falmouth even today. The stand-off is still noted and celebrated, and the cannonballs from that day can still be seen embedded in the walls of a local restaurant named Nimrod.

Ezra and Lydia must have settled in Barnstable for a while because their first three children were born there: Joseph in 1818, Temperance in 1821, and Samuel Arey Goodspeed in 1824. Their four other children were born in Wellfleet: Alvin in 1827, Ezra Jr. in 1828, Merinda in 1833, and Lydia in 1835. They may have settled in South Wellfleet because the South Wharf was operating so close to Lydia’s home, and economic opportunities were available.

The house on the road to the wharf (named “Old Wharf” long after the wharf closed down) may date from that time. It was not unusual for a father to transfer some land to a daughter when she married. It may be that Ruth Arey received land from her father when she married David Wiley, and Lydia also received land from her father. In 1833, Ezra Goodspeed mortgaged his “dwelling house and three acres” to neighbors Solomon and Reuben Arey for the sum of $508 — perhaps to buy a boat or some other need for funds.

On August 9, 1835, a few months before his youngest child, Lydia, was born, Ezra Goodspeed drowned during a storm “while attempting to land on the back of the Cape”, as his death record indicates. (A man named Sylvanus Jones also died that day, although two other mariners were saved.) Lydia Goodspeed became a widow at age 35. Unlike many widows of the nineteenth century, she never remarried, and so is referred to as “Widow Lydia Goodspeed” in various records. Her mother, Ruth Arey Wiley, did remarry in 1822 to widower and neighbor Major John Witherell. Wellfleet records show multiple marriages for many of the town’s residents.

One wonders how Lydia managed. Her husband had recently mortgaged their property. Perhaps because her mother was nearby — Major Witherell’s property was just to the north of the Barkers — or because she had a 17-year-old son, she managed to support herself and her children. The Wellfleet Benevolent Society did not begin until 1836. When I searched for a possible widow’s pension for her husband’s War of 1812 service, I found that when she was widowed, Lydia was not eligible, since she and Ezra married after his service. Nevertheless, by 1871, a new law included her, and there is evidence that she did receive a pension much later in her life.

Lydia Goodspeed on lower right side, from the Goodspeed family history

Lydia Goodspeed on lower right side, from the Goodspeed family history

In 1839, the Town of Wellfleet declared the road to the South Wharf a “town road” and, in so doing, paid Lydia Goodspeed $8 to compensate her for a small piece of her land taken for the road.

Lydia’s eldest son, Joseph, married Content Atwood, a girl from the South Wellfleet neighborhood, in 1843. Their first child, John, was born six months later — an event that in an earlier time would have meant a severe fine by the town congregation. Their second child died of cholera infantum at nine months.

Lydia’s second son, Samuel Arey Goodspeed, lived a long life, first settling in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then Rhode Island as a fish dealer, one of the many mariners who saw the fishing heyday ending, and settling off the Cape. Samuel served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

The third son, Alvin Goodspeed, remained in Wellfleet and married Meltiah Young in 1849, and then a second wife, Eusebia Doane, in 1882. Both women grew up in the South Wellfleet neighborhood. Alvin is buried in the South Wellfleet cemetery close to his first wife.

Lydia’s fourth son, Ezra Jr., had a turbulent life that ended early. He married Maria Smith of Wellfleet in 1852. In 1857, she died of consumption. Their four-year-old son, Winslow, died in August 1859 “while his uncle was tending him.” The news account of Winslow’s drowning was fairly stark:

On Friday last the son of Ezra Goodspeed age 4 years was left in a boat on the beach while the uncle went on board of a vessel. Fifteen minutes afterwards, the uncle saw the boy on the flats with his life extinct. There were three inches of water where he was drowned.

In 1869, Ezra Jr. was killed on board his vessel “on his way from New Orleans to Boston while jibing the main sail off the Delaware breakwater.” He had remarried by this time, and was quite well-off, leaving an estate of nearly $12,000, including property in Bridgewater, Massachusetts where he lived. He and his wife had a son, Ellery, who died while still a child.

Lydia Goodspeed’s daughters, Temperance, Merinda, and Lydia, married also. Merinda married, but then soon died, at age 20, “of childbirth fever.” Lydia, the youngest, married a Wellfleet man, Jesse Wiley, in 1853, and was living in the home of her sister Temperance and brother-in-law John Cheever in 1855. Sometime after 1860, Lydia and Jesse left Wellfleet, as many did at the time — and I found them next in Salem, Massachusetts, where Jesse was operating an “oyster saloon.” Shortly after 1880, Jesse died, and the widowed Lydia stayed in Salem until dying in 1897. Of interest: her daughter Sophronia married a member of the Arey family in Salem.

Temperance Goodspeed remained in South Wellfleet. In 1846, she married John Cheever, a mariner from Newburyport, Massachusetts, who grew up with seven siblings. There were many Cheevers in Essex County, Massachusetts, including the famous author, John Cheever. Our Wellfleet John Cheever had previously married another Wellfleet woman, Susannah Daniels. They married late in 1843, and, by June 1844, Susannah died of consumption. She is buried in the Duck Creek Cemetery, her grave inscribed with a typical 19th century gravestone:

 Here lies my body with the throng

Who from this earthly world have gone

My spirit freed from earthly care

Of heaven’s bless’d share a glorious heir

John and Temperance Cheever are living in the home of the neighboring Isaiah Barkers in the 1850 census — the Barkers gave their third son the middle name “Cheever” so the two families must have been close. In 1855, John and Temperance have their own household, and a 2-year-old daughter. John and Temperance had a first child, John, who died when he was 4 days old. A second son, Ezra Newel, born in 1851 is not listed in the 1855 State census, an indication that he died at a young age. Their third child, a girl named Maltime, was born in 1853 and appears in the 1855 census, but not after that, so she may have died very young also. A fourth child, Chester Greenwood Cheever, was born in 1860 and managed to grow up.

John Cheever was a mariner through most of his working life, and in later censuses is listed as a “laborer.” In the 1870 and 1880 censuses, Lydia Goodspeed is living with the Cheevers. Chester, their son, is occupied as a mariner in 1880.

John Cheever is mentioned fondly in the Charles F. Cole memory piece I’ve quoted often. Thanks to Mr. Cole we have a description of John, and a sense of his personality. John fished with Mr. Cole’s father, and was very fat and clumsy, according to the older Mr. Cole. The locals would say that if he fell overboard, he wouldn’t sink because he was very fat.

John Cheever was the janitor of the South Wellfleet Congregational Church where, at Christmas, a tree was placed near the pulpit. Mr. Cole remembers:

John Cheever always acted as Santa Claus, and he would give a rhyme as he distributed the presents, as ‘Here is something round, for Mrs. Betsy Bround. It weighs more than a pound.’ Another gift, for a new un-named baby, ‘ Here’s for the baby without a name, that belongs to Alvin and Elisa Paine.’

Cole describes a funny moment involving John, who usually dozed during the Sunday sermon. One cold winter day, when a visiting preacher used the words “These doors must be opened” John jumped up, thinking he’d been ordered, and opened all the doors, letting in the cold wind!

John Cheever also used his rhyming skill in making a grocery order for Mr. Paine, who was running the South Wellfleet General Store:

Dear Mr. Paine: Please send to me

                One-half pound of your best tea,

                One pound of rice, two loaves of bread,               

                Monroe’s tobacco also a head,

And if your team should come along.

                Please leave me a bag of corn.

                Take my eggs if I’m not there.

                Yours Truly, John Cheever, Esq.


Mr. Paine and Mr. Cheever served as jurors in Barnstable in 1884, according to a news post. By the 1880s, there are further news posts about Chester visiting his parents, and Lydia Goodspeed coming to town with her daughter Alice to visit her mother. In 1883, the local teacher, Mary Smith of Dover, New Hampshire, was boarding at the Cheever house.

Lydia Wiley Goodspeed died in 1884 after fracturing her hip, living to age 84, quite an accomplishment in the 19th century. Her daughter, Temperance Cheever, died in 1885 of pneumonia at age 68. John Cheever died in 1887 at age 69 of “gangrene of the foot.”

There’s no record of what happened to their home on what became “Old Wharf Road.” Chester may have sold the structure, leaving the cellar hole we have today. Perhaps the house is still standing somewhere else in Wellfleet today.

Chester married in Boston in 1890 — the marriage record names a Lizzie Hall, a waitress, as his wife. He is listed as a bookbinder. Much later, in 1914, I located his death record. He was divorced and in Highland Park, Michigan, where Henry Ford’s automobile plant was located. I like the idea that Chester had moved into a 20th century industry, from mariner to “steel tester.”

So many stories of 19th century South Wellfleet lives from just one cellar hole.


For evidence of the Goodspeed pension

History of the Goodspeed Family, Volume 1, W.A. Goodspeed 1874 (on Google Books)

U.S. Federal Census collection at

New England Historical and Genealogical Society, online publication of Mass. Vital Statistics

David Kew’s Cape Cod history site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at






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Accusing German Spies at Pleasant Point

On August 28, 1918, Maude Chase wrote a letter from her home in Evanston, Illinois, to the Bureau of Investigation, the precursor agency to the FBI that investigated real or perceived threats to the citizens of the United States. In her letter, Mrs. Chase said she felt it “her duty as a loyal American” to report that her Pleasant Point neighbor, Harry Rapp, might be a German spy. This may have been a sign of the times, as described further here, or she may have had a personal grudge, perhaps through her husband Edward’s property sale to Mr. Rapp.

In her letter, Mrs. Chase cited Rapp’s German ancestry, his having “plenty of money,” his fine auto and big motor boat, and his engine business “near the Boston docks.” He’d been overheard making “intensely pro-German remarks before America entered the war.” She said he was “well known in Boston, at least in certain circles,” and “a very intelligent, very cunning man” who would “not hesitate to do anything mean against the U.S. for Germany’s gain.”

He’d been overheard speaking to the local Catholic priest, Father Erkerling, although he (Rapp) was not a Catholic nor a religious man. Further, he came to Pleasant Point off-season, between December and March, while people visited normally only between May and October. She was concerned about his proximity to the wireless plant there. His brother-in-law, an associate in his business, had traveled to Tahiti Island to see if there might be business opportunities for their marine engine company there.

Mrs. Chase asked that her name not be used, as she expected to return to Pleasant Point the following summer.

The letter about Mr. Rapp appears to have caused an inquiry into activities of Father Erkerling as well, and an agent spent time in Wellfleet inquiring as to the priest’s activities. The priest also had a motorboat capable of going out to sea, and the agent wondered if information could be transferred this way to German ships. There was a report of the priest sending money to help certain refugees in Europe, as well as a report that he had been “seen at the monument in Provincetown.” The priest had been friendly to Rapp.

The six-page investigative report about Father Erkerling concluded that the suspicions about him were not of enough concern to continue. His case was helped by strong positive statements by Channing Cox, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Massachusetts legislature, who spent considerable time in Wellfleet as he was married to a Wellfleet woman. (Cox’s residence is now Winslow’s Tavern on Main Street in Wellfleet.) The local doctor, F. S. Canedy, also spoke up supporting Father Erkerling. They cited his enthusiasm for the Liberty Bond Drive, and that his background as a Belgian immigrant was behind his sending money orders to Europe to help refugees of the war. These two prominent men appear to have offset a few others in Wellfleet who were either anti-Catholic or concerned that Father Erkerling was an immigrant. The fact that he had a Belgian refugee priest assisting him seemed enough to cause him to be lumped together with Germans.

What was happening at the Cape that caused such suspicion? In April 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany, a “war to end all wars.” This happened after three years of trying to stay out of the conflict, as many thought it was emblematic of the rottenness of old Europe. President Wilson had won re-election in 1916 by vowing to keep the U.S. neutral. But neutrality became impossible following German actions, especially the sinking of the British liner Lusitania in May 1915, when more than 250 Americans died, including one of the Freeman sons, Richard R. Freeman, from an old Wellfleet family.

The first American troops under General John Pershing arrived in Paris in the summer of 1917.

On the Cape and its surrounding waters, just like all the other U.S. wars, Cape Codders were affected by the declaration of war. German submarines attacked fishing boats randomly. In August of 1918, a group of Gloucester fishermen specifically identified a German sub commander as a skilled navigator who had fished the same waters as they did, and owned a home in Maine — he had returned to his country to help out them with the war effort.

In March 1917, the playwright Eugene O’Neill and his friend, Harold DePolo, were arrested on suspicion of spying for the Germans. The Provincetown Town Constable arrested them while they were having dinner at a Provincetown hotel. They had spent the afternoon walking near Highland Light where there was a U.S. government radio station, and were rumored to have the station’s plans in their pocket — an allegation later proven false.

In another Cape incident, Frederick Grigg of Newtonville, an amateur botanist, was taken into custody on a train between West Barnstable and Sandwich, but released after an examination in Boston. He had a notebook with strange numbers and letters and “government maps”— seen by someone — which turned out to be his botanical notes and field maps.

Finally, what may have truly shaken Mrs. Chase was the July 21, 1918, attack off Orleans. The French Cable terminated there and was used by General Pershing to communicate with Washington, D.C. The French sent a ship to guard the cable off Nauset Harbor. Besides breaking the cable, the German submarines dispatched to the coast were also part of a general campaign to disrupt the Atlantic fishing fleet.

On Sunday morning, July 21, a German submarine, U-156, fired upon a tugboat, the Perth Amboy, that was towing four barges. One of the barges, the Landford, loaded with granite blocks, sank. Some of the shells hit the East Orleans shore, thus making Orleans the only place in the U.S. to receive enemy fire during World War I. The Coast Guard launched a rescue boat to help save those aboard the tugs, and the Naval Station at Chatham sent two planes over, firing back at the sub, but their bombs were duds. Two of the surfmen who helped with the rescue were from Wellfleet, Ralph B. Cook (of the family that established Cook’s Camp’s that I’ve written about) and Zenas Adams. This incident truly brought the war “home” to Wellfleet.

Boston GLobe headline story on the Orleans attack

Boston GLobe headline story on the Orleans attack


All of this submarine activity along the Cape Coast prompted President Wilson to declare on July 25, 1918, that the Cape Cod Canal would now be operated by the federal government.

Harry and Celia Rapp came to Wellfleet in 1908. The following year they purchased the largest of the seven cottages that line the bluff at Pleasant Point. The Queen Anne style on the western end was a rather grand structure for Wellfleet where cottage owners usually put up smaller wood-shingled structures with porches, and sometimes a little tower room. Their land had originally been owned by Ferdinand and Isabella (?!) Sage, and there are early references to a Sage cottage. But Isabella died, and Ferdinand sold a portion of his two lots to Mr. Lovering of Medford, Massachusetts, who was a contractor and builder. That may explain why he took on building such a large structure, floating the materials across the bay to Wellfleet.

The Rapp House is the Queen Anne on the far left

The Rapp House is the Queen Anne on the far left

Soon after it was built, Mr. Lovering sold the big house to Edwin Paine. He was able to secure the remaining Sage property and sell both the house and a large lot to the Rapps in 1909. Harry Rapp may have been too much “fast company” for the other Pleasant Point residents. He owned Rapp-Huckins, specializing in gas engines, based in Boston at 47 Haverhill Street. He and Celia sometimes traveled across the bay to South Wellfleet by their fast boat. They did not have children and often spent the winter months in Florida. One news report mentions Alton Atwood, a local Wellfleet man, taking their boat down to Florida to meet them, heading down the coast and through the Inland Waterway, that small craft used to avoid the rough Atlantic waters.

Father Joseph Erkerling was a Belgian-born Sacred Heart priest who had been assigned to Wellfleet’s Lady of Lourdes parish. He was responsible for acquiring the land and constructing the parish’s new church and rectory on Main Street,

Our Lady of Lourdes as built on Wellfleet's Main Street

Our Lady of Lourdes as built on Wellfleet’s Main Street

dedicated in 1912. Father Erkerling also had a boat and had invited Harry Rapp to go fishing with him. The investigation of Erkerling, a fairly short report, cites this connection to Rapp as the reason why a file was opened on the priest.

The investigation of Harry Rapp, Case Number 277818, a “possible Hun spy,” was forwarded to the Boston office of the Bureau of Investigation. The report is a mix of reported conversations that Special Agent W. A. Winsor had with a variety of people about the possible sightings of the Rapps. Even little observations are written down, such as a comment by someone in Wellfleet, regarding the size of a boat, said “You should see the size of the one Rapp started for Florida in.” A fishtrap man in Sandwich had spoken with a man and a woman with a large boat near Sagamore Beach who said they were from Wellfleet and then headed off in that direction. Another noticed a man and a woman who’d slept “on a piazza” of a house near Sagamore Beach, leaving their boat anchored near the Canal, and then headed toward Boston. The same investigator handled the inquiries about Father Erkerling; while conversations did not identify those speaking with the agent by name, Channing Cox and Doctor Canedy were willing to be identified.

Nothing seems to have come of these inquiries. The Rapps continued to spend time at Pleasant Point and, in the late 1920s, sold their Queen Anne house to Carl Parks and his family, who owned it through the 1970s until it was purchased by its current owners. Rapp had bought a second property on the bluff at Pleasant Point, and he sold that one also, to the Downer family, who subsequently opened the Ma Downer’s restaurant in South Wellfleet.

The Rapps remained on Pleasant Point until they retired in the late 1920s when they bought a year-round home in Wellfleet’s center on East Commercial Street. Harry joined Wellfleet’s Masonic Adams Lodge. He served on the Wellfleet Board of Health, and worked with a committee of citizens concerned about repairing the clock dial of the Congregational Church—an upstanding citizen.


“Bureau of Investigations – Old German Case Files 1909-1921” on

Whelan, Richard F., Truro: The Story of A Cape Cod Town The History Press, 2007

U.S. Federal Census collection at

David Kew’s Cape Cod history site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at

Cape Codder available at




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The Early Settlers of Pleasant Point

Pleasant Point’s summer colony in South Wellfleet marks the beginning of the change of Wellfleet’s economy from maritime pursuits to tourism. The land developers Robert Howard and Edward Reed simultaneously promoted land sales on Lieutenant’s Island and the Old Wharf, but lot buyers did not build as many cottages there as were developed on Pleasant Point from 1890 to 1910. Pleasant Point and the Cannon Hill developments — perhaps because they were closer to the South Wellfleet Depot — created groups of summertime residents who began to have an impact on Wellfleet’s economy and its residents who provided services to them. Wellfleet’s population was at its lowest level in these years, with barely 800 people left in the town that had been abandoned by its maritime population.

By 1910, there were 25 cottages at Pleasant Point. Middle-class families began to come either for the summer — or the women and children did — while the men commuted. Some owners rented their cottages to families that began to make annual visits, establishing another group of summer visitors who appreciated Wellfleet’s summer charms. In contrast, up to 1910, Lieutenant’s Island had only six cottages developed, and there were four out on the Old Wharf, with only one, my great grandfather’s, on Prospect Hill.

This twenty-year period of cottage building came just before the development of automobile tourism, when day-trippers in automobiles added another layer to the servicing of visitors, with tourist camps for motorists. Of course, not everyone who sought a summer residence built a cottage. Many purchased old Cape homesteads from families whose children could no longer make a living in the town.

The social changes that made a “vacation” possible for many more people came after the Civil War, as Massachusetts industrialized in its urban locations. Even the conservative clergy came to recognize that humans needed a break from work, preferably in the fresh air of the mountains, on a farm, or at the seaside. By the 1870s and 1880s, other parts of New England and the upper Cape were developing the facilities — hotels, tours, trains — that got people out of the cities and to their countryside destinations. A growing middle class began to accept that this break in routine was needed, and they had the funds to pursue it. The Old Colony Railroad’s extension all the way to Provincetown was an important precursor to the Cape’s tourism development.

While the leafy towns on the upper Cape developed their hotels and Methodist camps in the 1870s and 1880s, the outer Cape towns – those past Orleans — took a bit longer to gain appeal. When Thoreau took his outer Cape walk in 1849, he wasn’t the first to describe the barrenness of the landscape, the poor soil, and the lack of trees. In the early postcard views of Pleasant Point offered here, the lack of green in the landscape seems not to have mattered to the cottage owners, as they faced their summer cottages toward the tidal Blackfish Creek. Like other Cape towns, Wellfleet developed its “vibe” – the fishing village with elderly sea captains, the industrious people that represented Yankee thrift and hardiness, and even the salty characters that lived there. I’ve written about “The Little Man” of South Wellfleet previously.

Pleasant Point’s Walker Plan

It is in this context that Howard and Reed established their Cape Cod Bay Land Company around Wellfleet’s bayside, with plans of cottage lots laid out for each area. Pleasant Point’s plan was named the “Walker Plan” for the previous owner, Thomas Walker, Jr. Thomas’ father, Thomas Sr., settled in Wellfleet after growing up in Maine, marrying Wellfleet girl Mary Hatch, daughter of James Brown Hatch and Jane King. Thomas was a fisherman, and perhaps selected his land, purchased in 1829 from the Doanes, because he was just across Blackfish Creek from the South Wharf. Later, he purchased woodland from Nathaniel Bell. The 1829 purchase refers to the “Old Mill Pond” which is today’s Drummer’s Pond, the site of a fulling mill that I’ve written about previously.

There isn’t a map that would show the site of the Walker homestead. The lives of the Walker children are a sad tale, but somewhat typical of 19th century childhood. Thomas Jr. was born in 1824. A sister, Jane King Walker, was born in 1821 and died in 1822. John Wesley Walker was born in 1830, but died in 1832. Like other families, the same name was given to another male child, born in 1835, but he died in 1838. Sally Walker, born in 1839, died at age 25 in 1846. All of them are buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Wellfleet, the Methodist Cemetery. Their mother, Mary, died in 1867 and is buried there also, as are both Thomas Walker Sr. and Jr.

The Walker family is listed in the Federal censuses in Wellfleet in 1830 and 1840; in 1838, a newspaper article lists Mr. Walker as one of Wellfleet’s Democrats. By 1850, the family is living in Boston, with Thomas as the only child. In Thomas Jr.’s obituary, it mentions the successful firm of Walker & Rich, fish dealers, at the Quincy Market, established in 1842. Leaving Wellfleet to become a fish dealer in Boston was a common choice for Wellfleet men. According to the Boston City Directory of 1872 and 1879 the Walkers were in business with an Abram Rich who was from the Truro Rich family.

After Mary died, Thomas Sr. married again, to a woman named Susan, who appears in the 1870 census. In 1868, Thomas Walker Jr. married Emma Stidder. His prosperity as a Boston fish dealer supported his purchase of two cottages at the Lakeview Association in South Framingham, part of the New England Chautauqua organization, affiliated with the Methodist Church.

In August, 1890, when Thomas Walker Jr. signed over the land that became Pleasant Point, his wife Emma signed the deed, as well as his stepmother, Susan R. Walker.

Pleasant Point Develops

In the early 1890s, Howard and Reed purchased the adjoining land east of the “Walker Land,” from the Paine family, and created a second area of cottage lots, “The Walker Plan Addition,” and another portion, “The Paine Plan.” These lots are part of the Pleasant Point community today.

The 1890 “Walker Plan” laid out by Tully Crosby, like the other South Wellfleet development plans, gives street names to the area that are a bit more creative than the numbered and lettered streets on Lieutenant’s Island. One of the main streets, Pleasant Point Avenue, ran behind the lots on the bluff where several cottages were built. This street name soon gave the growing colony its overall name. In newspaper reports in the earlier years, it’s referred to as “Point Pleasant;” but the designation of Pleasant Point was given pretty much after 1910.

The Cape Cod Bay Land Company ran advertisements in print publications in the Boston area, with their Boston office listed at 230 Washington Street. “Sea Shore Cottage Lots” were advertised at $25, or $5 down, and $5 per month for a lot of 2800 square feet. They advertised “fine gunning” for hunters, and boating, fishing and bathing. The lots were near the depot, the post office and a store. Applicants got a “testimonial from well-known businessmen who have bought lots and from the town’s Selectmen.” Of course, not everyone traveled to South Wellfleet to make their purchase. One writer has commented that for those who did travel to the Cape on the train, and subsequently purchased land, their rail fare would be reimbursed.

Sales of lots on the Walker Plan began in 1890. Earliest sales were closest to the water — the bluff with the seven houses that are still there today where the grandest house was built. The large Queen Anne-style house on the western end deserves its own story, which I’ll write about in my next post.

There is no evidence of which cottage was built first. By studying deeds of early purchasers and noting their transfers of property, the existence of a building is noted, telling us that the owners built a structure. On the 1907-1910 map of Wellfleet, a map detail, shown here, notes on which lot a cottage occupied; there are 25 structures, including three to the east, where the owners must have enjoyed a view of Drummer’s Pond.

Detail of 1907-1910 map showing cottage lots with owners

Detail of 1907-1910 map showing cottage lots with owners

Most early cottage builders chose a simple wood-shingled style of one and sometimes two stories. From time to time, a little “tower section” made the cottage distinctive. Very often, names were bestowed upon the small building: Gull Cottage, Valley View, Sea Breeze, Bay Vista, Bay Pines, and so on.

The early cottages were lit with kerosene lamps, had outhouses, and used ice to keep food cool — one step away from camping, for the most part. Bathing, boating, and fishing were daily activities, and perhaps reading for leisure, playing games, and visiting with neighboring families. The key was to relax, to enjoy the sea air, the release from the work day, and the constraints of city living.

Bathing Costumes turn of the century. Photo courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Bathing Costumes, turn of the century. Photo courtesy Museum of the City of New York









Just after 1900, a Pleasant Point Water Company association was formed and it purchased a small triangular lot from Mr. Reed, and gaining his permission to put up a windmill and another small building. The lot was turned over to Wellfleet resident James Chandler in the summer of 1897. A news report from 1904 mentions Frank Fisher “erecting” a galvanized water tank for the “water system” at Pleasant Point. There is still a “pump house” lot listed under “Pleasant Water” on the Wellfleet Assessor’s Database. Today, the Pleasant Point Water system serves about forty cottages.

Early summer visitors to Pleasant Point had access to supplies both at the General Store at the Railroad Station, as well as a seasonal store that Mr. Newcomb eventually established at “Hinckley’s Corner” which is where “Way 112” is today. Wellfleet purveyors came around with wagons to sell meat, fish and fresh vegetables. The South Wellfleet Congregational Church was pretty much out of operation by the time Pleasant Point was developed, but churchgoers may have found the remaining congregants meeting at the nearby Pond Hill School. The Ladies Social Union was in operation at Pond Hill during those early years, and they developed a summer sale of homemade items to generate a bit of income from summer visitors. In 1914 the South Wellfleet Public Library was established on the second floor of the Pond Hill School, thanks to Mary Paine, perhaps in response to the burgeoning summer community. The Wellfleet Public Library made it an official branch in 1923.

South Wellfleet Congregational Church early 1900s

South Wellfleet Congregational Church early 1900s

Starting in 1902, and led by Edward Reed, there were petitions to the Town to layout, build, and harden a road to Pleasant Point. The records of road making are a bit sketchy, but in the 1914 Town Report, an appropriation was spent and reported on to create a “Pleasant Point Road.”

William and Carrie Hill

Another way to determine if a cottage was built on a purchased lot is to rely on news accounts in the South Wellfleet column in the Barnstable Patriot. The paper’s earliest mention of the Hill cottage is in 1894. William Hill, an engineer from Springfield, Massachusetts, and his wife, Carrie, purchased a lot on Lieutenant’s Island in 1889. In 1892, he sold that lot back to Edward Reed, and instead purchased a Pleasant Point lot from him, not on the bluff, but a bit further back. The Hills are mentioned again in 1900. In 1903, they sold the cottage, and it passed from one buyer to another in 1913, 1917, 1927, and 1955. One of the owners purchased additional land and settled elsewhere in the summer colony. The “Hill cottage” is still there, with a family enjoying it today.

Another post card view of the smaller cottages set back from the bluff

Another post card view of the smaller cottages set back from the bluff

Miss Marsh and The Trueworthys

Another early cottage owner is Miss Matilda Marsh from Lowell, Massachusetts, who purchased her land in 1892. One of the news articles mentions her cottage in 1903. By 1908, she had passed away and her property passed on to the Trueworthy family, Alden and Helen, a married couple from Lowell with a number of children. They may have had a connection to Miss Marsh, as there is a record of her loaning money to Alden in 1894; that loan was backed up by additional property he owned north of Pleasant Point. Mr. Trueworthy was a carpenter and is said to have built a number of summer cottages in South Wellfleet; I plan to write more about him in a separate post. He remained in South Wellfleet throughout the year, while his wife was in Lowell, raising their numerous children. She came to the Pleasant Point cottage in the summer.

A Byron Trueworthy also purchased two properties on the bluff at Pleasant Point but sold them to others before 1900. Mr. Trueworthy was from Ellsworth, Maine, as was Alden Trueworthy, so they may have been brothers. Byron Trueworthy returned to Maine and is listed there in the Federal censuses of the early 20th century.

Miss Martha Orne and The Knowles Family

Another summer visitor was Miss Martha Orne, a teacher, who purchased her lot in 1891 with Adeline Jordan, a dressmaker. Miss Orne is mentioned in numerous news articles. She adopted a girl, Ethel Herrick, first taking her in as her “ward” and then apparently formalizing her adoption. Ethel married Walter Davis in 1912, and, after Miss Orne died in 1915, inherited the Pleasant Point property. Tucked away behind the seven “bluff houses” the property today is owned by the same family that owns the cottage developed by Nancy Goodwin, described further on.

Postcard of Pleasant Point Cottages

Postcard of Pleasant Point Cottages

The Reeds

Mr. Howard’s partner, Edward F. Reed and his wife, Mary, and their three children, Edward, Arthur and Carlotta, soon established their cottage on the bluff at Pleasant Point, as did Edward’s brother James and his wife, Ida. Edward F. Reed was born in 1843, and, as a young man, apprenticed to a West Bridgewater cabinetmaker, where he can be found in 1860. In 1880, he was working in a shoe factory and living with Mary in his in-laws home. We don’t have evidence of how he switched to selling real estate, or how he met Mr. Howard, but by 1900, when the census taker came to his home in Chelsea, his occupation became “capitalist.” Eventually, the Reed property came to one of Carlotta’s children, Dorothy LePage, whose name appears on deeds on Lieutenant Island in the 1950s. The two Reed cottages on the bluff are still there.

Frank Stacy Family

Another lively character in the Pleasant Point summer community was Frank Stacy of Springfield, Massachusetts. His parents bought their first Wellfleet property on Lieutenant Island and must have built a cottage there because, in 1903, Mr. Trueworthy moved it to Pleasant Point. Their son, Frank, eventually became the owner of the Stacy Pleasant Point property. From news reports of his career, Mr. Stacy appears to have had a “day job” of running the family hardware business, although he also directed the DeSoto Orchestra. He became a City Councilmember, and then an Alderman in Springfield. In 1910, when minstrel shows were still in vogue, he performed as “Bones” in the Men’s League of the Waverly Congregational Church at the New England Hardware Dealer’s Convention. He was elected President of the New England Hardware Dealers (perhaps due to his minstrel performance?) and then used his role to bring the convention to Springfield in their new convention hall.

The seven houses on the bluff

The seven houses on the bluff

Stacy’s political career was helped by his boosting his hometown, and, in 1914, he was elected Mayor of Springfield, with a campaign costing $637.64. The “genial Mayor” was reported as sending bushels of Wellfleet oysters back to Springfield. In 1919, six weeks after leaving office, Frank Stacy died. However, his wife and children continued annual summer visits to Pleasant Point, with their daughters and son maintaining their contact through the 1950s. Their youngest daughter, Madeline Stacy, must have had some of her father’s personality, as she organized dance classes in 1929 and a season-ending show at the South Wellfleet Ladies Social Union – the building we again call “The Pond Hill School” today.

Louise Shepard

Mrs. Shepard was a widow with two children from Lowell, Massachusetts, the city where many early Wellfleet buyers came from. She purchased one of the bluff lots in 1897, next to the Reeds. In the 1900 census, she describes herself as a “real estate agent,” an unusual occupation for a woman at the turn of the century. In 1914, she sold the Pleasant Point land and its buildings — evidence that she’d built a cottage —to Frank and Jennie Rogers of Springfield, and they owned it until 1938.

The Lovejoys and The Bracketts

In 1897 John and Grace Lovejoy bought two lots on the Blackfish Creek shore in the Paine Plan. Mr. Lovejoy was a grocer in Hyde Park, Massachusetts, although later he bought a farm in Franklin, Massachusetts. The Lovejoys purchased two adjoining lots from Mr. Reed in 1898, but sold them soon after. By 1903, the Barnstable Patriot was regularly reporting their arrivals and departures from the Pleasant Point community, usually mentioning their son, Sefton. In 1901 and 1904 they had two more children, Clarice and Richard. One of the early plans to create a road to the summer community mentions “Hinckley’s Corner to the Lovejoy Cottage.”

The Lovejoys must have enjoyed many years of Wellfleet summers, because it wasn’t until 1950 that Grace Lovejoy passed the property on to her son, Sefton, and his wife, Ethel, who then enjoyed more years there with their daughters Mabel and Priscilla. In 1972 Sefton sold to the family that now owns the property, located on Crest Avenue. Today the remodeled structure is called “Sandune” cottage.

The Bracketts were close by to the Lovejoys — their cottage was called “Camp Norton” — Mrs. Lyman Brackett’s maiden name. The family’s visits were often mentioned in The Barnstable Patriot. They purchased from Robert Howard in 1902 — land and buildings, the same structures he referenced in the deed as purchased from the Paine family. In the deed, Alma Norton Brackett was charged with paying for the repairs Howard had put into the buildings. The Bracketts owned the home until the 1940s, when it passed on to others; notes on the structure indicate that a Reverend John Williams renamed it “Wide Horizons” after extensive remodeling in the 1960s.

Daniel and Jennie Runnels, The Dodges, Jeremiah F. Rich, and Professor and Mrs. Merrill

Another of the more distinctive structures I’ve watched on Pleasant Point for many years is the farthest house on Pleasant Point Road (now labeled Pleasant Point Landing) – a road that was originally named Pond Avenue. The house always seemed to be dangerously close to Blackfish Creek, especially when there was a big storm, with waves breaking against the seawall there. The Runnels were from Lowell, Massachusetts, and he was a house painter. The Runnels purchased many parcels, including the one at the Pleasant Point Landing. In 1903, they sold a bluff lot to the Stacy family, and another to the Trueworthy family. Their own cottage was further back from the water’s edge, on what became Chief Street. Jennie died in the 1920s, and Daniel sold the cottage to Charles Pillsbury, who was his sister’s husband.

Post card of the road approaching Pleasant Point

Post card of the road approaching Pleasant Point

In 1911 the Runnels sold the waterfront land to Winifred and Hayward Dodge who then built a cottage, because later deeds refer to a building. Mr. Dodge was a hardware dealer in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The Dodges only stayed for five years, and sold their property in 1916 to a “J. Frank Rich,” who turned out to be Jeremiah Franklin Rich who, with his wife Euphemia Adelaide Rich, were longtime residents of South Wellfleet, perhaps affected by the loss of fishing. Perhaps they thought they might enjoy a bit of profit from the growing Pleasant Point community. The Richs only owned it for a year, and then it passed to Professor and Mrs. Merrill. By the 1920s, Mr. Rich was supplying ice in the summer months. Interesting to me, the Richs were housing Frank Fisher in 1920, one of the South Wellfleet characters I remember from my childhood — “Frankie” pumped gas at Mr. Davis’s General Store.

Professor Alleyn Merrill was a senior professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. The Merrills became a fixture in the Pleasant Point community for years, until he retired in 1934, and they moved to Maine. In 1937, Mrs. Merrill, then a widow, sold the Wellfleet property. From there, the property changed hands several times until the present owners purchased it.

The Moodys and the Sacketts

Lillian and Frank Moody built another of the original cottages sometime after they purchased Pleasant Point land from Reed in 1895. The Moodys sold a portion of their lots with a building to George and Ellen Sackett of West Springfield, Massachusetts in 1911 and 1913. Meanwhile, the Moodys purchased land in South Wellfleet near Doctor’s Hill and retired there.

The Sacketts with their two children, Charles and Elizabeth, appear to have enjoyed many years at Pleasant Point. George Sackett died in 1939, and his daughter must have died as well, since it was her husband, Murray Root, who sold the property to the next owner in 1945. The cottage is still there today.

The Oxfords

Mary and Joseph Oxford lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Joseph was a furniture dealer. In addition to purchasing their Pleasant Point lot, in the Paine Land Addition, they also bought lots in the Ocean Plan and the Nauset Beach Plan. Their cottage is further back from the shore, and is still there, although extensively renovated in the 1940s.

The Davenports

The Davenports of Ludlow, Massachusetts, purchased lots of land from Mr. Reed in the late 1890s and held it in trust for their son and daughter, Edwin and Alice Davenport. News reports as early as 1904 mention their summer visits. Their cottage remains today, called Gull Cottage, and known for its unusual hip roof.

The David Buitekans

Annie Ross Buitekan and David Buitekan came to Wellfleet sometime between 1910 and 1920. In the 1910 Census they are living in Brooklyn, New York, where David was a printer. David was born in 1872 in Boston to parents born in Holland; Annie Ross has Scottish parents. They were married in Manhattan in 1903; they did not have children. Their earliest purchase of property in Wellfleet was in 1908, when they bought an older home in South Wellfleet. In 1912, George Sackett sold them Walker Plan land near the shore at Pleasant Point Landing. David Buitekan built a cottage that’s still there, offering it for summer rentals. Eventually, the Buitekans settled in South Wellfleet and became the owners of Isaac Paine’s general store in 1923, as I’ve written about in an earlier post.

Nancy Goodwin

I’ve been looking at a white cottage with green shutters on the shore of Blackfish Creek all of my life, and now know who built it. In 1897, Nancy Goodwin, a widow from Wrenthem, Massachusetts, bought her first lots of land to the east of the bluff, on the nearby shore, from Howard and Reed’s Cape Cod Bay Land Company. She added to her holdings in 1917. Nancy Goodwin lived with her sister Ella, and her brother-in-law as listed in the censuses from 1900. Since women’s abilities to earn money were limited, I thought that her purchase might have been funded from a family legacy or from her husband. However, in 1880, I found her with her brother and sister, already a widow, living in Providence, Rhode Island, where both she and her sister listed their occupation as “waitressing in a restaurant.” However she did it, Nancy Goodwin she was able to buy this summer place, and keep it until 1923 when she sold it to Lillian Givan.

An added note: thanks to a note from Jude Ahern, here’s a 1934 photo of Pleasant Point Cottages with the “water shed” in the foreground.

Cottages at Pleasant Point 1934 -- note water shed in foreground

Cottages at Pleasant Point 1934 — note water shed in foreground

My photograph of Pleasant Point in the 1970s

My photograph of Pleasant Point in the 1970s


Brown, Dona Inventing New England: Regional Tourism in the Nineteenth Century. Washington, D.C.,       Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995

U.S. Federal Census collection at

David Kew’s Cape Cod history site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at

Cape Codder available at

Wellfleet Town Reports at the Wellfleet Public Library

Historic house reports at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum

Atlas of Barnstable County, Walker Lithographic and Publishing Company, Boston, 1910

The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Henry F. Walling, re-published 2009, OnCape Publications.



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Cook’s Camps in South Wellfleet

Cook’s Camps has been in Wellfleet since the 1930s. This unique group of cottages is situated right on the ocean, at the top of a 125 foot dune. It is owned by David and Laurie Sexton, through Laurie’s family, the Cooks, who go back to Edwin P. Cook.

Cook's Camps on the dune at South Wellfleet

Cook’s Camps on the dune at South Wellfleet

The Cook’s cottages are very close to the National Park’s Marconi site. Mr. Cook sold land to Mr. Guglielmo Marconi as he decided where to position the towers that transmitted the first trans-Atlantic radio message in 1902. You can read more about Marconi here.

Staying at Cook’s captures an experience that few vacationers can have today. The cottages are simple: sleeping and living space, small kitchen, bath. Showering is available in the Shower House. Families have been coming here for generations, and hold dear their “privilege” of renting a particular cottage at a particular time, say, the last two weeks of August, perhaps leaving it as legacy to their children. These folks have their own community on the dune. One of their regulars told me that it is this sense of community that makes her annual trip so special.

For some people, having their support systems on vacation may be necessary including electronics, tv/cable, dishwasher, and a Sub-zero refrigerator. But if a vacation is meant to be a kind of letting-go, then you can have such an experience at Cook’s. You can dial it back by decades and live beside the ocean where tides and extraordinary light frame your day.

Edwin P. Cook grew up in Scituate, Massachusetts, across Cape Cod Bay. He was born in 1843 in Cohasset, the son of Ichabod Cook, Jr. and Lucinda A. Cook. His father must have died while Edwin was young, since his mother is listed as a widow in the 1860 census. Edwin arrived in Wellfleet in the early 1860s. In 1864 he married Eliza Franklin Hopkins of Wellfleet, the daughter of a Wellfleet family with deep roots. Edwin and Eliza had three sons: Arthur, Herbert, and Ralph.

Edwin Cook soon developed a number of business interests in Wellfleet: lumber, fish, wrecking, and oil manufacturing, which collected the oil of the numerous blackfish that grounded there. That oil was a lubricant needed by watch manufacturers, giving it great value. Mr. Cook became a Town Selectman, and then the Chair of the Selectmen in 1894. Edwin P. Cook also dealt in real estate, a commodity that was becoming more important as the 19th century ended and Wellfleet began to develop as a summer home and tourist destination. He left behind many tracts of land for his family to sort out over the years.

One of several properties that Cook assembled in creating the land that became Cook’s Camps was an 1894 deed from Simeon Wiley, the Administrator of the estate of Betsey Wiley, a longtime South Wellfleet resident. Another was from Isaac LeCount of the family that gave us the name of LeCount Hollow Road, that takes us from Route 6 to the dunes today.

Herbert Cook and his wife Florence Chellis Cook came to own all the land that is now Cook’s Camps. They were Laurie Sexton’s grandparents.

Besides buying land, Cook also sold it. In 1900 Edwin sold a piece to Lorenzo Dow Baker who at that time was undertaking a number of projects to make Wellfleet a seaside town that would appeal to seasonal visitors. Baker built three cottages on the edge of the dune. News articles in the early 1900s refer to visitors staying in these cottages.

Frederick Dallinger began visiting in the early 1900s. He was a state legislator, then a Congressman, and finally a U.S. Senator by 1926. The area began to be called “Dallinger Heights” and “Dallinger Bluff” in news reports. There is no record of Dallinger owning property himself. Perhaps his “celebrity” status caused the name to be assigned. The name “stuck” until the late 1930s.

The three “Baker cottages” lasted until the hurricane of 1938, when they tumbled over the dune.

The Baker Cottages

The Baker Cottages

There are three additional owners of dune land who purchased from the Cooks. Addie M. Newhall of Montclair, New Jersey, purchased land from Edwin Cook in 1917, after she and her family had stayed in one of the Baker cottages. In 1929, Herbert Cook sold land to Harry S. Young of Cambridge, Mass. Also in 1929, Herbert sold land to Walter C. Guilder and his wife, Grace Davis Guilder. Guilder and Newman built cottages. There is no mention of a Young cottage in the deed transferring the land back to the Cooks.

Cook's Camps in the 1930s

Cook’s Camps in the 1930s

Adelaide May Newhall (1884-1960) earned her B.A. degree from Smith College, and studied art at Syracuse University along with several artists, including Charles Hawthorne, who was one of America’s most inspiring art teachers. Hawthorne established the Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown and helped make the town a leading artists’ colony. Perhaps Addie Newhall studied with him there. She painted landscapes, in oil, and her painting “Lighthouse” sold as recently as 2005. As a young “independent” woman and teacher, she was 33 years old when she bought her dune land and built her cottage in 1917.

Addie Newhall

Addie Newhall

Walter C. Guilder (1877-1942) was a successful businessman, establishing Guilder Engineering Company, which manufactured motor trucks in Poughkeepsie, New York. Harry S. Young (b 1874) and his wife were born in New York, and lived in the Boston area where he was a salesman for Campbell Soup.

During the summers of 1929 and 1930, a Glider School was established where Cook’s Camps is today – I wrote a blog post about it which you can read here .


Edwin P. Cook died in 1925; his son, Herbert, died in 1934. Before Herbert died, Cook’s Camps was born. The Glider School had built an administration building where the main house is now, plus dormitories, and a hanger. There was a generator and water was pumped to a cistern. These leftovers became the Camp – including the shower house. Herbert and Florence’s daughter, Chellise Cook, now a young woman, helped out too.

Chellise Cook married Laurence Cardinal of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1938 — a lucky match for Cook’s Camps. Larry was able to build-out the Camp, adding cottages. In 1944, Florence bought back the Guilder property, and those cottages became “Big Gilda” and “Little Gilda,” — so the “Guilder” name lives on in a simplified spelling.

Little Gilda Cottage

Little Gilda Cottage

In 1945, Addie Newhall sold her property back to Florence, but her cottage was moved to another spot on what became Ocean View Drive. We can hope the new owner who bought the cottage in 2011 has heard the remarkable history of his summer spot in the dunes.

Harry Young sold his property back to Florence Cook in 1944.

Addie Newhall purchased property nearby to Cook’s, off Ocean View Drive, in 1941. The cottage that was placed there is the same shape and size as the one next to her first dune cottage – in the photograph displayed here. She left it to her sister when she died in 1960. Perhaps it was Mr. Young’s. It is still in the family today, once again demonstrating the generational pull of South Wellfleet on many families.

Addie Newhall cottage in the middle and her second cottage on the right

Addie Newhall cottage in the middle and her second cottage on the right

Cook’s Camps made it through the years of having Camp Wellfleet right next door with its sometimes rambunctious young servicemen there. It transitioned to becoming private property within the National Park. Winter dune damage sometimes meant that a cottage had to be moved further back from the edge of the dune. Summers continued to bring visitors, and regular returning folks through the years.

Today, Cook’s Camps comprises fifteen cottages, along with the Cardinal’s home, built in the 1950s. Each cottage has a name, making it easy for families to identify with “their” cottage. Visitors can enjoy their private beach, accessible by a ladder trailing down the dunes. Like many cottage owners who rent, there are rules, spelled out on a hand-lettered sign in each cottage, gently urging behavior that is respectful of the other people staying there.

Season after season goes by, families come and go, kids grow up and bring their significant others, then another generation arrives. David and Laurie have a list of all visitors since 1940, and the family groups are apparent. Cook’s Camps has created a unique spot near the ocean in South Wellfleet.


U.S. Federal Census collection at

David Kew’s Cape Cod history site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at

Cape Codder available at



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South Wellfleet and the U.S. Coast Survey

Topographical Map, South Wellfleet showing Congregational Church triangulation Point

Topographical Map, South Wellfleet showing Congregational Church triangulation Point

With great thanks to Chet Lay, Wellfleet Surveyor, who has provided a continual supply of information, books, and maps, increasing my appreciation of how we chart the land and its ownership.

This article shares a few observations on South Wellfleet’s position in the U.S. Coastal and Geodetic Survey made in the 19th century.

In 1807 President Thomas Jefferson requested legislation “to cause a Survey to be taken of the coasts of the United States.” Jefferson was just receiving first reports from the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the recently-purchased Louisiana Territory. Mapping the nation was on his mind, and the Survey was meant to promote trade and commerce by providing knowledge of the sea surrounding the new maritime nation, mapping the coast, reefs, fishing banks, and other submerged land.

Jefferson personally chose the first Superintendent of the Survey, an immigrant from Switzerland named Ferdinand Hassler, who was a mathematician and a skilled measurer. Hassler devised a plan to measure the seacoast by laying out a network of enormous

Ferdinand Hassler

Ferdinand Hassler

consecutive triangles, the sides of which ranged from ten to sixty miles. While the name

“Coast Survey” seems to imply that only water-covered areas were of concern, Hassler first created a Geodetic Survey, using the ancient science of geodesy that determined the precise location of specific points on the earth’s surface.

The Coast Survey project was the beginning of what has become the oldest scientific agency of the United States government, today housed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Surveying continues today. Prior to the Coast Survey, there was a publication for mariners called the American Coast Pilot, published first in 1796 by Edmund M. Blunt. Blunt’s eventually made an alliance to use the data of the Coast Survey. Eventually, in 1867, Blunt’s rights were sold to the Coast Survey.

Surveying began in the 1830s, but it took until the 1840s for Congress to fully fund the project and then to get it organized successfully. While Hassler is credited for laying out the scientific measurement technique, the second Superintendent of the Survey, Alexander Bache, is credited with organizing the topographical and hydrographical survey areas, and actually publishing the results so that the survey could become a useful tool. Bache, a great grandson of Benjamin Franklin and the organizer of a magnetic observatory in Philadelphia, was a scientific scholar himself, and had paid attention to the pursuit of science underway in Europe, bringing this knowledge to the fast growing United States.

Major James Duncan Graham (1799-1865) was the U.S. Topographical Engineer who directed what must have been early surveys of Cape Cod in 1833-35. He was a West Point graduate, class of 1817, as were many of the surveyors of the 19th century. The Navy

The extremity of Cape Cod

The extremity of Cape Cod

supplied trained officers who conducted the soundings that marked the coast to the three-mile limit. One of my favorite early Cape Cod maps is “A Map of the Extremity of Cape Cod including the townships of Provincetown and Truro and a chart of their Seacoast and of Cape Cod Harbour.” Major Graham’s name is on the attribution of the map.

The triangulation points on the first Wellfleet topographical map are labeled 1847, so we have a time frame for the creation of the map.

I recently discovered in a triangulation listing that the 1847 points are attributed to a T.J. Cram. Cram was Thomas Jefferson Cram, a West Point graduate of 1826. I can imagine Captain Cram and his team working his way through Wellfleet with his Photo Plane Table, their measuring device. This is a description Chet Lay gave at a talk at the Wellfleet Library in November 2014:

A plane table is a board placed upon a tripod, with a surveying instrument with a protruding scale rule which rotates with the line of sight of the transit. A sheet of paper is clamped onto the board under the instrument at the start of the survey. Instead of recording angles and distances in a notebook, one uses the scale rule and simply puts a pencil “x” on the sheet of paper where the shot was taken. At the end of the day, you have the survey already done on the sheet and you returned to your tent to ink the lines and add the annotations – very fast and efficient.

Cram was from New Hampshire. The principal of the Hancock Academy wrote him a recommendation for West Point, indicating that he had “many tokens of uncommon genius.” As a Lieutenant, Cram taught mathematics at West Point in the 1830s.

I could not find anything further on Cram’s assignment that would have brought him to Wellfleet to lead the project as the Topographical Engineer. He is given attribution on other maps that include the Cape, including an 1857 Coast Chart Number 10 where he is listed as having authored the triangulations. Captain Cram had a distinguished career during the Civil War, and emerged a General. He died in Philadelphia in 1883.

On that 1857 map, the hydrography was under the command of Lt. Stellwagen and others of the U.S. Navy. Lt. Stellwagen mapped what was eventually named for him, the Stellwagen Bank, at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, in 1854. Portions of the Bank were known long before, but the Lieutenant mapped the entire geological feature and its surrounding waters.

Here is a link to the 1857 map and an image.

1857 Coast Survey of Cape Cod

1857 Coast Survey of Cape Cod

It must have been exciting to have this important government project underway in Wellfleet, making the isolated town seem more connected to the country. Henry David Thoreau mentions the survey several times in Cape Cod, mentioning Major Graham in his chapter about Highland Light. Thoreau himself had just finished teaching himself surveying skills prior to his Cape walk in 1849. He noted “Lombard Head” on his version of a Cape Cod map that has a visual connection to the Coast Survey map of the Cape. (It was this designation that alerted me to other triangulation points in South Wellfleet.) When Thoreau visited the Wellfleet Oysterman, John Newcomb, the conversation includes a story of how the surveyors consulted Mr. Newcomb for the names of numerous fresh water ponds in North Wellfleet, and how he told them of one pond they had not detected.

The “Lombard Head” triangulation point is in the area of the early 20th century development laid out by Arthur Buffam, which he labeled “Wellfleet-By-The-Sea.” The development was on both sides of Ocean View Drive, near Cahoon Hollow, and today is within the Cape Cod National Seashore. Buffam bought the land from the Crowell family in 1915. The Crowells had purchased it from Mary Saunders, whose grandmother was a Lombard, and perhaps gave the Lombard designation to the land earler. Another tracing of the land, through deeds, and family through genealogical charts, led me to Lombards married to Covell family – a piece of this land was bordered by “Solomon Covell’s Way.” While I can’t make an exact match, there’s some evidence that Lombards owned land in this part of eastern South Wellfleet, most likely wood lots, since no one wanted to live near the ocean at that time.

Another family-named triangulation point was “Hamblin’s Mound” over in western Wellfleet, in the area of today’s “Newcomb Heights” just north of Old Chequesset Neck Road. Chet Lay told me that when the area was under development in the 1960s, one of the 1847 markers was uncovered. It is a clay, four-sided pyramid-shaped piece with “U.S.” on each side. A search is underway to find out where it exists today.

The other 1847 triangulation points in Wellfleet included the belfries of both the Wellfleet Congregational Church and the South Wellfleet Congregational Church. There was also a triangulation point near the (then) southern end of Indian Neck, on the north side of Blackfish Creek.

In 1887 there were two points added: “Rich” which must have been near land owned by the Nepthali Rich family, and “Gull Pond,” which was located on Gross Hill.

In 1909 additional points (or stations) included the Marconi Tower, Mayo Beach Light, and “Chequesset Tower” which was a 25-foot tower on a sand hill just north of Chequesset Inn, a wind-driven tower contraption for pumping water for the Inn, with the water storage tanks for the Inn located just to the south of the tower.

In South Wellfleet in 1909, the surveyors were also using the cupola of a home on “the north of Blackfish Creek on a hill at the edge of the timber line” — which I’m sure was the large house built on Indian Neck by the Crowell family. In addition, there was “an old tripod signal on Lieutenant’s Island, marked by an old stake.”


Prologue Magazine, Spring 20017, Vol. 39, No. 1 online:

Triangulation in Massachusetts, Volume 4, a publication by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1922

Shalowitz, Aaron L., Shore and Sea Boundaries, Volume 2, U.S. Government Publication 1964.

Thoreau, Henry David, Cape Cod, online at

A copy of Chet Lay’s lecture given at the Wellfleet Library in November 2014

Breveted Major James Duncan Graham of the US Army’s Corps of Topographical Engineers issued A REPORT UPON THE MILITARY AND HYDROGRAPHICAL CHART OF THE EXTREMITY OF CAPE COD: INCLUDING THE TOWNSHIPS OF PROVINCETOWN AND TRURO, WITH THEIR SEACOAST AND SHIP HARBOR: PROJECTED FROM SURVEYS EXECUTED DURING PORTIONS OF THE YEARS 1833, 1834, AND 1835 (United States. Topographical Bureau; this included a map of Provincetown and Truro).



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Developing Lieutenant’s Island

Continues the history of Lieutenant’s Island started in my previous post

In 1889, the upland areas of Lieutenant’s Island were purchased by Robert Howard and his partner, Edward Reed, and the modern era of the Island began. Robert Howard followed the same plan he’d put in place for the development of the Old Wharf. First, they purchased the western and eastern portions of the Island, along with the little piece of upland that was known as the “Small Island.”

Satellite Photo 2003

Satellite Photo 2003

Howard and Reed formed the Cape Cod Bay Land Company, hired Tully Crosby to lay out a map of 2800 square foot lots, named the roads, numbered lots and blocks, and began selling at $25 per lot. In 1889 and 1890, Howard made 54 sales, many of more than one lot. In the 1890s, an economic recession slowed down sales, but they kept at it until Mr. Howard’s death in 1916 at age 59.

At the same time the Cape Cod Bay Land Company was selling Lieutenant’s Island, they were also offering the Old Wharf, Cannon Hill, and Pleasant Point in separate plans, and they had mapped land closer to the ocean, east of the railroad tracks.

Robert Howard was the stepson of the successful inventor Luther C. Crowell, who by 1889 may have been able to finance his stepson’s investment. Mr. Crowell built a summer home on Indian Neck during this last decade of the 19th century, and settled there permanently in 1900. Mrs. Crowell was a Wellfleet Atwood. She had married Jeremiah Howard, and lived in Boston. He died of brain fever at age 35; in the 1860 census she is living with her children in a Boston boarding house. She married Crowell in 1863, and they went off to live in Brooklyn, New York, in a household that included Robert and two Howard daughters, along with two additional boys she had with Crowell.

When the unmarried Mr. Howard died in 1916, he left his property in Wellfleet to his sister’s son, Howard Mitchell, and to the two Crowell sons.

Wellfleet’s summer colonizing appealed to middle- and working-class people. Other parts of the Cape, more like New England villages and much closer to Boston, hosted large hotels and impressive summer homes. Mr. Crowell built a fairly substantial home on Indian Neck, but this was not a trend in South Wellfleet. The cottages on Lieutenant’s Island were modest structures. Until the 1950s, most of the building was on the western side where the views out over Cape Cod Bay — also referred to as Barnstable Bay — were quite spectacular.

On the 1848 map of Wellfleet, a cartway leading to Lieutenant’s Island began south of Fresh Brook, and headed out over the marsh. With the development of the Island, the road shifted to where it is today, directly to the eastern upland, with a bridge built over the creek that connects the Silver Spring Bay with Loagy Bay. These parts of South Wellfleet are labeled on the map sketched here.

Lieutenant's Island sketch map

Lieutenant’s Island sketch map

The Lieutenant’s Island Bridge is a South Wellfleet icon. For those with homes there today, crossing the bridge to the island becomes a magical moment when the cares of the world are laid aside, and life on an island begins again. On the practical side, those staying on the island need to plan their trips off-island at low tide and remain aware of high tides that can put the road under water.

Getting the bridge built was a first step. Mr. Howard and Mr. Reed negotiated with the Town to grant a five-year tax exemption to property owners “providing the owners build a bridge within the next year.” In 1894, the Massachusetts legislature gave the Cape Cod Bay Land Association (the Howard/Reed company) permission to build and maintain a bridge or dike in South Wellfleet “across the tide water.” Something indeed got built, most likely wooden. There was a report in the Barnstable Patriot in 1903 that a “new iron bridge was being built over the creek by the United Construction Company of Albany, New York” – and the construction job was employing Wellfleet men. In 1903 and 1905 Wellfleet appropriated funds at the Town Meeting for road and bridge repair.

In a 1980 report on historic homes in Wellfleet, the description of Lieutenant’s Island notes that an earlier bridge’s girders could be seen “under a hump-backed bridge of wooden trusses that replaced it.” This older bridge was characterized as “dangerous” since a driver could not see an approaching vehicle due to the angle. In 1972 a higher bridge was built, and today it’s still a narrow bridge.

Kevin F. photo of the bridge

Kevin F. photo of the bridge

On the 1910 map of Wellfleet that shows property owners by name, Lieutenant’s Island has six structures on the western side with the names Howard, Townsend, Healey, Breck and, on the north edge, Perkins. Far to the south is S. Atwood named. Interestingly, despite twenty years of property sales, only these structures exist. Of course, if even half of the 1890s buyers had built little cottages, the Island would not have remained as isolated as it did.

Comparing the deeds available through Barnstable County with Barnstable Patriot newspaper reports of families coming and going, I’ve been able to figure-out the earliest structures that were built on the island. The Wellfleet Assessors Database provides the age of each property on Map 40, which covers Lieutenant’s Island, and, if this is correct, some of those early cottages are still there today.

One of the earliest builders was John H. Kennedy of Lowell. In 1891 the Barnstable Patriot reported that he had shipped two carloads of lumber to the North Eastham station “for the purpose of building a cottage on Lieutenant’s Island.” Mr. Kennedy sold his lot and buildings to Adeline Breck of Dracut, Massachusetts in 1906. This is the first deed of the Breck family. The current Assessor’s Database names “an 1880 structure” as one of the family’s properties today; this may be the original cottage.

Charles Blake of Lowell bought his lot in 1890, and the newspaper reported when he came to South Wellfleet to enjoy a “gunning” excursion. In 1904 he sold his land and buildings to Walter Townsend, who is noted as a property owner on the 1910 map. In 1919, Townsend sold to M. Burton Baker, who was also developing property on Indian Neck. Baker sold to a Breck son-in-law in 1919. That property is still owned by the family today.

Robert Howard built his own cottage on the Island. His trips to Wellfleet to enjoy the Island’s sailing and fishing, and to visit his mother, are mentioned often in the newspaper.

Another family, the Healeys, bought land and built a cottage. Their son, Paul, was a doctor. Similarly, another early family, the Fields, had a doctor in the family. My initial reaction to these two doctors settling here was the reason South Wellfleet came to have a Doctor’s Hill, but now I know that name is applied to an area just before the Lieutenant’s Island bridge, and must have another origin-story.

Like Mr. Blake, the Healey son enjoyed the cottage for “gunning” trips, a popular pastime for men during this period. Shooting migratory birds eventually fell from favor, and it’s ironic that so much of Lieutenant’s Island today is part of the Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary.

Solomon Atwood (whom I assume was the S. Atwood on the 1910 map) hosted former President Grover Cleveland and a friend, according to a 1901 article in the Barnstable Patriot. The President came for fishing and gunning. In the 1938 booklet published by the South Wellfleet Neighborhood Association, Mr. Atwood’s son, Alton, is noted as having Mr. Cleveland’s fishing rod in his possession.

Gunning trips did not always go well. In 1915, a man named Lloyd Corbett joined Doctor Healey and another doctor on a trip to Healey’s camp. He was in a small boat by himself when he shot himself in the knee and unfortunately found by his doctor friends only after he had bled to death.

Another tragic event occurred in 1924 when two young cousins visiting the Brecks drowned while on a trip to the Island on a church camp outing.

Pilot whale strandings occur regularly on Lieutenant’s Island. I remember the one in 1957 when we all hiked to the island to see it. Others were reported in 1982 and 2002. Disposal of their bodies is a contentious issue, especially if the stranding occurs in summer when the beaches are meant to be welcoming swimmers.

In the 1930s Joseph H. Shuldice began buying the marshland surrounding Lieutenant’s Island. It’s clear from the deeds that a number of South Wellfleet residents had continued to hold onto their “meadow” lands in order to continue salt hay production as the upland areas converted to summer cottages. For Mr. Schuldice, the marshes were perfect for gunning expeditions. Today, a plaque on the Island recognizes his donation of 300 acres to Massachusetts Audubon Society and his lifelong interest in the conservation of wildlife.

The Cape Codder published this small note about Lieutenant’s Island in 1949:

When taking a ride over Doctor’s Hill in South Wellfleet you are surprised at the new name signs but the roads and hillsides look just the same. I had forgotten the white birch trees that grown on Lieutenant’s Island. Loagy Bay is filling in – it is noticeable. The old “yellow leg hole” was completely dry.

In the late 1950s, the Town of Wellfleet initiated a comprehensive “tax taking” process to tax the many owners of the small lots purchased years back. It’s unclear if the Town had tried to tax them regularly or had only been organized to collect property taxes. Lieutenant’s Island owners of those little lots made up a large part of this list. The land was taken back when there was a lack of response to the latest owner of record, and the land was resold, often in lots that were now made “not divisible.” Some of the sales were to property owners who were able to increase their lot size.

Lieutenant’s Island was in the news in the 1960s when the State Division of Waterway proposed that the bridge over the creek between Silver Spring Harbor and Loagy Bay be replaced with a solid-fill dike. The proposal was made just before regulation of property on or near salt marshes went into effect. Many of the Island property owners — and some others — protested vociferously that the dike would cut-off small-boat navigation and destroy the marsh environment. The Town agreed to delay a decision until the Army Corps of Engineers ruled. Fortunately the Corps ruled “no dike,” as it would cut-off a navigable waterway. The Town finally did straighten the roadway.

As with other property they owned in Wellfleet, by mid-century the Crowells had organized their holdings into a real estate company, creating subdivisions, and selling and building summer homes. In 1966 and 1967, in articles in the Cape Codder, Mr. Crowell’s proposed new house lots on Lieutenant’s Island were contested as too close to the marsh — similar to the arguments residents of the Old Wharf area made at the same time.

There were also heated arguments about who owned the land, a battle Massachusetts Audubon took on, claiming ownership to land the Schuldice family had left to the organization. The original plan Mr. Crowell made was withdrawn, but development eventually took place. This was the beginning, however, of some residents standing up for the protection of the island’s fragile nature: its water supply, waste removal practices, and eroding edges.

By the late 1960s, telephone service and electricity existed from utility poles serving several homes on the east island. A further private underground power network was created in 1973.  This activity created the Lieutenant’s Island Association, incorporated later in 1999 as the Lieutenant’s Island Services Improvement Company. The association today also cares for the network of private roads on the Island. The homeowners group works to remind owners of the Island’s fragility, and to engage in the best known practices regarding water use, wastewater, and commercial products, and to respect the endangered species that are trying to exist there also — the diamondback terrapin and the osprey.

By 1972 – according to the Wellfleet topological map created then — there were 35 houses on Lieutenant’s Island. Lisa Ricard Claro, a grandchild of the Breck family, wrote a memory piece about her visit to the Island in the 1970s.

Lieutenant’s Island was also in the news during the period of heightened development in the 1980s. A Cape Codder article in 1984 counts 60 houses, with a warning that these could double in number. More alarms were raised, especially from a Mrs. Stearns, that the water supply was threatened.

The sandbank edge of the western portion of Lieutenant’s Island has become another area of concern, since concrete seawalls create problems in a fragile landscape. The 2006 Wellfleet Harbor Management Report carefully covers this “coastal armoring” that the western side of the Island has now, with the phenomena carried out in separate permits to owners. When one owner armors, neighbors experience worse erosion, and so the process unfolds.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society now owns 1,100 acres in South Wellfleet, with a substantial portion the marshes surrounding Lieutenant’s Island, through gifts of the Schuldice and the Crowell Families. One of their recent projects is an oyster reef located just southwest of the Island. The Nature Conservancy, the Town of Wellfleet and NOAA are all supporters of this important research project, as reefs can buffer the shoreline and remove nitrogen from the water. Depending on the outcome here, Wellfleet may establish even more reefs as part of their harbor management.

Modest land protection on the Island also comes from the portions owned by the Town of Wellfleet, the Wellfleet Conservation Trust, and the South Wellfleet Conservation Trust.

It’s difficult to predict if human settlement on Lieutenant’s Island will overwhelm the

Aerial View Lieutenant's Island

Aerial View Lieutenant’s Island

various attempts to reinvigorate natural processes — the oysters, the ospreys’ nests, and the protection of the diamondback terrapins. Let us hope for the best.


Wellfleet Harbor Management Plan, Town of Wellfleet, Natural Resources Advisory Board, 2006

Wellfleet Historical Society’s listing sheets of properties of historical interest, produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s

U.S. Federal Census collection at

David Kew’s Cape Cod History site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at

Cape Codder available at







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Settling Lieutenant’s Island

Lieutenant’s Island became a seaside retreat in the 1890s, as the Cape began to develop as a tourist destination. Simeon Deyo, in his 1890 history of Cape Cod, refers to:

that sensible practice happily increasing among city people, of checking themselves each year in the rush and hurry of business, to take a vacation to the seaside, has already modified to a great extent the resources and prospects of Cape Cod.

Like other bayside areas of South Wellfleet — the Old Wharf, Pleasant Point, Indian Neck, Cannon Hill and others — Lieutenant’s Island came under the control of one developer, mapped as a “cottage colony” with small lots of land, and sold off to the ‘city people.’

Lieutenant’s Island was nevertheless a recognized part of South Wellfleet long before its tourism development. It was a distinct place as far back as the 1644 arrival of the Plymouth Pilgrims as settlers of Eastham. As discussed in my blog post, “Plantation Period”  the English settlers moving to the outer Cape from Plymouth purchased land that now comprises Orleans and Eastham. When they asked about the land north of Hatche’s Creek — today’s Wellfleet/Eastham town line — they were told no one owned it, and so included it in their purchase.

According to an oral tradition of the purchase tale, a native man named Lieutenant

Lieutenant's Island sketch map

Lieutenant’s Island sketch map

Anthony claimed to be the sachem of this land for the group called the Punonakanits of Billingsgate. A deed was negotiated in 1666 to legally add the Wellfleet purchase to the Eastham settlement:

We did then purchase all that land lying in Billingsgate from that which we purchased before of George the Sachem. To the end of our bounds norward upland and meddow of an Indian called Lefenant excepting reserved for himself to plant upon and sow wee lay claim to all lands within this ownership.

While the land that we today call Indian Neck was set aside for the use of the native people, Lieutenant’s Island was designated for common use in 1662, and in 1673 for the support of the ministry. However, Eastham did allocate “meddow grants” in the surrounding area to early settlers: William Walker had 3.5 acres at Silver Spring in 1659; Richard Higgins got 12 acres of upland and 44 acres of meadow “near Lieutenant’s Island” and his son Jonathan got 3 acres of meadow.

Despite the designation of “Lieutenant’s Island” in the earliest Eastham written records, on maps as late as 1893 the island is referred to as “Horse Island.” I have not found a reason why, but propose here that the popularity of raising horses in early Eastham may have caused the Island to become a place where the horses were pastured with the acres of salt hay for fodder. The early Eastham Town Records contain many entries recording the “earmarks” horse owners used. Numerous cattle earmarks were recorded in the town records also.

Lieutenant’s Island played an important role in the 1690s when the town, still a part of Plymouth Colony, needed funds to contribute to the cost of sending a delegation to London to seek a new charter. Both Lieutenant’s Island and Great Island were mortgaged to raise the funds, with the capital provided by Major John Freeman.

From the earliest dates of Eastham, meadowlands were allocated to the settlers to pasture their cattle and horses, and to harvest salt hay – a process described in my blog entry on harvesting Salt Hay.

With its woods providing a ready source of fuel, Lieutenant’s Island also became a place where shore whales were brought in for removal and “trying” (boiling) the blubber. By 1707 it was recognized that shore whaling needed regulation, since men from other towns were profiting from the practice. The Eastham Town Meeting voted that the harpoon man was to pay two shillings for each man in the boat not a resident of Eastham. Collecting this fee proved impossible.

In 1711 the common woodlands and meadows of Lieutenant’s Island began to be divided and allocated to private owners who had to be “allowed inhabitants” of the town. Joseph Collins, Israel Doane and Isaac Pepper got meadow and woodlot grants in the earliest distribution.

Durand Echeverria notes in his book on Billingsgate history that both English settlers and Indians protested this change to private ownership since they were accustomed to using the common lands for wood and for grazing their stock, and the Indians used the land for gathering berries and other wild resources. Indians were also shore whaling, having taught this to the settlers. These protests were ignored. In 1715, further divisions were made, including land in South Wellfleet. It is difficult to precisely place the allocated land, but we do know that Brown, Snow, Harding, Doane, Walker, and Atwood each got South Wellfleet land grants.

By the 1740s, the upland of Lieutenant’s Island was “wasted” through deforestation and over-grazing, just like many other areas of the Cape. In Enoch Pratt’s mid-nineteenth century book, he describes Lieutenant’s Island as a “sand bank two miles in circumference.”

Eighteenth century deeds for anywhere in Eastham are scarce, but I was fortunate to find three that mention Lieutenant’s Island. One source noted that a Joshua Newcomb (born 1712 Truro), a lieutenant in the British Navy, owned a part of the Island. Mr. Newcomb was killed aboard his ship by a falling spar, and his family sold his property. In the Walter Babbitt Collection of old Cape Cod deeds at Cape Cod Community College, we find Elisha Higgins selling land in 1718 “on the eastern part of Lieutenant’s Island” to Samuel Brown. Another deed, from 1726, indicates that George Ward sold a dwelling house on Lieutenant’s Island to Thomas Mulford. This is the only reference I have found to a dwelling house before 1890 — and the difficulty of access makes me wonder if this really existed.

Barnstable County deeds are not searchable by locations within a town, so I’ve worked backwards to assemble a list of Lieutenant’s Island owners through the nineteenth century. When Robert Howard bought much of the Island in 1889 for cottage colony development, he purchased two portions from David Higgins, a direct descendant of Eastham’s original settler Richard Higgins. Higgins also sold “Small Island” to Howard, but retained the right of way to “convey hay and also the privilege of laying the hay on the land”, thus showing that salt hay was still produced by South Wellfleet farmers. Howard’s partner Edward Reed purchased the other major portion of Lieutenant’s Island from Isaiah Horton’s children, and in this sale they reserved both the right of laying hay and weir (net) fishing.

These two purchases can be traced back further to previous owners of portions of Lieutenant’s Island: South Wellfleet’s Reuben Arey and Samuel Smith of Provincetown, who was Major Witherell’s son-in-law – I’ve written about Arey and Witherell in earlier posts.

One other mid-nineteenth century issue involved Lieutenant’s Island and represented an effort to control use of the land which is such a key issue today. In 1849, the Massachusetts legislature passed an Act to protect and regulate the “common usage” of the flats “lying in the southern part of the Town of Wellfleet between Blackfish Creek and the Town of Eastham.” This appears to be an extension of an 1801 Act regarding the pasturage of horses and ‘neat cattle’ on Great Island. (‘Neat cattle’ is a New England term used to describe domesticated cattle.) The legislators were trying to protect Wellfleet Harbor and its shellfish from “numerous cattle, sheep and horse kind” feeding on the beach and islands adjoining the western side of said harbor and, in 1849, extending that protection.

In early 1850, at the Wellfleet Town Meeting, three overseers were appointed to implement the new law. They posted notices that the tax for turning animals onto the flats would be 12 cents a head for neat cattle and 50 cents a head for horses. (I’m imagining posting this in the South Wellfleet General Store which Mr. Cole opened in 1844.) Starting June 15th that year, anyone using the flats had to have a written permit. The notice also announced a meeting at nearby Caleb Lombard’s house where the Wellfeet men were approved for permits, and six Eastham men were not, as the overseers ruled that these men had no claim to Wellfeet flats.

On June 17, 1850, the overseers went to the “flats and commons” to see if there were any unpermitted cattle or horses. They found Reuben Arey had three cows and John Taylor had one. Arey was still actively farming in South Wellfeet. Mr. Taylor, Mr. Arey’s stepfather, was nearing the end of his life. He was a beloved Revolutionary War veteran and was still living in the Boyington home in the 1850 census.

The overseers also put up notices in Eastham and Wellfleet “forbidding any person cutting any grass or hay on the flats common areas adjacent to Lieutenant’s Island.” The Town then “sold the grass on all the lots that anyone claimed any interest in, so the Town now has the right of possession.”

Petitions against the law ensued, and Reuben Arey and others successfully had the law repealed by the legislature in 1851.

Lieutenant’s Island continued to be a South Wellfleet backwater until forty years later when its contemporary development commenced.


Durand Echevierra, A History of Billingsgate, Wellfleet Historical Society, 1991

Jeremy Dupertus Bangs, editor, The Town Records of Eastham During the Time of Plymouth Colony 1620-     1692, (Publication of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum, 2012)

Jeremy Dupertus Bangs, Indian Deeds Land Transactions in Plymouth County 1620-1691, Boston, 2002

U.S. Federal Census collection at

David Kew’s Cape Cod history site:

Barnstable Patriot (various) online archive:

Barnstable County Deeds available at

Newspaper account online at

Cape Codder available at

Cape Cod Community College – Nickerson Archives – Deeds and Papers.




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Early Diseases and an Epidemic in South Wellfleet

Recently, a medical historian, while commenting on the Ebola epidemic, said “Ebola is jerking us back to the nineteenth century.” Human illnesses are certainly one of the great divides between modern life and that of the 18th and 19th centuries. As I’ve looked at families in South Wellfleet and their daily lives, Illness and death are constant themes.

One of the first recorded epidemics in New England decimated the Wapanoags of southeastern Massachusetts just before the Pilgrims arrived. At one time it was thought to be smallpox, but more recent writers now think that it was bubonic or pneumonic plague, and some think it may have been Leptospirosis, another bacterial infection. Coastal natives had increasing contact with European fishermen, traders and would-be settlers for years. From 1617 to 1619, a devastating epidemic killed nearly all the native population. The Pilgrims used their cleared land in Patuxet (the place they later named Plymouth) – thanking God for making the land ready and available.

Smallpox was a dreaded disease in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Boston there were seven major smallpox outbreaks between 1721 and 1791. The development of vaccination had begun, but many were afraid to engage. I found a Boston census of those who had been vaccinated, dated in the 1820s – a sign that the government was attempting to eradicate this scourge.

There were a number of smallpox outbreaks on the Cape. In 1649, a smallpox epidemic with a concurrent outbreak of whooping cough hit Scituate, Massachusetts, and Barnstable on Cape Cod, killing so many children that the church fathers declared a “Day of Humiliation” on November 15, 1649. There is no reference to the disease in the Eastham Town records of the 17th century. However, in the 18th century, when recorded history is more available, there were outbreaks in Chatham in 1765-66, in Sandwich and Yarmouth in 1778, in Wellfleet in 1793, and Falmouth and Yarmouth in 1797. I found one record for a family named Darling who lived on Griffin Island in western Wellfleet and lost four children. They then left the town and moved to Maine, perhaps too heartbroken to stay in Wellfleet.

Many old Cape towns have smallpox cemeteries, separate burying places for those who had died from the disease. They were denied internment in the established churchyard as it was thought that the corpse could affect others.

In Wellfleet, there is such a cemetery on Bound Brook Island where Lombard family members are buried. It is assumed they were banned from the South Truro cemetery. Wellfleet writer Robert Finch recently wrote about another theory concerning the Lombards when he noticed that their death dates were not consistent with a single outbreak of disease. After his wife died of smallpox in 1859, Mr. Lombard placed her grave where he could see it, across the Bound Brook marsh from his farm, and then eventually he and his sons were buried there too.

There is a smallpox cemetery dating to the 19th century in Provincetown where a “pox house” existed. In Chatham, victims of the 1765 epidemic had to be buried in their backyards, and although some were moved later, there are smallpox cemeteries now where these families had lived.

Wellfleet historian Durand Echeverria wrote about the Wellfleet smallpox epidemic of 1746-48. He found references to it in old legislative records, particularly one for Samuel Smith, who apparently took care of the Indians in Billingsgate who died, and then petitioned for reimbursement of his expenses.

In his writing preserved by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Wellfleet’s 18th century Reverend Levi Whitman commented that “in 1772 a mortal fever carried off 40 citizens of Wellfleet.” I think that if it had been smallpox, he would have so named it. Of course there are lots of diseases that could cause a fever; this epidemic may have been cholera or typhoid.

Eventually, vaccination for smallpox was practiced on the Cape as elsewhere, and now as of 1977, smallpox has been eradicated world-wide. Nevertheless there is fear today that it could return as a weapon of bio-terrorism.

There’s one epidemic that I can definitely place in South Wellfleet. In 1816 there was a typhoid epidemic, also called spotted fever, affecting Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham. It worked its way through the population from late winter through the spring. Typhoid is a bacterial infection, and in earlier times was often transmitted by body lice. Medical historians theorize that the infected lice have more opportunity to bite in the colder winter and early spring months when clothing and bed linens were not removed so often. Fifty-two people lost their lives in Eastham, the town which seems to have been hit the hardest.

The disease also affected South Wellfleet. Death records early in the 19th century do not show the cause of death, nor do they provide a specific location within the town. However, I was able to connect a 1816 newspaper story about several deaths in Wellfleet to the 1816 records for the town, and then to the general location of the affected families.

A news report in the Boston Daily Advertiser said that the epidemic had hit “a Wellfleet small neighborhood at an alarming rate.” In the official Massachusetts records of deaths in Wellfleet for 1816 — a longer list than years just before and following – there are about 15 people that I can identify as strong possibilities for typhoid deaths. Their family names place them as South Wellfleet residents.

The January 1816 deaths recorded in Wellfleet are for three small children and infants, a common occurrence and with no reason to believe they were necessarily typhoid deaths. Then in February, there are two possible typhoid deaths, a Higgins and a Doane. March 1816 is the worst: Thomas Stubbs, age 16; Beriah Higgins, age 17; and Isaac Smith, age 17 – his father, John Smith, died in mid-June. Another Smith family lost a daughter, Sally Smith, age 18, and her brother, Hezekiah, age 20. Abigail Dill died in early March and her husband, John, in early April. They were an older couple; their son named his child born later that year “Abigail” for his mother. Seth Newcomb died; I believe he lived in Fresh Brook Village (part of South Wellfleet). John Gill died in late March. Captain Oliver Cromwell Lombard died in April of 1816, leaving a widow, Temperance Lombard, whose name appears in many South Wellfleet deeds.

In his book Truro Cape Cod, Land Marks and Sea Marks, Shebna Rich writes about the 1816 epidemic, quoting from one of the town ministers:

In the month of February, and the year 1816, an epidemic appeared in the town of Eastham in this county and proved very mortal. It was called by different names, as malignant fever, putrid fever, spotted fever, cold plague, etc. It extended from Brewster to Provincetown; in the latter place but lightly. It did not seem contagious; some that went freely among the ill continued well, while those that avoided the sick died. Its signs were pains, either in the head, breast, side, arms and legs, attended with chills. …Some lived four or five days and were in great distress. Those who lived over the seventh or ninth day generally recovered. It was melancholy times. The grave was opened daily to receive the dead. Two or three funerals in a day often took place.

Cholera was also recorded as a cause of death from time to time in Wellfleet death records, after mid-century when the records display the reason why people died, if it was known. This disease was often brought in on ships, and thus a concern in many ports. In 1832, the Wellfleet Board of Health ordered that a red flag be erected at Indian Neck and that “all vessels from a port where spasmodic cholera prevails, come at anchor due west from said flag and there lay until permission is given by a member of the Board of Health for them to proceed to shore.” There is no record I could find of how many years this procedure remained in place.

Another common disease in the 19th century was consumption, or tuberculosis, the more modern name. This disease is noted for many of the people listed in the Wellfleet death records. Sometimes it is called phthisis, the Greek name. In the 17th century it was given the name “White Plague.” I also noted the disease “scrofula,” an infection of the throat and lymph nodes around the neck, caused by tuberculosis. When the archaeological dig around Duck Creek in Wellfleet unearthed many historical artifacts in the mud, one of the medicine bottles found there was a concoction designed to heal scrofula: “Dr. Hough’s Anti-Scrofula” syrup. It was late in the 19th century when the cause of tuberculosis was discovered, and ways of treating it developed. A sanitarium for TB was established in Pocasset, near Bourne.

As I’ve researched life on the Cape, particularly family records from the 19th century, it’s

Childrens' gravestone, South Wellfleet Cemetery

Childrens’ gravestone, South Wellfleet Cemetery

common to find many childhood deaths, especially newborns and toddlers. As children started to grow, many were lost to childhood diseases that rarely occur today, since vaccines and antibiotics generally eradicated these diseases — at least in the developed countries. Over a number of years, South Wellfleet children no doubt died of diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles and whooping cough, but there was one particularly bad year, 1863.

I can place some of the children who died of diphtheria in 1863 in South Wellfleet. The

Scotto Fosters lost their son, Scotto Jr., 11 years old; Almira Newcomb died, also 11 years, along with her sister, Kate, 8 years. All of these children are buried in the South Wellfleet Cemetery. Benjamin Higgins (1.5 years old), Alice Kemp (one month) also died of diphtheria. South Wellfleet children George Bell (nine months) died of scarlatina and Collins S. Cole (2 years) of scarlet fever. Seth Pierce died of dysentery. Elmira Rich (2 years) died of whooping cough. Wellfleet was at the height of its 19th century population at this time, but the number of children who died seems particularly high that year.

Finally, while not a South Wellfleet family, the saddest case of an epidemic I found in

Little Scotto Foster's Grave

Little Scotto Foster’s Grave

Wellfleet was of the Captain Richard R. Freeman family, where “malignant scarlatina” killed five of his thirteen children in a single month’s time. One of the children who lived — also Richard R. Freeman — went on to a very successful life and became the owner of the shooting camp established in the 20th century in South Wellfleet.


The New York Times, October 19, 2014

Newspaper account online at

Barnstable County Deeds available at

David Kew’s Cape Cod History site:

Durand Echevierra, A History of Billingsgate, Wellfleet Historical Society, 1991

New England Historical and Genealogical Society, on-line publication of Mass. Vital Statistics

Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence, Third Edition (online)

Duck Creek Archaeological Dig paper:






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