Cape Cod has a rich history, as it was one of the first settlements in North America by the British. At the start of the nineteenth century, Cape Cod was starting to make a name for itself as a vacation destination. By the twentieth century, city dwellers started building their own summer homes on Cape Cod as their own little escape from the day to day. As Cape Cod continued to gain in popularity, in 1961 John F. Kennedy saved a sprawling portion of coastline on the outer Cape from development by creating the Cape Cod National Seashore. Here is a little more of the history of beautiful Cape Cod and where some of your favorite Cape Cod town get its name.
Geography of Cape Cod
Cape Cod is made up of three different areas, the Lower and Outer Cape, the Mid Cape and the Upper Cape. The Upper Cape is located right over the bridge, situated closest to the mainland. Some of the towns in the Upper Cape are Falmouth, Woods Hole, Bourne and Sandwich. The Mid Cape is the whole middle section of Cape Cod. Some of the towns in the Mid Cape are Barnstable, Dennis and Yarmouth. The Lower and Outer Cape are the towns that stretch from the “elbow” of Cape Cod to the tip of the Cape. Some of the towns in the Lower and Outer Cape include Chatham, Orleans and Provincetown.
The Cape Cod town of Barnstable originally got its name from Barnstaple, Devon, England. The town was settled one year after Sandwich in 1638, making it the second town to be settled on Cape Cod. Bartholomew Gosnold first explored the town in 1602 and it was incorporated in 1639. Barnstable consists of 7 villages, which are Cotuit, Hyannis, Osterville, Centerville, Barnstable, Marstons Mills and West Barnstable. Barnstable is actually a city, not a town and it has the largest population of any other town on Cape Cod.
The town of Brewster got its name from Elder William Brewster, the Pilgrim Colony’s first religious leader of the Pilgrims. The town of Brewster’s way of life centered around the Stony Brook Grist Mill which in the late 17th century was the first water powered wool and grist mill. Originally a part of Harwich, Brewster separated itself from Harwich and officially became its own town when it was incorporated in 1803.
The native Americans that originally lived in Chatham called the area “Monomoit.” In 1606 Samuel de Champlain named Chatham Port Fortune. Over a decade later, travelers dubbed Chatham Sutcliffe’s Inlets. In 1664 Chatham was finally settled by the English and in 1712 when the town was incorporated. The town name was changed to Chatham which was chosen after Chatham, England. Four villages make up the town of Chatham, which include South Chatham, North Chatham, West Chatham and Chatham (CDC).
The town of Dennis was named after Rev. Josiah Dennis, who was the minister in the town. Originally considered a part of the town of Yarmouth, the town of Dennis was settled in 1639 and called the East Precinct. In 1793 Dennis was incorporated as its own town, separate from Yarmouth. The town’s livelihood came from fishing.
The town of Eastham was originally home to the Nauset tribe, and was later landed by Mayflower travelers on a hunting expedition. The Pilgrims from the Mayflower first met the Native Americans at First Encounter Beach in Eastham. It is believed that the town was named after Eastham in Cheshire, which is where John Doane, one of the first settlers was originally from. Another thought is that the town was named after “East Ham” a London suburb.
The town of Harwich got its name from another town in England and was settled around 1665. When the town was originally incorporated in 1694, it included what later would become Brewster. Brewster separated from Harwich in 1803 and became its own town. Harwich opened its first big cranberry production for commercial use in 1846 and is believed to be the birthplace of the cranberry industry.
Orleans was settled in 1644 and at that time referred to as the South Parish of Eastham. The town of Orleans was incorporated in 1797 and the originally inhabitants of the area, the Nauset tribe coexisted peacefully with the early settlers. As a thank you to France for their support during the American Revolution, the town of Orleans was named after Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans.
In 1620, the Pilgrims first touched down in Provincetown and that is where they composed the Mayflower Compact. The town was incorporated in 1727, and like Chatham went through a lot of name changes before finding its permanent name. Originally known as “meeshaum” and “chequocket” it was later known as Staten Hoek by the Dutch (which means place that is shaped like a hook). John Smith named the area later known as Provincetown as Milford Haven on one of his maps. It wasn’t until 1727 that the name Provincetown was chosen for the area by the Massachusetts General Court.
The town of Truro was named after Truro in Cornwall, United Kingdom by the English settlers. Native Americans called the land that became Truro Payomet after the Pamet River. The area was settled in the 1690’s and it was incorporated in 1709.
Wellfleet was originally called Billingsgate after a fish market in East London in the 1650’s. In 1763, the town of Wellfleet got its new name from the General Court after it was ruled that it should be separate from Eastham.
Where Did Your Favorite Cape Cod Town Get Its Name?
Cape Cod has a rich history, and every one of the towns has a story to tell. We hope you enjoyed getting to know the story of where your favorite town where some of your favorite Cape Cod towns get its name. Check out all that Cape Cod has to offer and visit, “Cape Cod Bakeries” and “Cape Cod Coffee Shops Open in the Off Season.” Still trying to get a handle on your new year resolution? Check out our blog, “Cape Cod Gyms and Fitness Centers.”