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Thursday, April 16, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Deacon John Doane




     In 1644 seven men and their families left Plymouth for Cape Cod. They arrived in an area known as Nauset for the tribe of Native Americans that lived there. The town they founded was called Eastham and at the time included present-day Orleans and Wellfleet. The men who became the town’s founders included: Thomas Prence, Nicholas Snow, Edward Bangs, Richard Higgins, Josiah Cook, and John Smalley. The final founder was Deacon John Doane, my 9th-great grandfather, and this his story and legacy on Cape Cod and in America.

     The man who would be Deacon has beginnings shrouded in mystery and obscured by time. The Doane Family Association of America has been working for decades to discover John Doane’s English roots. The story of his beginnings with the highest probability is as follows.

     John Doane (spelled Done by the man himself) was possibly born in the small village of Alvechurch in the Bromsgrove district of Worcestershire, England, on May 28, 1592. He was the son of Nicholas Done, and cousin to another John Done, this one a ‘whitebaker’ (baker of bread) from London.

Alvechurch, Worcestershire, England where John Doane was likely born.
(Lee J. Andrews/Creative Commons)


     The young John Doane likely found work as a cordwainer, a shoemaker that crafted footwear out of new leather. He likely moved to London in the time leading up to his departure for America.

     In 1628 a Bill of Complaint was brought against John Doane and others by Agnes Done, the widow of his cousin John the whitebaker, in the Court of Chancery. The complaint claimed that those named were trying to defraud Agnes Done out of her inheritance from her husband’s will.

     John Doane appeared in court on April 30, 1630 requesting that the estate of his cousin John the whitebaker be awarded to him. He was granted his request on May 6th after Agnes was excommunicated for failure to respond to a summons to attend the court.

     On August 10, 1630 the ship ‘Handmaid’ set sail for America likely with John Doane, his wife Ann, and eldest daughter Lydia aboard. This was the last of the Pilgrim ships to leave for America during the time of the Puritan Great Migration from 1620-1640. The ship arrived in Plymouth in October after 12 weeks at sea.

     Upon his arrival in the new world it was apparent that John Doane was seen as an important man. He was one of the few who bore the title of ‘Mr.’ which was a rarity the Pilgrims did not bestow upon those deemed unworthy. In Plymouth the General Court, comprised of all the freemen in the colony, was in charge of the laws and government. The men of highest rank were elected to the Council of Assistants to the Governor. The first records of the General Court appear from 1633. Governor was Edward Winslow and the Council was made up of seven men: Capt. Myles Standish, William Bradford, Stephen Hopkins, William Gilson, John Alden, John Howland, and John Doane. Doane was also made a Deacon of the Plymouth church in 1634. As he preferred that role to the role of government council his change in title began the Plymouth policy of separating Church and State.

     During his early years in Plymouth John Doane and Ann had four more children: Abigail, John, Daniel, and Ephraim. As the 1630’s ended there was a weariness by some families of life in Plymouth. A few families even wished to move the entirety of the church to Cape Cod, specifically the Nauset area where the Pilgrims had originally landed in 1620.  

     A scouting mission was held to find out about the potential sustainability of a colony at Nauset. It was determined that it would not be possible for a large population to move there. In the end seven families, mentioned earlier, chose to leave Plymouth for the relative unknown of a new, smaller settlement. Deacon John Doane, who had only recently built a house on present-day Wapping Road in Kingston, was among those who departed Plymouth in the spring of 1644. The highly influential Doane was more than 50 years old when he left Plymouth.

John Doane's house on Wapping Rd., Kingston c.1644
(Public Domain)


     Nearly 50 settlers, more than 30 of them children, sailed across Cape Cod Bay. They purchased a large tract of land from the Native Americans upon which to begin. The small number of adults at first made it wise to begin the settlement as one large unit. Deacon John Doane and his family lived in a small home on 200-acres of farmland around Salt Pond extending to present-day Pinecrest Drive in Eastham. The home was located a few hundred feet east of what is known today as Doane Rock.

The site of the Doane Family homestead in Eastham.
(Christopher Setterlund)


     Nauset was incorporated as a town in 1646. It officially became known as Eastham in 1651. The following year land in the town was made available to individuals after being one large lot for eight years. During the formative years of Eastham Doane’s duties were similar to those he held in Plymouth. He was Deacon of the Church, Deputy to the Court, as well as Selectman. Doane was also part of committees which lay out land boundaries and settled land disputes.

     In the mid-1660’s Deacon John Doane seemingly retired from town-related duties as he was by then in his mid-70’s. The Deacon’s children had all grown and began cultivating their own lives. Daughter Lydia married Samuel Hicks in 1645 and would end up living in Dartmouth by the 1660’s. Son John married Hannah Bangs and remained close to his father. Daniel married and moved south of Town Cove, succeeding his father as Deacon of the Eastham Church. Ephraim married Mercy Knowles and moved north to what would become Wellfleet. Daughter Abigail remained with her parents, likely becoming caretaker of her elderly father after her mother’s death.

     Deacon John Doane crafted his will in May 1678 among other things he deeded his home and the surrounding 12 acres to daughter Abigail. He died February 21, 1685 just shy of his 93rd birthday. A few years after his passing Abigail married Samuel Lothrop and moved to Norwich, Connecticut. John Doane was laid to rest in the Cove Burying Ground in Eastham. His exact resting place is unknown though so in 1907 his descendants placed a six-ton boulder adorned with a commemorative plaque close by to the grave of his son Daniel.

The boulder at Cove Burying Ground in Eastham
(Christopher Setterlund)


     The legacy of Deacon John Doane is immense in terms of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and New England history. His fingerprints were all over the early years of Plymouth and more so the early years of Eastham. The homestead where he first lived on Cape Cod is marked with signs and monuments. Many Cape Codders with long ties to the peninsula can trace their history back to Deacon John Doane one of early Cape Cod’s most influential people.


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