Tuesday, November 24, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Pilgrim Landing 400th Anniversary

    It’s Thanksgiving time again. That means turkey, football, and family for most. However all of these blessed events and traditions would not be possible if not for a group of English settlers known as the Pilgrims. 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower on this continent.

    The collection of 102 passengers aboard the famed ship is most commonly connected with their landing in the future Plymouth Colony; however they have a large connection to Cape Cod. It is on the Cape where the Pilgrims first walked and explored.

    First off a little bit of the journey of the Mayflower. It was the initial intention of the Pilgrims to land somewhere in present-day Northern Virginia. The ship was to be accompanied to the New World by a vessel named Speedwell. This ship was cursed it seemed as even on its way to meet the Mayflower in Southampton in July 1620 it began leaking. In fact the pair of vessels departed twice from England only to have to return to port when the Speedwell began leaking. Finally on September 6th the Mayflower left Plymouth, England to cross the Atlantic Ocean. 66 days later the Mayflower found land and docked. However it was not Northern Virginia, it was Cape Cod, more than 400 miles north. These locations that follow are spots where the Pilgrims explored on the Cape and can still be explored today.

1. Pilgrims’ First Landing Park, Commercial St., Provincetown - On November 11, 1620 the Mayflower circled around the tip of Provincetown and docked in Provincetown Harbor. The first steps on shore by the Pilgrims are commemorated here at the rotary at the west end of Commercial Street. There is a plaque which celebrates this moment of not just American but World History as well. The location was discovered via a map in the 1622 book Mourt's Relation written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford. It was a firsthand account of the landing and thus the map is seen to be accurate.

First Landing Park

2. Pilgrim Monument, High Pole Hill Rd., Provincetown – This granite tower was erected in 1910 overlooking the harbor. It is 252-feet tall and stands 350-feet above sea level. The view from the top is simply incredible. The first stone of the tower was laid by then President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907 and is a very fitting tribute to the colonists. Although not directly tied to the Pilgrims landing it is still an impressive attraction and one of the best known locations on Cape Cod.

3. Pilgrim Spring Trail, Pilgrim Heights Rd., Truro - This trail leads through the woods out to a breathtaking scenic overlook of the dunes and ocean from a raised vantage point. From the overlook it is a quick walk to a plaque telling the tale of the Pilgrims’ first drink of fresh water in the new land. On November 16, 1620 an exploring party came upon a spring from which they drank. There is a small pool there to this day but it is not certain if this is the very same one since it was 400 years ago.

4. Pilgrim Pond, Pond Rd., Truro - It was here that a group of sixteen Pilgrims, led by Myles Standish and William Bradford, spent their second night on the shores of Cape Cod. It is an unassuming piece of history with a small park complete with a couple of benches along the water. The best view of the pond is a short walk from the park but overall it is difficult to see much of the water. However it is still a marvelous chapter of the Pilgrims’ story on the Cape.

Pilgrim Pond 

5. Corn Hill/Corn Hill Beach, Corn Hill Rd., Truro - It was near the beach on November 16, 1620 that the same group of sixteen Pilgrims purportedly came upon a Wampanoag stash of corn and fresh water which they took and used to sustain their people. The physical Corn Hill stands upwards of one hundred feet above the beach. The views are somewhat limited due to the homes which dot the area atop the hill. It is possible to drive the road and gaze down at Little Pamet River to the south to get a taste of the amazing panoramic scenery.

6. First Encounter Beach, Samoset Rd., Eastham - The ‘first encounter’ the name speaks of is one between the group of sixteen Pilgrims, led by Myles Standish and William Bradford, and the Nauset Tribe of the Wampanoags. On December 8, 1620 the two groups met along the beach here. Earlier European explorers had visited and even captured members of the Nauset Tribe leaving them with rightful bad memories of white travelers. Thusly the ‘first encounter’ consisted of arrows being slung from the Nauset Tribe and musket fire being directed by the Pilgrims. In the end both sides retreated.

The plaque at First Encounter Beach

As a result of this encounter the Pilgrims decided to look elsewhere for a settlement fearing more hostile interactions with local natives. Within days the Mayflower set sail across Cape Cod Bay and landed at Plymouth on December 16, 1620 where the new settlement began. Cape Cod would not see another attempted settlement until 1628 when Plymouth Colony established the Aptucxet Trading Post in present-day Bourne. It was created to allow settlers to trade with local natives and traveling Dutch sailors. That was a trading post and not a village though. In 1637 the town of Sandwich was formed and gave the Cape its first true settlement.

In five weeks on Cape Cod the Pilgrims explored much of the bay side coast from Provincetown down through Eastham. Their footprints are all over the land and their influence is as well. Take a few moments this Thanksgiving season to walk where they walked and feel the history and their importance all around you.


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