The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Cape Cod

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Edition of 1879. See also Cape Cod on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CAPE COD, the sandy peninsula extending into the Atlantic ocean which forms the S. E. extremity of Massachusetts, and is coextensive with Barnstable county. This tongue of land, commencing at the line between Plymouth and Sandwich, extends E. about 35 m., its width beyond Sandwich rarely exceeding 8 m. It then bends N. and gradually N. W., extending about 30 m. further. The curve still continues around to the W., S., and E., enclosing the fine landlocked harbor of Provincetown. This latter portion does not average half the width of the former, and is greatly indented by bays, both on the outer and inner sides. The northern extremity is called Race point. On this there is a revolving light 155 ft. above the level of the sea, in lat. 42° 3' 40" N., lon. 70° 14' 48" W. There are many other lighthouses upon the cape, and the so-called Cape Cod light is on the Clay Pounds (highlands), 200 ft. above high-water mark, in lat. 42° 2' 24" N., lon. 70° 4' 18" W. This is a fixed light. Cape Cod bay is the body of water included in the arm of the cape and opening into Massachusetts bay on the north.—Cape Cod was discovered May 15, 1602, by Bartholomew Gosnold. To the “mighty headland,” as he called it, he gave the name of Cape Cod, from the quantity of codfish taken off its shores. His people landed and spent a day wandering about, the first authenticated visit of whites upon the coast of Massachusetts. It continued to be known to the occasional voyagers of this period; but on Nov. 9, 1620, it was made memorable by the arrival of the Mayflower, which brought to New England the first company of permanent settlers, and the next day cast anchor in the harbor of Provincetown. Here, on the 11th, before the company disembarked, was drawn up the famous compact by which they became a body politic, subject “to such government and governors as should by common consent” be chosen. At that time the extremity of the cape does not appear to have been so entirely destitute of agricultural interest as it has since become. The pilgrims found on the shores patches where the Indians had planted corn, and obtained supplies of the grain. Mention is also made of their bringing back to the vessel a boat load of juniper. The lower portion of the cape is for the most part a waste of barren sand hills, covered here and there with a little beach grass; among them are found numerous ponds, by the sides of which a little arable land is occasionally obtained; and along the shores are extensive salt-water marshes. Toward the head of the cape pitch-pine and oak trees of several species form extensive forests, in which the pines predominate. The cape is more destitute of rocky formations than of trees. Not a ledge raises itself anywhere above the sand, nor is one met with in sinking wells, until passing in a northerly direction beyond the bounds of Plymouth. Bowlders are abundant, and often of great size, particularly near the head of the cape. The depth of sand is nowhere known; about Provincetown it is kept in motion by the winds, and its hills are shifting dunes. The curved form of the extremity suggests the possibility of its having been produced by the prevalence and preponderance of the N. E. winds, the heavy surf rolling up the sands upon the shore, and the winds moving them gradually toward the S. W.—Though a sandy district, the cape is no barren waste; its numerous bays furnish many harbors, and about these are thriving villages which are the nurseries of seamen, and have furnished the masters of many of the best ships of the American merchant service.