Leaving the rocky, sandy soil of Plymouth behind in 1644, Nauset Plantation’s original seven families--49 people in all--hoped that sustained hard work ultimately would allow them to be self-sufficient. They had been granted for their settlement about 15 miles of the Outer Cape, defined by the Plymouth Court as “…lying between sea and sea, from Namskaket (in today’s Orleans) to the herring river brook at Billingsgate (Wellfleet).” However, the land still had to be purchased from the Native Americans living there.
So the settlers negotiated with several Nauset tribal leaders, and agreements soon followed thanks to the peaceful relations they shared. What was traded for the land is not known. For goodwill, the area now called Nauset Heights in East Orleans was reserved for the tribes who had grown corn and fished there for centuries. All agreements were verbal until 1666, when written deeds were exchanged.
In April of 1644, the founding Nauset Plantation families of Edward Bangs, J
osiah Cooke, John Doane, Richard Higgins, Thomas Prence, John Smalley and Nicholas Snow each had shares of the land, starting with the Snows in the southern-most tract (now much of Orleans). They began work immediately to build homes (crude at first), clear small plots of land and plant crops. Unlike Plymouth village, the settlers built their houses apart, on their own properties, probably because they felt safe doing so and wanted to avoid traveling each day to tend their crops.
The settlers also constructed a meeting house just north of Town Cove. Described as being about 20 feet square and having a thatched roof and slit windows for firing muskets, it served as a place of worship, seat of government and fort for protection if needed. The Federated Church in East Orleans is a direct "descendent" of that church, and timbers from the 1644 building later were used in a house that stands today on Canal Road.
Life in Nauset was very hard in those early years. While most of the men had previous trades (e.g., Bangs was a shipwright, Higgins and Smalley were tailors, and Snow may have been a carpenter or cooper), little of that mattered. All had to be farmers if their families were to survive. Fishing and hunting were secondary.
The “three sisters” of Native American tradition, corn, beans and squash, became the crops of choice, with beans climbing up the corn stalks and ground-covering squash (or pumpkin) vines providing weed control. Other root vegetables were grown, along with wheat, rye and barley, to various degrees of success. Potatoes would only mature to the size of hens’ eggs. Apple, pear and cherry seeds from England also were planted, but the trees would not bear fruit for several generations.
Corn continued to be the principal crop, not only for food but also for money, and remained for years the standard measure of wealth. To say that a family had “corn in the crib” was the equivalent of today’s “money in the bank.”
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