Just half of the 102
passengers and crew survived the first winter in Plymouth; the others had succumbed to harsh weather, illness and lack of food. The population increased in November, 1621, when the 36 passengers of the
arrived. Meager resources at Plymouth were further strained by 60 newcomers aboard the
and the cargo ship
, which came in June and July of 1623.
The choice of Plymouth as the site of the Pilgrim colony had always been a default location. The sandy, rocky soil was unsuitable for growing crops to sustain the population. So the colonists began moving outward as early as 1624, eventually founding Duxbury and Scituate and making those towns part of the Plymouth Colony. This expansion was of great concern to Governor William Bradford since it was contrary to the original Pilgrim concept of a single community where everyone lived, worked and worshipped together.
At about the same time, ships bankrolled by merchants of the Massachusetts Bay Company began arriving in Gloucester and Cape Ann. In 1630 alone, the number of Europeans coming to that area exceeded all newcomers to Plymouth in the 10 years following the
landing. Settlers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony provided the impetus for expansion to Cape Cod, moving first to Sandwich in 1637, then to Barnstable and Yarmouth.
Back in Plymouth, the colonists for some time had been considering a move of the entire settlement to a better location, perhaps to Cape Cod. Having first explored the Outer Cape in 1620, the colonists had made several other trips there in search of food, a lost boy, and to rescue passengers and crew of the wrecked
In 1643, a scouting party set out to identify a relocation site on the land Bradford called “Nawsett” in his letters. They likely travelled across Cape Cod Bay in a shallop, a shallow-water boat for up to 15 people that could be rowed or sailed. Impressed as they were by the arability of the land and availability of fresh water, they concluded it was not big enough to accommodate everyone. However, the seed planted by that expedition was enough to inspire seven of its men to make a bold decision.
The following year (1644), Thomas Prence, Nicholas Snow, John Doane, Richard Higgins, Josiah Cooke, Edward Bangs and John Smalley returned with permission from the Plymouth Colony Court to negotiate with the Nauset tribes and settle on the land. Soon joined by their families, all 49 people were the founders of Nauset Plantation. It was the first settlement on Cape Cod to be born exclusively from the original Plymouth Colony. In 1646, the Plymouth Court granted township status to Nauset and, five years later, changed its name to Eastham.
This is the second in a series of articles based on a new exhibition, “The Land Called Nawsett,” being curated at The Centers for Culture and History in Orleans to honor the Native Americans, the first European adventurers, the founding families and life in the early settlements of the Outer Cape in the 1600s. The exhibition is scheduled to open at the Meetinghouse Museum later this year.