EARLY MARITIME LIFE
In fact, one of the first recorded sea trips by the Pilgrims after settling at Plymouth, landed a group of them in their shallop on what would later be known as the Yarmouth Flats, when they came out to Cummaquid in July, 1621, to trade good will with the Indians for return of the lost boy. Young John Billington had strayed off the Plymouth Plantation five days earlier and was reputed to be among Cape Cod Indians. The Cummaquid clan proved helpful, the boy was found and in the course of the proceedings, the Pilgrims established friendly relations with Sachem Iyanough and his tribe, returning on various trips to trade for corn and beans. It could be said to be the beginning of the maritime commerce between Cape Cod and the mainland.
Although the Thachers, Howes and Crows and other early settlers were first attracted to Mattacheeset by the extensive marshes for grazing cattle and fertile fields for planting, they were soon looking seaward to enhance their livelihood.
They went handlining for cod and mackeral, and ``trying" blubber of stranded whales on the beaches for oil. The latter occupation became so rewarding that, impatient for cetaceans to wash ashore, they were soon putting off in small open boats to chase them. Occasional trading vessels from Europe anchored off the little harbor to exchange needles, nails, and gunpowder for hides, dries beef, salt fish and whale oil. Before long, Yarmouth folk, like other early Cape Codders, were building pinnace and shallops themselves, to get up to the burgeoning Plimouth and Boston ports. William Nickerson was disfranchised in 1656 for selling a boat, as well as land to the Indians.
Plymouth Colony Records for 1663 show more than 100 gallons of liquors invoiced to citizens of Yarmouth by May of that year--hinting not only at colonial drinking habits but at the brisk maritime trade, since such quantity could hardly have arrived by horseback. Voyaging to Boston musty have been alluring by 1671, when Mssrs. Hedge, Gray and Sturgis ignored local opprobrium and sailed there on the Lord's Day, for which they were fined 30 shillings.
The whale fishery became so lucrative that Cotton Mather took note of it, mentioning a cow, 55 feet long and its calf caught off Yarmouth. In 1690, the people of Nantucket engaged one Ichabod Paddock of Yarmouth to teach them the art of whaling, thus giving the Mattakeese citizens some proprietary pride in Nantucket's later fame in commerce and literature.
Moving into the 18th century, Yarmouth folk, like the other Cape Codders, were already becoming more a maritime than an agricultural people. This included, not only north shore residents, but Bakers, Matthews, Nickersons and Crowes who settled along Bass River and the ``South Sea", and soon developed a fishery in Nantucket Sound.
As the town's preeminent historian, Charles Francis Swift, long ago pointed out, those early settlers left no contemporary accounts of daily life, but it safe to assume that small docks were soon sprouting on every tidal creek and up and down Bass River, and that hammer and adze sounded constantly in the construction of small boats. No doubt, Edward Sturges at Hockanom found it easier to carry his corn in the shallop with an outgoing tide down Chase Garden river and along the coast to the mill at Stony Cove (now the Mill Pond) than to haul it with oxen overland.
Information courtesy of the Yarmouth Historical Society. Taken from Yarmouth's Proud Packets by Haynes Mahoney
The earliest vessels used in this coasting transport were probably simple skiffs for rowing and shallops, which might be rowed or sailed, ranging from a small open boat, to a half-decked vessel carrying up to twenty passengers. While the first lines were copied from old country types, the colonialists were soon adapting craft to their local waters. Little vessels for creeks, coves and near shore whaling carried one mast with a sprit sail; the larger shallops usually stepped two masts with gaff rigs, and were handy freight carriers as far as Boston.
During the 18th century, Cape Cod men turned ever more seaward, carrying produce, such as onions, corn and flax to Boston in their own vessels. Soon they built sturdy little schooners capable of coastal trading which brought them as far as the Caribbean, exchanging salt cod for rum.
Yarmouth seems to have been well represented in this maritime development as evidenced by Swift's report of a new schooner, the Perseverance, launched in the town in 1783. Unfortunately, a group of young folk took the boat out before ballast was installed and capsized off Sandy Neck. Anna Hawes, 17, sister of the Deacon, was drowned. It was also evident that Yarmouth sons were hiring on vessels from other towns. In 1789, a new fishing schooner owned by a Mr. Evans from Providence, R. I., was wrecked in a gale off Nantucket shoals with loss of the entire crew, five Hallets, a Miller and a Sears, all of Yarmouth.
By the end of the century, despite interruption by the Revolutionary War, the Bray family was launching sloops and schooners of 60 to 150 tons burthen into Chase Garden River.
Maritime life had developed briskly on the south shore also. Ship building began along Bass River in the late 1700s, especially by David Kelley, who owned large tracts of land along its west bank in the 1797, and a shipyard just north of the present bridge at Route 28, where he built the schooner, Rosa Wing. Zeno Kelley, who married the Quaker maiden for whom the vessel was named, later operated a shipyard on David's land, building a number of schooners, including the Benevolence, Edith, Friend and the Anthracophora.
Bass River teemed with life at the turn of the century. In 1802, according to the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol.III: ``There are here 21 vessels, one brig sails immediately for the West Indies, 10 coasters from 30 to 40 tons burden sail to Boston, Connecticutt, or the Southern States and thence to the West Indies. The other 10 vessels are fishermen, one of the 100 tons, the rest smaller ....one or two vessels are annually built in Bass River, chiefly on the western side." One great impetus to Cape Cod's maritime commerce developed from that primal substance which had become desperately scarce during the Revolution--salt. Beginning in 1776, an erstwhile Dennis sea captain, John Sears, developed a clumsy method of extracting salt from sea water through solar evaporation; quickly improved by other Cape Cod craftmen, including the use of windmills to pump sea water, salt works soon sprang up along Cape shores. By 1801, Dennis and Yarmouth produced 44,000 bushels and the manufacture was growing. It became a major export, requiring new schooners and sloops to keep up with the demand.
Jefferson's embargo on all trade with Britain in 1807, and the naval war of 1812-15 created new havoc in the American maritime service industry and was bitterly opposed in New England, especially Cape Cod. Even though the British often sheltered a fleet in Provincetown harbor, a few bold Cape Cod sailors ventured forth.
Captain Timothy Hallett of Yarmouth was headed for the Grand Banks fishing grounds in the schooner Victory when captured by the British. In exchange for some piloting services into Halifax, however, he managed to negotiate the release of his vessel and at least one crew member, his brother-in-law, and thus restored the vessel to its owner, Captain Ebenezer Howes.
Ann Maxtone-Graham, gracious daughter of a long line of Yarmouth and Dennis seafaring families, tells of one of her great-great-great uncles (either a Crowell or a Nickerson, she says) who took his schooner to Maine to pick up lumber for a new house during the War of 1812. On the return voyage, a British patrol vessel chased them until the prudent captain beached his schooner and with his crew retired to safety in the woods. The British set the vessel and cargo on fire and sailed off, whereupon the Yarmouth stalwarts returned, put out the fire and were soon underway again. The lumber was used to build ``The Red House" (although it was originally white) which stands today on Pleasant Street in South Yarmouth. In its attic can still be seen timbers charred by the British sailors in 1812.