Cape Cod - Three Centuries Of Population
( Originally Published 1920 )
The problem of population ties itself up in endless complications. Soil and mine, harbors and highways, world position, human invention and duration of occupation are all involved. The wealth of the soil is much but can hardly be said to control. If one doubts this let him think of the United Kingdom, or of Belgium, or the States of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, none of these raising more than a fraction of its food. Other resources count, particularly if there be stores of coal and iron, and other materials which invite hand or machine craft. Situation, harbors and roads may be such as to favor trade. Thus all resources and conditions have a share in determining whether the people will be scattered and few, or compact and many.
One might compare the United Kingdom and Norway—about equal in square miles—with forty-five million over against two mil-lion of human beings. Perhaps the Norwegian is as enterprising as the Briton, and he has plenty of harbors and a fair situation. But there is not much underground material that is useful and hardly a decent county area of good soil in the whole kingdom. The Orient is different, with dense population, rich soil, and little manufacture save of simple home necessities. Natural wealth is large, but except as to soils, is little used, while the age of these countries makes western Europe look young.
The development of the Old Colony is favored or hindered by what goes on in New York or the Mississippi Valley. The human factor after all may outweigh the rest—what has been bred into a race, what they bring to their land, may be more than all that their environment brings to them.
The circuit of Cape Cod Bay has its full share of these enigmas. Some things are plain enough—that the soils are poor, that the mineral wealth is almost nothing, and that the situation, so far as the great world is concerned, is good. The harbors used to be good, but human invention has made over our sailing contrivances and made most of the harbors poor, nature helping here and there in the process. The prairies have drawn off the Cape farmer. The trout of the Great Lakes and the salmon of the Columbia River have discouraged the fisherman, and the population of the Cape has diminished.
But the Cape keeps its long and glorious shoreline, its air is as pure and life giving as it ever was, and modern skill will make the most of its soils. Then the richer interior, in the summer furnace of a continental climate, be-thinks itself of the Cape and goes back to it for something better than wheat, or coal or iron, or any other form of wealth. The Cape has resources after all—will these riches, appealing to the higher needs of a filling continent, build up the old shore towns, occupy the foreland with intensive tillage and send its population curve upward in the coming decades? Such are the questions, but they are not answered here.
The population of Barnstable County had been going down for about twenty-five years, when, in 1896, the Massachusetts legislature provided means for a thorough study of all resources and conditions, in the hope of re-peopling this great outpost of the Common-wealth. The result is that a hundred pages are buried in a state document, which tell more about the real Cape than all that has since been written of the land and its people.
Barnstable County went continuously up in the number of its people for nearly a century, from the year 1765 to 186o. At the earlier date the county had a little more than twelve thousand inhabitants, and, at the opening of the Civil War, the number had risen to thirty-six thousand. The next fifty years saw an unbroken decline, but the falling off was less rapid than the earlier increase.
The towns have their own interesting stories of rising and falling. Provincetown grew in numbers from 1776 to 1890 and since the latter date has been fluctuating. The town has nothing of much worth in its lands but it does have position, some shipping, a worthy remnant of fishing, the summer visitors, and the artist colony.
Truro grew from 1800 to 1850, and the latter decades of that half-century saw the. population rising rapidly. It was the generation that saw the culmination of the shipping and fishing, giving life with the help of well-tilled farms to more than two thousand people. Then the decline set in, to 1910, and another federal numbering will soon tell whether it has gone on until today. Marine life is almost completely gone, save for one freezing plant and a few weirs; the use of the land is far less than it was, and the summer industry has not yet made up for lost relations with the sea.
Truro goes with Eastham, Brewster and Mashpee in each having less than seven hundred people. Comparing in another way Truro stands with Chatham, Yarmouth and Wellfleet, for these four are the only towns that have suffered a continuous loss of people since 1865. All have had great marine prosperity and have suffered from its decline.
The town of Falmouth has been increasing its numbers in most of the recent decades. The reason is easy to find, in the villages of Falmouth and Woods Hole, and in the unbroken chain of summer places which follow the Falmouth shores of Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay. Most, or many, of the summer people do not, indeed, count in the Falmouth census, but they make it both possible and necessary that others should live there who are counted.
Barnstable's decline from about 1865 was arrested about 189o, and the town has shown marked increases in later years, due to summer life in its several centers of resort. Barnstable is the town of two shores and fourteen post offices, and its bays and lakes have had magnetic influences. People need not, unless they are surveyors, selectmen or antiquarians, pay much heed to town lines, and may have for-gotten or not have known that in this one town are Barnstable, West Barnstable, Centerville, Cotuit, Osterville, Marston's Mills, Craigsville and Hyannis.
The density of population is a friendly topic for statisticians and geographers. The word has a technical flavor, but anybody, it seems, might have an interest in the question of how many people live on a square mile, and how many might live there. In very truth, that problem translated into terms of food and elbow room, too often creates wars and dictates peace, and lies at the root of our most irritating modern questions.
Barnstable County has a land surface of four hundred and nine square miles, and her population for each mile in 1910 was 67.8. This will mean more if we add the fact that Massachusetts as a whole had 418.8 people to the square mile. People on the average mile of the Bay State are six times as many as on an average mile of the Cape.
The only counties that had fewer people for the space were Dukes (Island of Martha's Vineyard) with 42.1; Nantucket with 58.1; and Franklin with 62.6. Dukes and Nantucket, in sea and soil and in isolation, are off the same piece with Barnstable, while Franklin is a rural inland county whose largest center of population is Greenfield. Plymouth County had in 1910 a density of 213.8. But this county has the town centers of Plymouth and Middleboro, and the large manufacturing city of Brockton. The greater part of Ply-mouth County, with its glacial wilderness, is akin to Barnstable in the wide spacing of its people.
The Old Colony, or that part of it which lies around the Bay, is, if we except the outer islands, more nearly true to its ancient type of people than any other part of Massachusetts. The three counties of Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket have fewer foreign born, relative to their total population, than any other counties of the state, Barnstable being the lowest on the mainland. Barnstable had in 1900 a little more than one in ten whose place of birth was across the seas, and in 1910 the fraction rose to 13.6 in a hundred, making in actual numbers 3,769.
Plymouth County had less than one-fifth of foreign-born residents and yet it contains the city of Brockton. If we consider the foreign-born people outside of the big shoe town, they stand in much smaller proportion. Taking Plymouth County, as a whole, although it runs up close to the great mixtures in and around Boston, it has relatively fewer foreign-born people than any county of the Connecticut Valley or the Berkshire region except the county of Franklin.
Two fifths of the people of foreign birth in 1910, were Portuguese, some from Portugal and some from the Atlantic Islands, in all more than fifteen hundred. Less than a hundred were French Canadian, with about two hundred and fifty English and seventy-four Scotch. These facts show how little alien is a considerable section of the group that is named foreign. There were also about three hundred from Ireland, about four hundred Italians, and not far from two hundred and fifty Finns. Greece sent only two, Austria four, Hungary seven, and Russia thirty-two, while of Turks there were eight. It is plain enough that this corner of Massachusetts has not yet any baffling problems of Americanization, for there is no element of any numbers that is not capable of ready assimilation. Here is one of the most American parts of America.
The conditions thus recited do not, however, nearly represent the full influences of the Portuguese in peopling the Cape, for large numbers of native born had one or both parents of that blood. The greatest concentration of these swarthy people is in Provincetown, where dark faces are common, where Portuguese names are on many signs, and where half or nearly half of the population is of this origin.
The representative of a New York newspaper went to Provincetown not long ago, and declared that the old American families there were anxious about the coming census, fearing it might show that the old stock was outnumbered by the Portuguese. According to this scribe, most of the Portuguese at this end of the Cape are from the Azores, and they are admitted to be good citizens, and to have been good and patriotic fighters in the late war.
But, however much the Silvas and Dutras and Enoses are respected, the descendants of the Puritans do not want a Portuguese Board of Selectmen. It would break the order of the centuries on the Cape. The same sort of feeling moved a good lady of the town who a few years ago was having her daughter tutored in the summer vacation in order to get her out of a school in which she was the only American of the old stock. Most of the Portuguese are fishermen but, as the signs show, a number are in the business of the town. They have in considerable numbers mingled in the population of the adjoining town of Truro.
Many of the immigrants of the larger groups, English, Irish and Portuguese, have been attracted by fishing. In addition to this motive, there were cheap homes to be had in a region from which the younger native population was moving out in search of larger opportunities. The Portuguese have also added in a special way to the industrial life of the Cape by their skill in tilling the soil, especially in the raising of vegetables and fruit.
All the towns where many Portuguese live have shown much progress in production from the fields. This is true even in Provincetown where soils are scanty, but here the Portuguese bent is mainly for fishing. The Portuguese women of Provincetown are not to be overlooked, for they are known as efficient in service, skillful with the needle, and they are not disposed to let the berries of the swamps and dunes go to waste.
Many of these immigrants, seeking relief from overcrowding and feudal constraint at the old homes in the Azores or in other Portuguese lands, have entered America through the port of New Bedford. If they were not caught by the millwork of that busy center, it was easy to arrive upon the cheap lands of the Cape. These fresh comers are known as thrifty and laborious, and they make good citizens.
No steam or sailing vessels have made regular trips between New Bedford and the Azores since the year 1908. Some small sailing vessels ply between the Cape Verde Islands and New Bedford, and bring passengers on their return to this shore. The trade was discontinued during the submarine raids of the war, but has been resumed. The ships are small, and the immigrants are few in numbers at the present time.
Some of the "Americanos" go back to end their days in the Azores, and they seem to be much preferred there to the "Brazileiro." A Lisbon paper many years ago rehearsed the virtues of the Portuguese who had put himself under American training. He was strong in body, good and sympathetic, ready for work and devoted to his family. He had brought culture into his home, and carried back to his native island the patriotic impulses and hopes that he had gained in the United States.
The Brazileiro was branded as lazy, pleasure loving, and untrue to family and religion, as vain, boastful and overreaching. It is not re-mote to credit his Puritan neighbors and the pressure of the New England environment, with the virtues of the Americanos, making due allowance for the exuberance of the Latin journalist.
The recent immigration, mainly of the last twenty years, has concentrated more especially in the town of Falmouth. There are two classes of these people. The Bravas, or black Portuguese, come from the Atlantic Islands and are said to be a cross of African negroes and Portuguese exiles. The white Portuguese hold themselves quite above the blacks, and have no intercourse with them unless it be of employers with the employed. These newer immigrants have not yet come into American notions of womankind, and the consequence is that the wives and children, even young children, do long days of work in the fields. These people have brought from the religious connection of the old country little loyalty, but some measure of superstition.
The new Portuguese have not only gone to Falmouth, but especially to the eastern parts of the town, the whites being at East Falmouth and the blacks at Waquoit. One of the good ministers of Falmouth has in recent years given himself with true zeal and self-sacrifice to the modernizing and Americanizing of these people, employing night schools and other means of enlightenment. In the district school at East Falmouth in the winter of 1918-1919, there were a hundred and eleven children of whom nine were American. All the rest were the offspring of foreign-born Portuguese parents.
Some nine hundred make up the Portuguese count in these eastern parts of Falmouth. A few have made much progress and have be-come excellent citizens. Some Portuguese are credited with an intent to control town affairs within a period of seven years. They are mostly on the soil, but a few are carpenters and painters. In 1918 it was a Portuguese girl who took first honors in the Falmouth High School.
The new farmers are working northward in the forests lying toward Hatchville in Falmouth. Some of the homes are very decent bungalows, especially to be found on the road north from Teaticket. There is one settlement of nine houses, of which eight are Portuguese, and only one, the worst of all, the property of a native. The Portuguese are rapidly acquiring motor cars, which, with fair roads on the outwash plain, opening to the trunk highway of the south shore, are useful for marketing. There is a considerable group of Portuguese in the town of Barnstable. A dozen houses will be found in the scrub, not far from Hyannis, on the road leading to Yarmouth Port.
Some Portuguese have drifted eastward into Harwich and Chatham, thus giving the Cape an invasion at both ends; an earlier incursion from the north and a later one from the southwest. The Portuguese women of Harwich make a season's round which not only fills their pockets but flings an interesting sidelight on modern Cape activities. They begin in the spring with picking the May flower, the arbutus, with which this sandy corner of Massachusetts is blessed. This they peddle, to a reward of forty dollars apiece it may be. Then our hardworking and thrifty woman goes to Falmouth and nets a hundred dollars in the strawberry harvest. She returns home for the blueberry season, and when these are done the cranberry gathering is on and autumn has come.
Some of the men get jobs at the aviation camp in Chatham, others work on the railroad, and the middle autumn requires considerable work on the bogs, after the berries are harvested. The labor problem does not much distress the Portugee—he raises his own working force, feeds, clothes and does not fail to em-ploy them. A boy of this race went astray and was haled to Barnstable Court. The judge asked if his father was present. He arose among a crowd of his countrymen, and to the question how many children have you—said, twenty-three. I did not ask your age, rejoined the magistrate—how many children have you? Twenty-three, was again replied, and none went wrong but this one. Take the lad, said the judge-and see if you can make a good boy of him. So it appears that the Cape will have people, but they will not all be Mayflower descendants.
Italians have not made much way on the Cape, but form a small colony in Sandwich, where they live in the old houses around the abandoned glass works. They work chiefly in the Keith Car Works at Sagamore and go thither by bicycles, jitneys and the trains. The Finn Colony is in the western environs of Barnstable village, where these people raise farm and garden crops, dig clams, and now, like the Italians, seek the more ample returns of shop work in Sagamore. The Finns continued to come until the opening of the war.
The foreigner has not made much impression on the life around Cape Cod Bay. If there be exceptions they are found in the shop neighborhoods of Plymouth and Sagamore, on the farms of Falmouth and in the fishing industries of the lower Cape. The newcomers have not made enough progress to take any appreciable part in the government of the towns. Falmouth, for example, has its thousand Portuguese, more or less, but the roll of its town officers points to an astonishing maintenance of the ancient traditions.
The list of officers and committeemen in Falmouth for a recent year contains about a hundred and thirty names. The designations of the various committees are of the pure flavor of old New England. We find a herring committee, surveyors of wood, fence viewers, field drivers, surveyors of lumber, public weighers and a committee for the care of public wells. One from west of the Berkshires has to have some of these enigmas solved for him, but he can well imagine all sorts of arbitrations and adjudications of neighborly or unneighborly differences of opinion.
This list of a hundred and thirty names in Falmouth does not include a single name that strikes one as foreign, and they are nearly all of British origin. Only one or two have distinctly Biblical names. This would be different if we were to follow the records back. Even in 1872 the list has a Meltiah, a Job, a Zaccheus, an Ezekiel, a Jabez and a Joshua.
The legislation of the town meetings shows a survival of old ways and thoughts in the official life. Among the "articles" in the report of the town meeting of 1917 is this—" To see if the town will vote to restrain horses, neat cattle and swine from running at large within the limits of the town the year ensuing; voted that they be so restrained." "To see if the town will vote to sell the herrings from one or more of its rivers," etc. Then follow the various regulations of the herring catch that were voted.
If there can be such a thing as a cheerful burial place it is the modern cemetery of Falmouth village. Seen in an August Sunday morning, it joined in perfect blending the loveliness of nature with simple art and gentle memory. It is a natural forest, oaks and a few pines, open to the sun which floods the silky green of the turf, the brilliancy gently toned by the shadows of the trees. The lots are in low terraces, and the monuments and headstones are modest and simple.
The names on these stones taken at random are a perfect record of Americanism, or if you please, of the Anglo-Saxon blood. Here are the names—Swift, Bourne, Baker, Pierce, Clark, Lawrence, Walker, Davis, Thayer, Phinney, Williams, Spencer, Turner, Waters, Gifford, Jenkins, Hatch, Nye, Fish, Crosby, Robinson, Wright, Hamblin, Sanford. These names in their silence are vocal of old Falmouth and the old Cape, and they show too, modem as this God's acre is, how the old life is pre-served in the new, as the third century comes to its end.
In the thin volume which records the doings at the two hundredth anniversary of Falmouth are given fourteen names of those who landed here in 1660, which were still here at the time of the bicentennial. Of the fourteen, five are living names in Falmouth today. The five names are Jenkins, Hinckley, Hatch, Robinson and Hamblin. For. a century and a half nearly every Falmouth family was represented on the ocean. To-day the roll call would reach far over the continent but the heart of the older life still remains in the town which gave it birth.
Mashpee in all its history probably never , had as many as four hundred inhabitants and has always had a smaller count than any other town of the Cape. Someone has volunteered the wise opinion that the town did not develop because of its remote situation. It is hardly to be called far away, however, for it has its bit of the Vineyard Sound bays and shores, and is crossed by the main road from Falmouth to Chatham. It has its share of soil and more than its part of beautiful lakes and running waters.
The limitations of Mashpee have always been in its people. Here the remnants of a once widespread Indian population were gathered. Here good men sought to convert, educate, and uplift them, and bad men crowded them off their lands, and took advantage of them. It is the old story of the ultimate submergence of every lingering bit of the red race.
Richard Bourne and his noble successors, who devoted lifetimes to the salvation of their little flock around Mashpee Lake, and counted with joy the number of praying Indians, might have a shiver of disappointment, could they see the woods and streams and scattered homes and people of Mashpee to-day. We are told that peacefulness reigns there, where no pure-blooded Indian has lived in many long years. The infiltration of negro and Portuguese dark blood, has produced what to the casual comer would not seem to be other than a real community of Africans. No doubt the truth as to Mashpee culture is somewhere in the mean, for the Mashpee combination 'is not exactly a theme for lyrical fervor, and yet it is on the whole a respectable community of dark-skinned farmers and laborers who return at night to rather primitive houses, and do the best that less than three hundred limited people can do, to keep moving the machinery of a New England town.
Two hundred years ago Harvard College was made the trustee of a fund from an English benefactor, and to this day the college annually pays over the income of the endow ment for the support of the Mashpee Church. Other influences from the great institution at Cambridge are near enough in the summer months to shed their light upon this dark people, in whose domain the summer sun is as glorious as anywhere on the Cape, and the winter cold is often as pronounced and invigorating as in the Berkshires or the Green Mountains.
The population of the Cape has sent out its full share of distinguished sons into the world. Nathaniel Gorham, President of the Continental Congress and signer of the federal Constitution, was descended from Captain John Gorham of Barnstable. The Otis family having first settled in Hingham, John Otis, Senior, and John Otis, Junior, removed to Barnstable and built near the Great Marshes the home-stead where several generations of Otises made their home. A number of men of this line gained distinction in Massachusetts and in the nation. James Otis, "pioneer of the American Revolution," was born in the Barnstable farm-house in 1725. Harrison Gray Otis, whose life has recently been written by one of his descendants, Dr. Samuel E. Morrison of Harvard University, was born in Boston in 1765, but he, with some members of the family, took refuge in the old Cape homestead in the troublous times that beset Massachusetts in the opening months of the Revolution.
Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw, and Professor John G. Palfrey, the orator at the Barnstable celebration in 1839, were both of Barnstable lineage. William Everett, the distinguished headmaster of the Quincy school was a great-grandson of Nathaniel Gorham. Among well-known living persons are the Swifts of the great Chicago packing houses, whose forbears were residents of Cape Cod. The President of Brown University, Dr. William H. P. Faunce, is descended from Elder Thomas Faunce, whose ashes repose on Burial Hill in Plymouth. It was he who by a long life of high service, joined, in his tenacious memory and facile speech, the early history of the Pilgrim fathers to more recent days. The first American Faunce came in the Ann in 1623, and Elder Faunce was, just before his death, the only remaining person who had talked with the sons of the Mayflower people. Major General Leonard Wood is also of Cape Cod origin.
Scores of small cities there are in our crowded East, any one of which has as many men, women and children as have ever lived at any one time in Barnstable County or in the Town of Plymouth. It is idle to inquire whether the Bay shores will ever have a larger population than they have had in the past. The value of populations is not in their numbers but in their quality. It is not even so much in what they have done—the quantity of fish they have caught, the corn and cranberries they have raised, or the products of their few and scattered mills—it is what they have been and what they have thought, that have given them their place in the history and the affection of Americans. Such are the influences which have made the face of this half-barren foreland of more meaning than the fertile bottoms of great valleys or the fat soils of the wide prairie.