Eastham History

Eastham is one of the four original towns on Cape Cod. It was formed in 1640 when Governor Bradford defined the area in the patent he had received from the Earl of Warwick in 1630 as "Nawsett." Nawsett was to be reserved for "Purchasers" and "Old Comers" (those who had come over on the first three boats, the Mayflower, the Fortune and the Anne). Nawsett encompassed what now is Brewster, Harwich, Chatham, Orleans and Eastham. As Plimoth was getting to be crowded and the land worn out, in 1643 a committee was sent to Nawsett to investigate the possibility of moving the whole Colony to the new wide open spaces. The committee couldn't make up its mind so a second committee was sent to take a look. They agreed that Nawsett could not support the entire Colony but they bought large tracts of it from the Indians and many of the younger colonists moved. Led by Thomas Prence, the new settlement grew rapidly and was incorporated as a township in 1646. In 1651 it was named Eastham.

Then, in 1654 the western part of Eastham was given to Old Comers who had claims on it and that area became the beginnings of Harwich. Down at the elbow, at what is now Chatham, an enterprising fellow from Yarmouth named William Nickerson managed to grab that section of Eastham and, although his title was never clear for years, it was no longer considered part of Eastham. Little by little, more chunks of Eastham were broken off. Up at the tip, a large section became Truro in 1709 and the tip of Truro became Provincetown in 1727. In 1718 those living in the area we now know as Orleans petitioned to become a new South Parish and this became the town of Orleans in 1797. Meantime, in 1723 those in the area south of Truro petitioned to become a new North Parish and this became Wellfleet in 1763. By1797 the biggest town on Cape Cod had become the smallest and apparently everybody in what remained of Eastham was happy about it.

Eastham had been primarily a farming community but years of strong winds over the lands cleared for farming had taken their toll. Topsoil gone, Eastham turned to the sea for fishing and salt making. Eastham had some famous clipper captains. Thirty-eight-year-old Freeman Hatch sailed the Northern Light from Boston to San Francisco in a record 76 days, 6 hours in 1852.

When seafaring days waned, Eastham went back to farming. The land was good for asparagus and grass for cattle and this led to dairy farming and milk from Eastham went up and down the Cape on the trains.

Dairy eventually petered out, as did the asparagus, but today Eastham survived in its quiet way and now is best known as the entrance to the National Seashore.

Eastham Cape Cod Contact Information

279 Orleans Road
North Chatham, MA 02650

Phone: (508) 945-6443
Fax: (508) 945-7837

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