Some first-time visitors to Cape Cod are amazed to discover that the peninsula/island is a lot more than just a sand-dune, and that in fact Cape Cod is 65 miles long, has 15 separate towns and an area of almost 400 square miles. Any English visitor here (as we were, at one time) will recognise town names, but will notice, sometimes, a slight change in spelling from the original namesake in the old country. So we’d like to explain how and where some of the town names came from, back in 17th century New England.
Barnstable, which is the name of the whole county of Cape Cod, as well as the town, was named after Barnstaple in Devon, possibly where some of the first Cape Cod settlers originated from before making their epic voyage across the Atlantic. Both towns share similar geological features; was it coincidence or fate that these early travellers found themselves in surroundings so akin to those they left behind?
The town of Sandwich, which is your first port of call when arriving on the Cape, was named after Sandwich in Kent, by John Humphrey who lived there for several years before arriving in America and becoming the Assistant Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1637 he sponsored the move of 60 families from Saugus, to the north of Boston, to their new settlement on Cape Cod.
The town of Yarmouth, which was settled in 1639, was probably named after Yarmouth in Norfolk, but although there are a few different theories on its origins, there is obviously some link between the two fishing ports. However, they certainly look a lot different these days!
Dennis and Brewster are the next two towns travelling east, and they were both named after people rather than English towns. Josiah Dennis, the town’s first minister, and William Brewster, a Pilgrim leader, were the two gentlemen in question. In Josiah’s days, Dennis was a part of Yarmouth, and was known as the East Precinct.
So, when you decide to visit Cape Cod, at least you are armed with the knowledge that a sand-dune it is NOT! And to be sure that you find yourself slap bang in the middle of the island, you would do very well to stay at our mid-Cape bed and breakfast inn, in the lovely historic town of Yarmouth Port.