Where Does the Name Cape Cod Come from?

You may ask yourself how a place can get its name from a fish and notably codfish. To settle any questions on where the name Cape Cod comes from, here is some Cape Cod information regarding its history and current state.

Location of Cape Cod

Cape Cod is a hooked sandy peninsula which formed during the ice age. Like an arm, it extends to the Atlantic Ocean and surrounds almost the entire Barnstable County in Southern Massachusetts. It reaches 105 kilometers in the Atlantic Ocean and is as wide as 1.6 to 20 kilometers. On its south lies Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard while Elizabeth Islands are to the Southwest. It has a canal which has been separating it from the mainland since 1914. The Cape Cod Canal helps to reduce the distance between Boston and New York by at least 120 kilometers.

How Cape Cod got its name

The exposed location of the area attracted European explorers. In 1602, one European explorer, Bartholomew Gosnold, who was also an English lawyer and privateer sailed to the America coast from England hoping to find trade opportunities. Upon anchoring in present-day Provincetown, he found enormous quantities of fish which his crew had managed to catch. The plenty codfish in the waters prompted him to name the place Cape Cod, also in appreciation of the better health the fish had given to his crew members as compared to when they had traveled from England. However, he did not stop at naming Cape Cod. Bartholomew also named Elizabeth Islands after the Queen.

Arrival of pilgrims

Bartholomew and his crew did not settle in the area, and neither did the French explorer, Samuel de Champlain who visited the cape in 1605 and 1606. However, settlements began on the chance of landing of pilgrims who were either seeking economic opportunists or fleeing the forced membership to the Church of England. So, on September 16th in 1620, a ship, the Mayflower, set out from Plymouth carrying 101 passengers. It was looking for land granted to them by the Virginia Company. However, after at least two months at sea, they were ready to move out of the crowded boat on whichever land they could find. Luckily, they saw land which was far from their intended destination, but they were ready to settle down to avoid the approaching winter. On November 21, they settled in at Provincetown harbor but only after drawing up the Mayflower Compact. In the document, they established their self-governance seeing that the area had no proper jurisdiction.

Settling into Cape Cod

Before the Europeans arrived, other people, the Wampanoag, had lived there for thousands of years. The English settlers, therefore, had to make do with the available materials to construct houses. They built their homes using twigs, grasses, and barks, as the Wampanoag did. Eventually, they adopted the European style of building homes and cut down the trees to make room for farming and grazing sheep. Of course, the population was still growing, and therefore they built the Cape Cod cottage style of houses to create room for the growing families.

Even as they went on introducing their European style of living to the area, they continued learning from the Wampanoag people how to live off the land. They learned how to strip blubber off the whales that came to the beach. To attract more whales to the beach, they would create a circle around them using boats and then splash the water around so that the whales would go to the beach.

The killing of whales depleted their population by the mid 18th century, and now they had to begin searching for deep water whales. The activity took on, making many people a fortune especially in those areas that could support deep water whaling. However, the reduced whale population hit the economy very hard, and people had to seek alternative activities. Therefore, in the 19th century, they turned to tourism.

The means of transport changed facilitating the trade even further. Whereas people had previously traveled to the Cape from, Boston by packet boat or stagecoach, a train service began in 1848, ferrying people to Sandwich. By the time 1873 came knocking, the service had extended to Provincetown.

Developing arts

Apart from merchants, artists also went to the Cape in the early 20th century. Besides writers, the Barnstable Comedy Club began in 1922 and still is going strong to date. In 1928, present-day Falmouth Playhouse opened and attracted notable talents including Josh Logan and Jimmy Stewart.

Cape Cod today

While today the Cape boasts of construction, tourism and light industries, the traditional occupations introduced by the Wampanoag people are yet to be forgotten. The area still embraces farming, and there are more than 100 farms while the fishing industry rakes in over $2 million in a month. Now that “where does the name Cape Cod come from?” is no longer a mystery, you can visit the area and get first hand Cape Cod information to settle any curiosity you may have.

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