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A TOPOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE TOWN OF BARNSTABLE. BY THE REVEREND MR. MELLEN.
ARNSTABLE is situated nearly south east from Boston, on the
sixty-seven miles, and the eastern a little more than seventy-five. It is the shire town of the county of the same name. This county consists almost wholly of, and is formed by a peninsula, the whole of which is commonly called Cape Cod. The form of this peninsula is curious, on account of the length of its projection into the sea, in connexion with the smallness of its breadth. Its whole length, as the road runs from the isthmus between Barnstable bay and Buzzard's bay, to RacePoint, being not less than sixty-five miles; and its breadth for thirty miles not more than three, and above half the remainder from six to hine miles. Barnstable was made a shire in 1685.
The town extends across the peninsula, and is washed by the sea on the north and south.
It is bounded on the west by Sandwich and the district of Marshpee, and by Yarmouth on the east, where its breadth from shore to shore is a little more than five miles; on the west it is about nine: Its length from west to east, according to the original grant of the town, is eight miles. The form of the town is irregular, as the western line is not straight and its shores are considerably indented. A neck of land projects from Sandwich line on the north shore, and runs east almost the length of the town. This neck of land (called Sandy Neck,) and which is about half a mile wide, forms the harbour, and embosoms a large body of salt marsh. The harbour is about a mile wide and four miles long. The tide rises in it from ten to fourteen feet. It has a bar running off north-east from the neck several miles, which prevents the entrance of large ships. The bar at high water may be passed, in almost any part of it, by the smaller kind of vessels; and where it is commonly and most safely crossed it has seldóm, if ever, less than six or seven feet at low water.
There is another harbour the south side, called Lewis's bay, the entrance of which is within Barnstable, and which extends almost two miles into Yarmouth: It is commodious and very safe, as it is almost completely land-locked. The water flows in this harbour about five
feet at a middling tide.
Hyanis road (or harbour as it is commonly called) lies a mile or two to the westward, near the entrance of Lewis's bay; and is indeed formed principally by an island, joined by a beach to Yarmouth, which together make the outside of the bay, before mentioned. The south head of this island is called Point Gammon.
There is also a small bay near the south-west limit of the town, called Oyster bay, which admits small vessels; and which with Lewis's bay, has in years past produced a great quantity of excellent oysters, though now they are very much reduced.
The streams in this town are few and small. From the situation of the land their courses are necessarily short. Coatuit river or brook, which, in some parts of it at least, is the boundary between Barnstable and Marshpee, is the most considerable. There are two or three others east of this, emptying themselves on the south side. But though running waters are comparatively rare, ponds are so very frequent that their number is not easily ascertained. Of the more considerable there are between twenty and thirty. One in the east precinct is near two miles long and a mile wide. Very few of them have any streams running either in or out. Their springs are invisible. They are many of them stocked with the smaller kinds of fish. The brooks contain a great plenty of trout.
The air in this town, as in the whole of the country, is affected by the neighbourhood of the sea on each side, from which it derives a dampness, and frequently a chill, which is disagreeable, if not unfriendly, to tender nerves. Nervous complaints are frequent here; but whether it is to be attributed to the air or the very plentiful use of tea, is problematical. That a large proportion die of consumptions of some kind or other, the bills of mortality clearly shew: Still however neither the number of deaths nor the ages at which they take place, would lead us to suppose that the situation is unhealthy. The annual number of deaths in the east precinct for the last nine years has been on an average between nineteen and twenty: The number of inhabitants, according to the census taken in 1790, was then thirteen hundred and sixty-five. Of the whole number that have died in nine years, which is one hundred and seventy-four, forty were upwards of seventy years of age: Eighteen above eighty years; and one above ninety.
The land on the north side of the town is generally uneven, and in some places rocky. There is a line of hills extending east and west the whole length of the town, the greatest height of which is about a mile from the harbour and marshes. South of this ridge the land is in general level to the sea on the other side; and a great part of it for two miles or more in breadth is woodland, producing oak and pitchpine with a little walnut.
The greater part of the inhabitants are on the north side; living in general, especially in the east precinct, on or near the main road leading down the cape. Perhaps one third live near the south shore.
The soil on the north side of the hills before mentioned, is generally good, especially for grain. In some parts of it a dark loam prevails, in others clay, and in many a mixture of sand. It produces good crops of Indian corn; not less it is supposed than twenty-five bushels to an acre on average, and rye and other grain in proportion. Some of it
is good for wheat and flax. The latter article is cultivated with good success. The soil on the south side is, a great part of it, light and sandy, and for grass especially much inferiour to that on the north; in the produce of which, onions make a very considerable figure. From two to three hundred thousand bunches (that is from twelve to eighteen thousand bushels) are raised annually; which are sold principally in Boston and the neighbouring sea-ports. Although good ground, improved for onions, yields a great profit; yet, as it requires a large quantity of manure, it has been thought that the inhabitants of this town devote too much of their land to this article, for the general advantage of their farms. But perhaps this would not be true, if all the advantage was taken, that might be, of their happy situation for making ma-. nure. Their extensive salt meadows enable them to keep large stocks in proportion to their pasture grounds; and the severity of a drought is mitigated by cutting the coarser kind of salt grass, and giving it green to the cattle as occasion may require. The manure made by cattle fed on salt hay, is much more fertilizing than that made from fresh. Almost all the land goes through a course of tillage once in the space of six or seven years; which, by the way, may have led the people here into an instance of bad husbandry, in leaving so few trees upon their cultivated lands: The depriving cattle of shade in the summer is doubtless a greater evil, than the farmer would suffer from permitting a few trees to remain on land, which is a part of the time improved for tillage. The land here is commonly prepared for the plough by feeding the stock upon it in the winter, and sometimes when salt hay is plenty, by spreading it in the spring and leaving it to rot upon the ground. Besides, every season lines the shores with large quantities of refuse hay, washed from the salt meadows, eel grass, and other marine vegetables. A much better use of this, as well as of creek and marsh mud, might be made than generally has been in time past. The inhabitants, however, seem to be more and more disposed to use the advantages they enjoy in these respects, and to make improvements in agriculture.
The loose texture of the ground in many places is rather unfavourable to the roads here (particularly the principal one through the town,) by exposing them to wash, and gully, and so producing deep, narrow, and uncomfortable passages. All has not been done which might have been, to remedy this inconvenience. But it is expected that an essential alteration for the better will soon take place, since the inhabitants have been at length induced to follow the example of the rest of the commonwealth, in granting an annual tax for the repair and improvement of highways.
The publick buildings in this town, exclusive of school houses, are three meeting houses, two Congregational and one Baptist, a court house, and a gaol. The private houses are in general rather neat and convenient than large or elegant; but it may be said that the appearance and accommodations, within, will rather exceed than disappoint the expectations formed from their outward appearance. There are three good wharves on the north side of the town, and one at Lewis's bay.
There is no account to be found of the first settlement made in this town. Probably there was none made much before its incorporation, which was September 3d, 1639; but two persons are named in the original grant. The Indian name of Barnstable appears to have been Mattacheese, Matacheest, or Mattacheeset. Probably they are all
the same name, which was given by the Indians to a tract of land which included Yarmouth, or at least a part of it; for in the grant of Yarmouth that place is said to have been called Mattacheeset. This name is out of use, and generally unknown in both these towns. There are no accounts of the inhabitants having ever suffered by Indian hostilities, and there is reason to think that no part of the town was settled without purchase or consent of the natives; for though no record remains of any considerable tract on the north side being purchased of the Indians, yet it appears by several votes and agreements of the town, extracted from the first town book and preserved in the second, that all the south side of the town was amicably purchased of Wianno and several other sachems, about the year 1650.
There are the remains of a stone house in the east precinct, which is said to have answered the purpose of a fort to the early settlers; and another house of a similar construction, and built with the same design, is now entire and inhabited in the west precinct. Although there are now no Indian families in this town, yet they were probably numerous in former times. Traces of their settlements are frequently to be met with And some of their burying grounds are yet to be seen. Their tools and weapons are sometimes found, especially their arrows, near a hundred of which were lately ploughed up that appeared to have been laid in a heap. The Indian names of places within this town still retained, are Hyanis, probably a corruption of Wianno's [tract or territory.] Cheekwakut, the south-west corner of the east precinct; Skunkanuk, a place adjoining a brook of that name; Coatuit, the neighbourhood of the boundary brook before mentioned; and Scanton or Scorton hill, adjoining Sandwich line on the north side of the town.
In the same year in which this town was granted by the old Colony government, viz. October 11th, 1639, the Rev. Mr. Lothrop* remov
* This Mr. Lothrop was probably the same that is mentioned by Mr. Prince, in his Chronology, as having before settled in Virginia. There is a tradition anong his descendants here, that he was a great sufferer in England on account of his religious principles, before his coming to America.
ed here with his church from Scituate.
No account of his death is to be found: But his successor,* the Rev. Thomas Walley was ordained A. D 1663, and continued in the ministry till March 28th, 1678. The next minister, the Rev. Jonathan Russell, was ordained Sept. 19th, 1683, and died February 21st, 1719 ætat. 56. The Rev. Jonathan Russell (son of the above) was ordained October 29th, 1712, and died September 10th, 1759, ætat. 70. When the town was divided into two precincts, which division took place in the year 1719, the Rev. Mr. Russell, then minister, being left to his choice, chose the west precinct, commonly called Great Marshes, where he continued till his death. May 12th, 1725, the church in the east precinct was gathered, and the Rev. Joseph Greene was ordained.
The Rev. Oakes Shaw, the present pastor of the west church, was ordained October 1st, 1760. The Rev. Mr. Greene died October 4th, 1770, in the seventieth year of his age. April 10th, 1771, the Rev. Timothy Hilliard was ordained pastor of the east church. April 30th, 1783, at his request on account of his ill health, he was dismissed by the church and precinct; and, November 12th, the same year, the Rev. John Mellen, jun. was ordained his successor in the ministry.
There is a small society of Baptists on the south side of the town; the Rev. Enoch Eldridge was ordained their minister, December 4th,
The former ministers of this town, those, at least, who lived within the memory of any of the present inhabitants, are spoken of with much respect; and appear to have been held in high veneration by their people. Whether either the Mr. Russells or their predecessors, published sermons or any of their works, is not ascertained. A manuscript sermon of the first Mr. Russell, preached at Plymouth, June 1st, 1686, at the last election which was held in the old Colony, has been presented by Mr. Isaiah Lewis Green, a descendant of his family, and the writer is at liberty to deposit it in the Collection of the Historical Society. The Rev. Mr. Green published a sermon, preached at the ordination of his son at Marshfield. A fast sermon of Mr. Hilliard's, preached in the time of the late political troubles, was published; as were several occasional sermons of his, after his settlement at Cambridge.
The last governour of the old Colony of Plymouth, Thomas Hinckley, Esq. was a native and inhabitant of this town; and it has given birth to several persons of eminence in the literary and civil line, who have resided elsewhere. It has, in times past, furnished a considerable number of sons for the university; but the advantages for school education are not so great as might be wished, though there is reason to hope that attention to this subject is increasing. There is a small social library in the east precinct, lately begun, consisting, at present, of between seventy and eighty volumes.
*The writer of this account has been informed, that there was a Mr. Smith settled here in the ministry, for a short time, in the early days of the town, who was afterwards many years a minister at Sandwich. If so, he was most probably the immediate successor of Mr. Lothrop : But of this no record is found.