Chapter 11




Barnstable is one of the quaintest, staidest, and most interesting of Cape villages. Unlike the towns nearer the point, there is a green rural landscape inland, while the marine view is the finest on the coast. To get a view of the latter, one must follow the main street a mile and a half to the harbor-mouth and the sweep of sand dunes which wall it in and add greatly to the impressiveness of the scene. This main street is of itself a feature. It is broad, elm-shaded, lined with old, mossy, long-roofed dwellings, and smart new cottages and villas in equal proportions. Beginning at the railway station on the bluff, it winds down into the valley and around the head of a cove jutting in from the harbor, then up Training Hill, passing on the crest an ancient church, blankly white, with graves in the rear, of such families as the Otises, Thatchers, Hinckleys, and others, and continues on, lined with fine old country-seats, to its terminus at "the Point." About midway stands the village tavern, under a group of mighty elms, old, rambling, and mossy, serving to remind the traveler how cheerless and uncomfortable


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the inn of colonial times could be. I have no doubt that Dr. Dwight, in his famous pilgrimage over the Cape in 1800, as recorded in vol. 111. of his "Travels," stopped at this tavern.

A road leaves the main street at the foot of Training Hill under the church, and follows the trend of the cove beside slowly decaying docks to the harbor-mouth, the broad expanse of salt meadow, and the wide sweep of dunes. From this bluff the eye roves delightedly over the scene. Beside us is the harbor open water one mile wide and four miles long. Thrust out from Sandwich, which joins Barnstable on the west, is Sandy Neck, a long tongue of sand one and one-half miles wide and seven miles long, crooked landward like a bent forefinger. On the outside of this finger lies the cold steel-blue sea; within is the harbor, and perhaps the greatest body of salt meadow on the Atlantic Coast. Eight thousand tons of hay are cut upon it annually by the fortunate owners. The sand on the neck has been tossed by the wind into dunes of every fantastic and grotesque shape round, truncated, sugar-loaf, turreted, serrated here one with its top sheared clean off, another half disemboweled; fortunate for all is it that they are covered with beach-grass whose tough, fibrous roots securely anchor them; otherwise the first winter gale would lift them bodily and sift them over the marshes. The sun shines on the dunes from the east, and their white sides sparkle like diamonds, in



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striking contrast to the dark blue of the sea. The vast stretch of marshes affords a stranger sight. They are dotted with myriads of poles forming the frames of hay-ricks, which cover them by hundreds.

Beyond the marshes over the Neck we can almost see the salt meadows, where the huge dredges of the Cape Cod Canal and Navigation Company are cutting the channel of another national highway. It is five miles south, across the Cape to Vineyard Sound; it is twenty-eight miles by water to Provincetown at the extreme tip of the tongue, and fifty by land which illustrates admirably the extreme curvature of the Cape. The ocean is quiet to-day. The surf only moans and sighs, with varying rhythm. In a northwest blizzard it is different; but perhaps before concluding we shall be able to give the reader an idea of what a "nor’wester" on the Cape Cod Coast is like.

We have passed many pleasant evenings this summer in the society of a gentleman of the village, a veteran editor and politician, who lives in a large, square-roofed house, filled from cellar to attic with quaint furniture and mementoes of the past. In 1814, when the Barnstable sloop Independence was captured by the British frigate Nymph, our friend, then a lad of six years, was on board, and distinctly remembers his father’s lifting him upon the taffrail of the frigate to see the sloop burn. Few public events have happened since that the Major is not



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familiar with, and his fund of anecdote and repartee is inexhaustible.

One day, looking through his collection of rarities we came upon the account of the centennial anniversary in 1839 of the settlement of Barnstable, containing letters and speeches from John Quincy Adams, Harrison Gray Otis, Dr. James Thatcher, the annalist of the Revolution, and other eminent men, natives of, or associated with, the town. "We are especially proud of that centennial," said Major P., "because at that time we first introduced and successfully established the custom of inviting ladies to be present on such occasions. When the matter was first proposed, Mr. William Sturgis, of Boston, a native of Barnstable, refused to engage in it unless ladies should be invited. The idea was well received, and the fair sex was well represented. Chief-Justice Shaw was a native of Barn-stable, and he and his wife were present. Mrs. Shaw’s name was Hope, and I remember the toast most widely cheered was this: ‘There is Hope in the Judiciary.’ After that it became the custom to invite ladies to such celebrations. Shortly after, the opening of the Cunard Line was celebrated in Boston, to which ladies were asked, and a friend said to me: ‘You see how quickly we follow Barnstable’s example."

Old books, old letters, old diaries, old sermons were here in profusion; the latter were exceedingly interesting, as showing how boldly and effectively Puritan clergy-



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men attacked the sins and follies of the day. A sermon by the Rev. George Weekes of Harwich, preached about 1760, on the sin of wearing periwigs, contains this ingenious argument: "Adam, so long as he continued in innocence, did wear his own hair and not a periwig. Indeed, I do not see how it was possible that Adam should dislike his own hair and therefore cut it, that so be might wear a periwig and yet have continued innocent."

But for an oddity in sermonizing, commend us to a sermon preached in Yarmouth, of which the title-page is: "Ebenezer, or a Faithful and Exact Account of God’s Great Goodness to Mr. Ebenezer Taylor of Yarmouth, on Cape Cod, who, on the 6th day of August, 1726, was buried alive about twelve feet deep under stones and earth in his own well, where he lay for the space of eleven hours, and was afterwards taken up without any considerable hurt; with a suitable Improvement of such a Miraculous Deliverance." The discourse was delivered at the meeting-house before a large congregation, and at a certain stage Ebenezer Taylor, his wife, and children, were called up before the people and addressed in turn. Here are the heads of the discourse: "Introduction. Chapter I., Narrative; Chapter II., Remarks upon some passages in the narrative; Chapter III., General improvement of the narrative. Reflection, inference; Chapter IV., A particular address: I., To Ebenezer Taylor; II., To



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his wife; III., To his children." It would seem to have been sufficient discipline for Ebenezer to have been buried for eleven hours in his own or any, one else’s well, without being called before the public congregation and having the occasion "improved" to him, and his wife, and children, but they did things differently in those days.

Our old friend and his relics are not our only means of entertainment, however. There is the tavern, and there is the circle about the landlord’s fire. In 1639 one Thomas Lembert was licensed "to keep victualing or an ordinary for the entertainment of strangers, and to draw wine in Barnstable," and I think this hotel was the one then built. Certainly it is old enough for it. The landlord at least the only one I have been able to find is a valetudinarian who clings to the fire in the rusty office stove, and tells tales feebly yet garrulously of events of seventy years ago. He has plenty of company through the summer evenings in other veterans, sea-captains and mariners, of the days when Barnstable had her great fishing fleet and coasting trade, and was one of the busiest ports of the Commonwealth. Of storms and shipwrecks, derelicts, flotsam and jetsam, big catches, sea-serpents, ice-floes, and boreal experiences, their reminiscences are full. They are happiest in nights of storm. I remember one such night, when a nor’easter howled down the chimney and rattled the ancient casements. The stove glowed



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dull red; the long settee was piled with horse-blankets, cape-coats, sou’westers, and other impedimenta of the visitors. A kerosene lamp, swung over all, shone dimly, half obscured by tobacco smoke; and the drip from the faucet of the tank labeled "Ice-Water" into the wooden pail placed below was equaled in monotony by the steady tick of the great eight-day clock in the corner. The four wooden armchairs were occupied by the landlord, two ancient mariners, and the visitor "from York," while the audience balanced themselves on the edge of the table or nestled amid the miscellaneous mass on the settee.

The story-tellers naturally fell upon the subject of Cape gales, and after certain prodigious feats of wind and wave had been narrated, a lean old salt, hitherto silent, broke in with: "But a nor’easter ain’t a sarcumstance to a nor’wester not one that means bizness. A nor’wester, you see, comes without warnin’; it pounces on ye, and it’s so cold ye’d think it ud cl’ared the space betwixt this an’ the North Pole at a leap. D’yer mind the blizzard of 18~6, Cap’n, wust ever known on the Cape, an’ the wreck of the Almira? No? You was a boy then. Wal, ‘twas the 16th of January, ‘bout noon. I was standin’ on the bluff ‘tother side of Sandy Neck, lookin’ down on Sandwich harbor. It ud be’n dirty weather fer days wind east, then south, snow fust an’ then rain, an’ a fleet of coasters was huddled together in the harbor waitin’ fair weather. That mornin’


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the weather was warm an’ clearin’. Clouds scurried along from the south, high in air, an’ bits o’ blue shone through the rifts. Wa!, I stood on the hill, an’ not a furlong off was old Cephas Hinckley, the saltiest skipper of that day. I called to him, but he didn’t answer his eyes was closely follerin’ the motions of a little schooner, the Almira, wood-laden, belongin’ in Sandwich, whose skipper had be’n waitin’ some days for a chance to git to sea an’ steer for Boston. The little craft went along under the light breeze, an’ as she cleared the p’int, clapped on all sail an’ stood to nor’ard, Captain Hinckley raised his arms to heaven. ‘Gone out,’ sez he solemnly; ‘he’ll never cum in ag’in.’ ‘An’ why not, Cap’n?’ sez I at his elbow. ‘Why, man alive, sez he, ‘can’t you see a terrible norther is brewin’? He’ll be triced up in ice afore the first watch turns in, an’ a boomin’ gale on a lee shore tew.’ Notwithstandin’, the little Almira kept on with her crew of three Josiah Ellis, master, his son Josiah, an’ John Smith, seaman cleared Manomet P’int, an’ with Plymouth light for a beacon worked slowly across the outer bay. Up in the nor’west, half up from the sea line, an’ widenin’ every second, was a belt of cold, clear, steel-blue sky; same time the clouds that hed be’n hurryin’ north all day turned tail an’ went scuddin’ into the sou’east. In five minutes the storm struck ‘em, nigh throwin’ the Almira on her beam-ends. Cold? You’ve no idea of it except you’ve be’n thar. Every bit of mois



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ture that wind touched froze; icicles hung from the men’s beards. The spray flew high over the catheads, an’ in twenty minutes men, decks, spars, shrouds, an’ sails was a mass of glitterin’, creakin’, crackin’ ice. They tried bearin’ up for Plymouth harbor, but it lay in the eye o’ the wind. They tacked once, twice, then the main boom was tore from the mast, the halyards giv’ way, an’ down cum the icy mains’! with a crashin’ and splinterin’. To furl it was impossible. They let it lie, an’ laid the vessel’s course to the wind, braced the fores’l fore an’ aft, not bein’ able to haul it down, loosed the jib, an’ let her drive. The wind howled an’ fought the fores’l, cracked its coverin’ of ice, an’ tore it in shreds; but the jib held, an’ give her leeway; so, towards mornin’, they rounded Manomet P’int, an’ cum round into Barnstable Bay ag’in only eight miles from wher’ they started.

"At daybreak they passed their house, an’ saw the smoke curlin’ from their own chimneys; jist then, bein’ mos’ frozen, they lashed the helm an’ went intew the little cabin, hopin’ to light a fire. The jib, their last sail, soon hung in tatters from the mast, an’ the vessel, broadside to the blast, drifted on, past Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, makin’ as straight as though piloted for that long reef of rock that makes out from Dennis, with a smooth beach on its western side an’ a cove on the east. By good luck a seaman livin’ near the reef saw the Almira comin’ an’ summoned help. A great



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crowd gathered on the shore end of the reef sailors an’ fishermen, all used tew the sea. On she dru’v, no one, to appearance, on board. At last the crowd give a mighty shout, an’ the three men in the cabin staggered on deck. ‘Up with your helm,’ shouted the seamen. ‘Make sail, an’ round the rocks.’ It was impossible. The hulk was lifted like a dead thing by a mighty wave an’ flung broadside on the rocks with a crash. Still she hung together, an’ the crew huddled on the quarter abaft the binnacle, which was not swept by the waves. The seamen tried to launch a boat through the surf, which was heavy with ‘sludge,’ but it filled an’ was drawn back with the wash. Captain Ellis now went for’ard an’ sot down on the win’lass, bein’ overcome with the drowsiness of death. ‘Rise up, rise up, an’ stir yourself,’ the men shouted. ‘We’ll save ye yet!’ Not one but knew what the Captain’s drowsiness meant. But Ellis was already benumbed, an’ was soon devoured by the sea. Smith soon followed the Captain’s example, an’ was swept away. Meantime the boat was launched, but when it got to the wreck the tide had fallen so low that they couldn’t reach the ship, which was popped up on the reef, an’ they had to wait for the rise. That cum’ about four o’clock, an’ the men scrambled on board an’ took off Josiah, the Cap’s son, though his hands was frozen to the tiller-ropes, an’ he didn’t know anything. He got well, but he lost both hands an’ his feet."