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Their homes were all within a circuit of two miles. They were lost in fishing vessels, but the surviving inhabitants went a-fishing the next year as usual.
On the bleak Atlantic shore of the town stands one of the most important of the Cape lighthouses. The Cape, with its shoals and fogs, is a region of great peril to vessels, especially for sailing boats and barges in winter and, in spite of the gleaming warning of Highland Light, many a good vessel goes ashore on the coast. The place used to be called Dangerfield. This was a very appropriate name.
Where the Cape joins the mainland Buzzards Bay makes a deep indentation from the south, and as early as 1627 the advantages of a canal here were recognized. Various surveys were made as time went on, and excavating was started twice by companies that afterward abandoned the enterprise. The company which finally made the canal began digging in 1909.
During the five years that it was being completed, there was an annual average of thirty-five ship disasters and twelve lives lost on the Cape coast. The canal shortens the voyage from Boston to New York about seventy miles and enables vessels to avoid a considerable stretch of exposed and stormy water. It traverses low salt marshes in part, and the land at its highest point is only twenty-nine feet above the sealevel. The length is eight miles, the depth twentyfive feet, the width at the bottom one hundred feet. It is lighted from end to end with electricity so that
passage can be made night or day. The cost was twelve million dollars.
The oldest town on the Cape is Yarmouth, settled in 1639. Its men have been famous sea-faring folk, and in the days of the sailing-vessels they voyaged the world over. The majority became ship's officers, and a goodly number of them amassed wealth in the India and China trade. Nearly every other house in town used to be the home of a retired sea-captain.
Provincetown, at the jumping-off tip of the Cape, has an ancient old-world look due to its narrow streets with houses, stores, and little shops crowded close along the walks. The place is odorous of the sea, and the waterside is lined with gray fish-shanties and storehouses.
Back of Provincetown is a desert of sand dunes. These drifting sandhills have encountered patches of woodland in places, and covered the trees to their very tops. So lonely and desolate is the region that few people visit it, and there are natives of the town of mature years who have never crossed it to the other shore, less than three miles distant.
The sand drifts like snow, and the Provincetown houses were formerly built on piles in order that the driving sand might pass under them. A traveller in 1849 was told that the young ladies had a dexterous way of emptying their shoes at each step.
It is stated in an old history that wheeled vehicles were such a rarity in the place that “A lad who under
stood navigating the ocean much better than land travel, on seeing a man driving a wagon in the street, expressed surprise at his being able to drive so straight without the assistance of a rudder."
Beach grass has been planted by the government on some of the dunes to hold the sand in place. This grass
has an affiliation for sand, and you can stick one of its coarse wiry tufts in anywhere, and it will grow. If the grass is methodically planted the shifting dunes are fast bound so that the winds assail them in vain.
It is an interesting fact that Cape Cod was the first land the Pilgrims saw after a voyage of more than nine weeks from England. On Saturday, November 21, 1620, the Mayflower cast anchor in Provincetown harbor. A party went ashore that same day for wood
and fresh water, and on Monday some of the women landed to wash clothes.
Wednesday, sixteen of the men under Miles Standish set off to explore the country and were gone two days. They saw at a distance five or six natives and a dog, and they found several heaps of corn buried in the ground. When they returned, two of them bore a basket of the corn slung on a staff, and another of them brought the noose of an Indian deer trap that had caught him by the leg.
About a fortnight later a second exploring party was gone for three days. They shot a number of geese and ducks, discovered some Indian graves, two empty wigwams, and more corn, ten bushels of which they brought away for planting. The next year, when several of them again visited the Cape, they sought out the owners of the corn and paid for what they had taken.
One tragic incident of the Mayflower's stay at Provincetown was the falling overboard and drowning of the wife of William Bradford.
While the vessel still lay in the harbor Peregrine White was born. He was called Peregrine to commemorate the fact that the Pilgrims were still on their peregrinations, or travels. The General Court later honored this first English baby born in New England by giving him two hundred acres of land. He grew up to be a man of ability and lived to the age of eightyfour, “vigorous and comely to the last.”