Presentation Notes: 2008-2009

Early Cape Cod History and Ecology

Presented by Todd Kelley - January 14, 2009

Notes by David Martin

Picture of Todd Kelley at CCGS

Todd Morgan Kelley was the featured speaker for the January 14, 2009 regular meeting of the Society. He was born in Chatham and is very knowledgeable about both Cape Cod genealogy and geologic/archaeological history.

He is descended from David O'Killia and Jane Powell; each had come as bond servants to Cape Cod by 1652 from Ireland and Wales respectively, and they were married by 1660.

Mr. Kelley outlined the glacial origin of Cape Cod and its influence on life on the Cape; 21,000 years ago, it is thought, the glacier was about one mile high, with 3 related ice sheets or "lobes" forming the Buzzards Bay area, the Cape Cod Bay area, and the Lower Cape. Originally, before the sea levels rose after the glacier began to melt, one could walk from Cape Cod to Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, George's Bank, and Stellwagen Bank. He predicts that in the area where the Wind Farm is proposed, there are buried mastodons with potential artifacts showing that the Paleo-Indians hunted those animals. He then described the impact of the First Peoples' evolution and development to its height prior to European contact. The European explorers, prior to the Pilgrims, saw commodities for gold, glory, and God. But by the time the Pilgrims arrived, disease had significantly reduced the population of these First Peoples, with the result that the Pilgrims may have viewed the land as somewhat empty and full of opportunity, as the result of Divine Providence.

Myles Standish, Pilgrim, proposed a Canal for Cape Cod soon after 1620; George Washington in 1776 created plans for a Canal. But it was not until August Perry Belmont (descended from the Perry's of Sandwich) that the Canal was built in the early 20th century.

While the European settlers cleared the land for farming, the First Peoples had already done so also, since they had been agricultural for the 1000 years preceding the arrival of the Europeans. The First Peoples are thought to have begun populating Cape Cod about 9000 years ago. Yarmouthtown was first set aside as a place for native peoples to reside, and then later Mashpee was set aside. Many animals, such as bear and beaver, once populated the countryside but have now disappeared.

The view of the land by the First Peoples was as communal, while the Europeans viewed land as something to be owned and held onto; this clash of views was important, and resulted only gradually in an acculturation process. The evaporation of the communal substance and the changing physical landscape in favor of the appearance of wealth and status are symptoms of the time in which we live and how the Cape has changed.

He indicated that, unlike the large and sometimes ostentatious homes on Cape Cod of the present time, original Cape Cod houses "grew" from and were integrated with the land.

In spite of all these changes, however, the communal fabric of Cape Cod persists to today and is something that we all need to preserve. As long as we can preserve an attitude of spatial ecology, and avoid an obsession with material economy, this spirit can survive.

See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.