In Governor William Bradford’s account of the Pilgrims’ arrival in America, Of Plymouth Plantation, he described the first extended contact between the recently arrived Mayflower passengers and a group of Native Americans (believed to be Nausets). On December 7, 1620, a group of men, led by Captain Myles Standish, left the Mayflower as it was anchored off Provincetown for some exploration and foraging. The next morning, they were surprised by a group of Native Americans—arrows flew and shots were fired, but no harm resulted. They had experienced a long night pierced by the “hideous and great cry” of what seemed to be “a company of wolves or such like wild beasts.” In the early morning, the exploring party was confronted by another “great and strange cry, which they knew to be the same voices they heard in the night.” This time, however, a returning scout exclaimed that the voices were not animals but “Men, Indians! Indians!”
Bradford’s next paragraph is an action-packed account, featuring flying arrows and firing muskets, repeated charges and counter-charges, swinging cutlasses and hatchets.
The Pilgrims’ superior weaponry eventually enabled them to chase off the Natives, but Bradford attributed the victory to a different source:
Thus it pleased God to vanquish their enemies and give them deliverance; and by His special providence so to dispose that not any one of them was either hurt or hit, though their arrows came close by them and on every side of them; and sundry of their coats, which hung up in the barricade, were shot through and through. Afterwards they gave God solemn thanks and praise for their deliverance, and gathered up a bundle of their arrows and sent them into England afterward by the master of the ship, and called that place the First Encounter.
This First Encounter took place at what is now called First Encounter Beach in Orleans on Cape Cod. I’ve been curious to see the spot and stopped there while on the Cape last weekend. I was struck by what a beautiful and peaceful spot it is—there were wind surfers in the distance and a few people walking their dogs or sitting and enjoying the sun and bracing sea air. It is hard to imagine it as the site of such a violent exchange. There is a stone with a plaque attached identifying it’s history, but the plaque is now hard to read.
From an earlier photograph of the plaque I can read the names of the Mayflower men who were involved in the skirmish:
Myles Standish, John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, John and Edward Tilley, John Howland, Richard Warren, Stephen Hopkins, Edward Dotey/Doty, John Allerton, Thomas English, Master Mate Clarke, Master Gunner Conn (?) and Three Sailors of the Mayflower Company. Of these men, Richard Warren, John Howland, John Tilley, and Stephen Hopkins are my direct ancestors.
|source: Eastham Historical Society|
There is (or was) another plaque at the site which I did not see on my visit, shown on the postcard below.
I had my seven-month old grandson with me and it was his first encounter with a beach. Gave me a bit of a thrill! I’ve certainly turned into a history/genealogy nerd!