The landward boundary of Cape Cod
LaMont, Robert E
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Although the name is over three and a half centuries old, Cape Cod has no definite boundaries. Not being a governmental sub- division, it has no official limits. Practically everyone living in southeastern Massachusetts claims to be living on the Cape, and the farther east he lives, the farther east he thinks the boundary should be. For the purposes of this study an area comprising the fifteen townships of Barnstable County, the fourteen townships of southern Plymouth County, and Gosnold township (the Elizabeth Islands) in Dukes County, was selected. Only their internal interrelationships were considered, since the boundary line would have to be drawn somewhere within this region. Two possible definitions of the term "cape" were found, one limited to the very tip of the peninsula; the other covering the whole of it, and similar definitions of "Cape Cod" were encountered. The works of authors and authorities were searched for their definitions of the Cape. From this it developed that prior to the building of the Cape Cod Canal, most authors considered the Cape to begin at the Plymouth-Barnstable County line. After the Canal was built, they selected that as the boundary. The search of many maps and atlases, old and new, domestic and foreign, showed that until quite recently cartographers had almost unanimously placed the name "Cape Cod" at the very tip of the land, indicating that the name applied only to the end and not to the entire peninsula . Only lately have a few cartographers started to place the name beside the entire peninsula . The entire region is glaciated, and the peninsula owes its existence primarily to moraines . A recessional moraine running east and west, with an outwash plain to the south of it, forms the broader western part of the peninsula, while an interlobate moraine running north and south forms the eastern "arm". Parallel to this, another interlobate moraine on the mainland completes the pattern of a large flat U with Cape Cod Bay in the middle of it. The ice-block pitted outwash plain is found adjacent to both western and central moraines, but not to the eastern. The tip of the peninsula is composed entirely of wave and wind deposited sand. The soils of the region are so intermixed that no one soil is peculiar to any part of the region . The soil groupings are so distributed as to cut across most of the commonly accepted boundaries. The entire regions enjoys a maritime climate with a long growing season, but, owing to the rise in the inland topography it becomes cooler, and the growing season shorter toward the west. A particular scrub oak and pine vegetation peculiar to Cape Cod offers a good criterion for identifying the region, but blends in gradually with similar vegetation around it, so offers no definite boundary line. Prior to 1620 there were no permanent settlements in this area, and although many claims were made, none were sustained. Bartholomew Gosnold gave the cape its name in 1602, although Captain John Smith tried unsuccessfully to change it to Cape James. The Kings of England granted large and extensive tracts of territory to the colonial companies, much of which were never effectively occupied by them. The settlers of the "Old" Plymouth Colony settled the Cape region, working out from Plymouth not by a steady progression, but by establishing far-flung isolated villages, and only later settling the areas in between. Towns were named for the English towns from which the original settlers had come, or for some prominent personage, or because of their location and nature of their landscape. The names indicate that most of the early settlers came from the south of England, particularly the southwest. Only two tows have Indian names, although natural features are much more likely to have them except on the outer arm of the peninsula which was little frequented by the red men. All the local political units in this region are townships, there being no cities. The region does, however, contain parts of three counties. Counties in New England do not have the functions that they do in other parts of the country, but are important in that they are used by many governmental agencies and functions in breaking up the state into administrative and operational districts. A number of state government functions use the counties in this way, giving a measure of official recognition to the county line as the boundary of the area. By far the most popular boundary with the general public is the Cape Cod Canal, although it has been in operation only forty years. The popular acceptance of it in such a short time is probably due to the very concreteness of it. The Canal is the only readily-identifiable linear feature in its immediate area other than roads and railways, which are too common to be used as boundaries. A study of the distribution and ethnic composition of the population showed that most of the people lived on or near the coast, and that he population decreased toward the east. A preponderance of the larger tows on the southern coast of the peninsula was noted. Unfortunately no data on the Portuguese population was available. There are fewer foreign-born residents on the outer arm of the peninsula than farther westward. Economically, the peninsula is dependent largely upon the tourist trade. Cranberries are the chief agricultural crop, but it must be noted that Plymouth County produces far more cranberries than the Cape and largely controls the industry. Fishing has declined in importance until Provincetown alone retains it as an industry. Transportation into the region is funneled onto the peninsula via the two automobile bridges and the railroad bridge over the Canal. Newspapers aree largely local, as are much of the utilities and service. From this study emerge four separate boundaries of "Cape Cod", each with evidence to support its claim: the beginning of the sand s pit at Provincetown; the Canal; the county boundary; and the peninsula plus the towns of Marion and Wareham across Buzzards Bay. Since this boundary is sub-regional rather than political, we can expect no clean-cut and binding official decision on the matter.
Thesis (M.A.)--Boston University
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