Where the Narrows Open Out

Looking at John Sellers 1675 “Mapp of New England” I’m drawn to the place names on Cape Cod. “Yermoth“, Sandwich and Pocasset on the Cape, and the islands of “Martina Vineyard” and “Nantuket“. As with the entire map things are way out of scale, but still a fascinating snapshot of place in 1675 Cape Cod.  The other unique thing about Sellers’ map is that he turns New England on its side, offering a new perspective on the familiar shapes.

The Pocasset Wampanoag were no strangers to Buzzards Bay, but they lived in the area that is now Tiverton, Rhode Island up to Fall River, Massachusetts and surrounding towns. If a place were going to be named Pocasset wouldn’t it be Tiverton or Fairhaven or some other place on that side of the bay? So how did this little corner of Cape Cod become known as Pocasset?

The answer might lie in the word itself. “Pocasset” and some similar Algonquin names like “Pochassuck” and “Paugusset” all mean “the place where the narrows open out”. And that certainly applies to this part of Buzzards Bay. For the English settlers choosing Pocasset was likely easier than Pochassuck.  I can imagine the middle school jokes at neighboring towns if they’d gone that route.

This place was likely visited by the Pocasset often as they traded with the Pilgrims at the Aptucxet Trading Post nearby. In talking about the land and the bay around them it’s probable that’s how the area was described as the bay opens up right after the point of Wings Neck. On the map Pocasset encompasses what is now Falmouth. Given the scale of the map it could be a minor point, or perhaps the entire stretch from Wings Neck to Woods Hole was considered the place where the narrows open out.

That description fits the mind as well. Looking at old maps, reading books, and traveling to new places opens up my own once narrower mind. I break free of the daily routine and see things in a new way. So having a home away from home in Pocasset is more appropriate than I first thought.

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